Ice wine is one of the few wines you can describe as special, exceptional and even peculiar without hyperbole, because its origins occurred under the most fortuitous circumstances. It’s widely believed — perhaps a bit romantically — that a German vintner was late to harvest one season in the 19th century, and his grapes froze on the vine. Undeterred, he pressed them anyway and discovered that frozen, shriveled, overripe grapes produce a nectar with a sweetness and richness unmatched by traditionally harvested grapes. Ice wine follows a set of serving guidelines different from other dessert and sweet wines.
Ice wine presents itself best between 41 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If you serve ice wine too cold, you lose the most delicate aromas; if you serve it too warm you lose its crispness and amplify the sweetness to cloying levels. Use a temperature-controlled wine chiller, or stash the ice wine in your refrigerator for 1 hour, then let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving it.
Dessert wines typically get served in 4-ounce dessert-wine glasses because they typically don’t require a generous pour — 2 ounces is perfect. With their angled bowls and delicate stems, dessert-wine glasses look nice, but they’re not the best choice for ice wine. You can experience ice wine’s “nose” — deeply inhale its aroma and bouquet to engage the olfactory and prime the palate — best in an all-purpose wine glass. Chill the wine glasses in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, just enough so they don’t warm the wine but not cold enough to create condensation.
Ice wine has a long finish that’s more pronounced than those of other dessert wines. To get the most from the finish, you must let the wine linger on your palate a split-second longer than you would a regular wine. An extra bit of warmth from your mouth quickly brings the wine to body temperature, at which point its profusion of aromas becomes accessible.
Ice wine makes a dessert unto itself, but if you choose to pair it with a dessert, do so thoughtfully. Follow the first rule of pairing ice wine — the food cannot be sweeter than the ice wine. If you’re going with a sweet dessert, think subtle, slight and simple. Ice wines, both white and red, show their personality best when served with crisp fruits, such as tart apples or apricots, and moderate cheeses, such as Roquefort or brie. If you’re serving ice wine with starters, pair it with rich foods, such as foie gras or liver pate, and salty foods, such as salumi or cured sardines.
Icewine primes the palate and perks up the taste buds for the meal to come. You can serve a couple of ounces of ice wine on its own or combine it with another variety of ice wine or clear spirit. Equal parts sparkling and still ice wine or equal parts sparkling ice wine and vodka served in a chilled champagne flute and garnished with frozen grapes are simple apertifs that take seconds to make and go with just about any hors d’oeuvres.
References and ResourcesWine Enthusiast: Ice Wines From Around the Globe
The New Wine Lover's Companion; Ron Herbst