At 4 o’clock in the morning, the vineyards are dark – pitch black – and swirling with snow and wind. Despite the bitter cold, a small band of winter warriors heads outdoors to harvest their quarry – the frozen ice wine grape. Each year the tenacity of hardy souls like these is celebrated at the New York Ice Wine & Culinary Festival, where wineries from all over New York State gather to showcase their traditional German-style ice wines. Traditional style ice wines, or eisweins, require the grapes be naturally frozen on the vine and harvested by hand – a labor-intensive and weather-dependent process very few wineries attempt. On February 24, 2018, wineries will converge on Casa Larga Vineyards in Fairport, NY, to sample and sell their ice wines at the festival.
Around the world, the varietal array for ice wine runs the gamut from Chardonnay to Zweigelt. In North America, Vidal Blanc, a tough-skinned variety notable for the voluptuous aroma and flavors of its wine, is widely used. Vidal berries have a superior ability to cling to the vines and resist rot beyond the fall harvest. The sharp frost freezes the water in the grapes while still leaving the natural sugar and fruit acids as a syrupy liquid. The grapes are pressed outside while still frozen, immediately after being picked and the syrup is then fermented into wines of intense aroma and taste.
In New York State, harvest is complete by the end of October and ice wine grapes are occasionally picked in November but more typically in December and sometimes as late as mid-February of the following year. This is because the winemaker is waiting for temperatures to fall below 17 degrees and remain at those low temperatures long enough to harvest and press the wine.
Generally speaking, your ice wine tasting will go something like this:
See: Ice wines typically have a golden color.
Swirl: After fermentation, the concentrated juice often results in a medium-bodied wine with more viscosity than other wines.
Smell: Depending on the varietal, you may smell apricots, honey, peaches, and in the case of red ice wines, bright strawberries or cherries. Everyone experiences wine differently, so take a sniff and try to identify what you smell in the wine.
Sip: Golden and rich, ice wines sometimes have flavors very similar to their aromas. Again, look for honey, apricots, peaches, and other fruity flavors.
Pairing: Enjoy ice wine along with savory foods such as foie gras, duck, blue cheeses, short bread, custards, poached fruit, and nuts.
Tickets are available in time for the holidays at the Wine Shop on Turk Hill Road in Fairport, at Wegmans and online at www.casalarga.com. From January 1 through February 23, 2018 tickets are 2 for $120. If available, tickets are $75 at the door. For group sales, call Cathy Fabretti at 585-223-4210 x121. For event updates and more information, visit http://www.casalarga.com/Events/NYIWCF or follow NY State Ice Wines on Facebook.