Summer Wines in Winter
Nothing says, “I’m ready for winter” like a tall, cold glass of dessert wine. Right? Alright, so maybe lighted trees and cozy sweaters say it better. But! That’s not going to stop us from diving right into that cold glass because, today, we’re looking at why summery dessert wines go great with winter weather.
There would be no cold glass in summer without chilly days following the normal harvest. First, though, let’s talk about what could be in that glass.
Late Harvest vs. Ice Wines
Unless you’re in Germany where the definitions of “dessert wine” can be incredibly specific, there are two major categories of white dessert wines: late harvest wines and ice wines.
Late harvest wines are pretty self explanatory. The grapes, which are Riesling and Chenin Blanc for us at Terra Blanca, are left to hang on the vines for a few weeks after the normal harvest. This increases the sugar content (measured in “brix”) within the grape, resulting in a sweeter wine after fermentation. These wines as well as semi-sweet and off-dry whites are where many new wine drinkers begin because they are light, fruity, and don’t contain tannin like red wines that many find off-putting in the beginning.
Ice wines are a little more complex and much harder to produce. The grapes for ice wines are left to hang even longer on the vines, accumulating greater sugar contents than those harvested as late harvest wines. The major difference for ice wines, though, is that the grapes must freeze.
Ice wines from icy grapes.
What’s so important about the freeze? Within the grape, the water freezes. The sugar doesn’t. When that frozen grape is pressed, the result is a near syrup of highly concentrated grape sugars with very little water to dilute that concentration. If the grapes thaw before pressing, they won’t be true ice wines. With these high sugar levels, it’s not uncommon to see ice wines with Residual Sugar contents of 25% or more. Our 2005 Reserve Chenin Blanc Ice Wine is 30.3%.
A little dab’ll do ya.
With the recent warm spell, it’s unlikely that we’ll get an ice wine this year. The 2005 vintage is our most recent ice wine. Not even the record-breaking colds of 2010 and 2011 came early enough to freeze our grapes on the vines. Late Harvest wines are much more common because they don’t rely on temperatures dropping before Christmas, which is the date Winemaker Keith Pilgrim generally uses as an ice wine cut off.
Though sweet whites can remind us all of warmer months, they don’t have the same warming effect as a big, hearty red. In that spirit, check back next week as we prepare for Christmas dinner with two big reds: prime rib and ONYX.
Veni, Vidi, Vinum!
P.S. Have a wine topic or question you want Terra Blanca by the Glass to investigate? Leave a comment!