Monday, July 31, 2006

Pining for Ice Wine

While nothing beats air conditioning in weather like this, a close second has to be ice wine. I cool down, and get happy, just thinking about it.

Trouble is, who wants to routinely shell out $80 a pop, like we do for the real deal from Germany. Even my favorites from Niagara go for $50 to $60 a bottle. I don't mind buying a couple now and then, but this hot weather is hanging in there, and I can't keep up with my own insatiable thirst for this summertime nectar of the gods.

So, I'm always on the hunt for cheaper alternatives. I've made a point of trying ice wines wherever I find them, no matter how far off the beaten track they are. I've found some good ones out on Long Island, for example, though these tend to be faux ice wines.

In case you don't know, real ice wine is made from grapes harvested in the middle of the night when the temperatures dip below 20 degrees F. Only trace amounts of super concentrated sweet juice are left in the shriveled frozen grapes, which makes the final product quite expensive. Faux ice wines are made from late harvest grapes that are brought inside and then frozen artificially. These wines generally do not have as much character as real ice wines, but some are pretty darn good. And they're cheaper.

So, I'm open to the better faux ice wines. I even found one at a Connecticut winery recently that was good, though still a little steep at $39. When we were in Maine recently, I was optimistic about finding a good one -- after all, we were just about as far north as Niagara.

We even found one very nice Maine winery, the Cellar Door, that is not overly reliant on fruit wines. But when I inquired about ice wines, I found out just how hard it is to do an ice wine even when you have favorable weather. They told me that in that part of Maine it's a real struggle to keep grapes on the vines until traditional harvest, let alone late harvest, because of the moose, bears, wild turkeys and birds. And, if they are lucky enough to have some frozen product hanging around come late fall, there would be so little juice harvested they would have to charge a great deal for it. Small country wineries don't think they can get away with charging those kinds of prices. Helps you realize what they're up against, and it makes you all the more grateful for the ice wine you can find.

But all was not lost while in Maine because I remembered to pack a couple of bottles of Bonny Doon's Muscat Vin De Glaciere, a faux ice wine that is simply incomparable in its price range. For under $20, Bonny Doon delivers year in and year out one of the most reliable dessert wines to be found. I never fail to be smitten by the gobs of candied apricot that awaits me when I pour a glass.

I've sung the praises of Bonny Doon before. I'll keep doing so as long as they make wines like this, capable of soothing the most fevered brow.


Anonymous Tony said...

Ahhhh, ice wine. And Bonny Doon made the best with their Orange Muscat Vin De Glaciere. Yes, orange muscat. I remember my disappointment when they began blending the orange muscat into their regular cuvee around 1997. Nevertheless, JD is correct. It remains a hedonistic pleasure and a great value.

I wonder if Randall Graham will ever bring the Orange Muscat Vin De Glaciere back?

6:51 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

I'm not usually one to tout Ohio wines, but Ferrante Winery on the Lake Erie coast makes a pretty darn good ice wine. About $28?

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Blogger JD said...

Wherever it comes from, ice wine is such a pleasure this time of year. And $28 is a pretty good price, in relative terms. Tony, don't think I've ever had the original orange muscat.

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Anonymous Tony said...

I remember picking up a bottle at Clarendon Wine in Boston near Copley Square after an arduous day at the Boston Wine Expo circa 95-96. Perhaps they discontinued it around that time.

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