Ice wine – The gift of winter

One of the most special kinds of dessert wines is the ice wine, which is beloved among others of its high natural sugar content. Although it has centuries-old traditions abroad, in Hungary it is only produced in bigger quantities since the middle of the 90-s.

The first records have been written in the ancient Rome, where some of the wine growers have started the harvest long after the frost set in. This practice has gone out of the fashion, and we have to wait until the 19th century to restart the habit, this time in Germany.

The secret of the ice wine is the patience. You have to wait the temperature to descent under -7 °C permanently, and the harvest of the grape must be done at night, or early in the morning. The frozen, jelly consistent overripe grapes must be harvested piece by piece, not by clusters, in order to avoid the damage. The grape must have been pressed before it dissolves. Because only the water content of the grape freezes, the sugar, the taste, and the aroma concentrates, the beverage will be sweeter than the other wines with the same alcohol content.

However not all kinds of grapes are suitable for ice wine. It is important, that the grape must be thick-skinned, resistant type and it has to last on the grapevine until the winter comes. In Europe, so in Hungary too, the most common ice wine grapes are the Welschriesling and the Rhine Riesling.

Of course, the production of the ice wine is a bigger challenge for the wine growers than the usual. Even more the juice of the frozen grapes are even lesser, which can be seen on the prices. In Hungary, due to the weather conditions, there is a bigger risk to make ice wine. The heavy rains can ruin the harvest, and averagely there are only two times in the year, when the temperature is constantly under -7 °C, which is not only a legal, but a technological condition.

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However, in the last few years the ice wines are getting bigger and bigger tone and also the tourists are open for tasting the offers of the excellent Hungarian wineries. For example in 2012, the Borbély Family winery’s Welschriesling ice wine from Badacsony, 2009, is chosen for the official wine of the Savaria Történelmi Karnevál (Savaria Historical Carnival).

The Borbély Winery’s ice wine of 2009 has become the gold medalist ice wine on the VinAgora International Wine Competition and got the special price of the most successful Welschriesling in 2011. Mr. Goulash, in the representation of the has asked Tamás Borbély oenologist to tell us some facts about this excellent wine and the achievements.

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The ice wine is a rare wine specialty. In Hungary there are very few vintages when the weather is suitable for the ice wine technology. On our estate we use the Welschriesling when we want to make ice wine, because we need a late maturing and good resistant type. The point of the technology is the following: the healthy, matured, moreover, the over matured grape freezes on the grapevines (for that maximum – 6-7 °C is needed for at least 4-5 days). Then these frozen grapes must have harvested and pressed. In the vintage of 2009, we harvested the grapes on December 18, under -10°C.

It is important that the harvest must have done in the morning hours, before the temperature increases, in order that the grapes can stay frozen the whole time. We will get a very quintessential must, which flows out from the wine press as hard as the honey. From the very slow fermentation of this concentrated must we will get the high sugar content, complex, sweet wine specialty. Our 2009 Ice Wine has 11.5 % alcohol and 180 g/l sugar content. It is a special, complex dessert wine with a quasi oil-like flowing.

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