There are many variations in sweet wine making but, perhaps, the most unusual is Ice Wine (or Eiswein as it is spelt in the Germanic speaking countries of Europe where it is often found).
This delicate but focussed sweet wine is made by leaving the grapes on the vine far beyond normal autumn harvesting dates until November or even December when there is a severe frost and temperatures reach minus 8°C (18°F) or below. When that happens, pickers are sent out into the vineyard before dawn to harvest the grapes while they are still frozen (the grapes as well as the pickers!). The crop is then rushed back to the winery and the grapes are pressed before they defrost. This releases the sugar in the grapes but leaves the water behind as ice pellets. The intensely sugar-rich liquid is then fermented as far as is possible – yeast struggles to cope with the level of neat sugar and surrenders (dying happily!!) way before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. Result: a beautifully balanced sweet wine but with relatively low alcohol.
Because these conditions can’t be guaranteed every year, Ice Wine/ Eiswein is quite rare (and consequently seriously expensive!). But recently, due to the temporary enforced closure of many businesses due to the corona virus, a local restaurant decided to sell some of its wine stocks. And, among the bottles I was lucky enough to buy from them was a delicious Ice Wine from Pelee Island on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. Made from the Vidal grape variety, a Canadian speciality, this had wonderful flavours of honey, grapefruit and marmalade and a finish that could be measured in minutes not seconds.
This was a real treat but, sadly, one unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
As the year draws to an end, it’s natural to want to look back on the highs and lows. Sadly, for 2017, I suspect that there are few connected with the wine industry who will remember the year with any great pleasure or affection. I’m thinking particularly of those growers in California, central Portugal and the Galicia and Asturias regions of northern Spain, all of whom have suffered such catastrophic fires in the last few weeks and months. I’m sure all Bristol Wine Blog readers will want to join with me in saying to those affected that our thoughts and good wishes for the future are with you.
But the year’s problems began months earlier. Damaging spring frosts then severe summer droughts reduced crop yields by almost a quarter in Italy and a fifth in France. And it was the same picture across much of Europe. Further afield, Argentina, though improving on 2016’s dreadful El Niño-affected harvest, still produced far less than its long-term average and Chile suffered a 2nd successive drop. Other major countries such as South Africa and, despite the recent fires, the USA look to have turned out quantities roughly in line with expectations. But, among the wine world’s top 10 producers, only Australia are really celebrating with their highest output since 2005.
As a result, based on current estimates, the volume of wine produced worldwide in 2017 is expected to be the lowest seen since the 1960s. So, should we expect prices to go up? Some rises are inevitable particularly where there are shortages of popular wines but it’s worth looking at the wider picture:
Overall, just about enough wine has been made this year so that, together with reserves that are already in stock, most of our demands should be satisfied. And, hopefully, 2018 will prove to be a happier year for both producers and drinkers alike.