Make your own discovery of ice wine

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Ice wine is a specific type of German white wine that can be produced only when a very specific set of winter weather conditions occur. As the grapes for this exclusive product can only be harvested after temperatures have dipped down below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s not every year that ice wine can be produced. The deep freeze allows the juice in the grapes to reach a high level of sugar concentration. The most common varieties of grapes used to make ice wine include Riesling, Silvaner and Pinot Noir. These ultra-sweet, almost syrupy wines make for a delicious aperitif and complement fruit-based desserts and ice-cream perfectly.

Like so many fabulous food and drink discoveries, it was serendipity that led to the creation of ice wine. The scene was set near Bingen, a town in the Rhineland-Palatinate perched kitty-corner across the Rhine River from the more famous Rüdesheim.

According to the story, the winter of 1830 was shaping up to be a harsh one. With food sources for the livestock depleted, the desperate locals came upon the idea of feeding them some grapes that had been left on the vine after the previous year’s harvest because they hadn’t ripened properly. It was discovered that the grapes, which had been subject to temperatures of -7 degrees Fahrenheit, yielded a must (another name for juice) that was sweet and highly concentrated. At first, it was feared that this hereto unknown substance could be dangerous to health or even poisonous. A vintner by the name of Henner owned wineries in both Dromersheim and Mainz. He pressed these grapes and produced a sweet and unique wine from them. Henner brought a couple of bottles of it to Mainz and shared it with his associates, who rated the new product highly. Nowadays ice wine has its own “predicate” or recognition of quality within the German Wine Classification system.

A stroll along the Rhine’s riverbanks reveals this unusual monument showing how ice wine grapes look in the dead of winter after the vines have shed their leaves. Beneath it is found a plaque in German describing the history of ice wine.

Should all this history conjure up a thirst, make way to the Vinothek Bingen am Rhein, where it’s possible to sample all types of wines produced in the vicinity, from bone-dry Rieslings to the sweetest of sweet wines. The vinothek is located right next to the Rhine at Hindenburganlage 2, 55411 Bingen am Rhein. Sitting on its deck on a warm summer day, a view of the Niederwald monument high in the vineyards on the opposite shore is the crowning glory of this panoramic view.

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