Thanks to the frosty temperatures from January 19 – 22, numerous winemakers in nearly every German winegrowing region successfully harvested Eiswein (ice wine) grapes, reports the German Wine Institute (DWI). Eiswein-quality fruit may only be harvested at temperatures of -7°C and below. The colder it is, the more intense the concentration within the grapes, which is considered a huge benefit in very sweet berries like those of the ’18 vintage. Because the grapes tended to be very large yet extraordinarily healthy, this year saw widespread willingness to leave a portion hanging in the hopes of an Eiswein harvest.
In many regions, temperatures fell to -10°C this past days, marking an appropriate window for bringing in this naturally sweet specialty that is typically made from Riesling, Spätburgunder, Silvaner or Chardonnay.
Two wineries in the Nahe winegrowing region did manage to bring in a Riesling Eiswein harvest back on December 26 at temperatures of -8°C; another winery in Erzingen, near Lake Constance in Southern Germany, harvested Spätburgunder January 9.
Yet the record for the earliest 2018 Eiswein harvest goes to an estate in the Saale-Unstrut region, which dipped to the necessary low temperatures on November 28. Those Gewürztraminer grapes brought in at -7°C temperatures are not intended for sale, however, but rather as a dosage in a sparkling wine made from the same variety.
Lush flavors and low alcohol
Eiswein is considered the crowning glory of any vintage. What makes it so special is the dense concentration of grape extracts. Frosty conditions freeze the water content within the berry, which ultimately remains in the wine press. The juice then drips into the vats as sweet as honey. Musts with these levels of sugar are difficult for the yeast to process into wine. As a result, Eiswein tends to have very high natural sugar levels, typically exceeding 100 grams per liter, yet with low alcohol levels of just seven percent by volume, a major difference from sweet wines from warmer countries.
Yet this tremendous residual sugar still has a refreshing burst of acidity that keeps the wines from being cloying. They are highly popular internationally as both a rarity and specialty.
Eiswein is a tremendous companion to festive occasions, not to mention a lovely aperitif on its own. It beautifully complements fruity deserts, ice cream and sorbet.