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Blog: Eiswein and Ice Wine of Austria

Posted: Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:06

Blog: Eiswein and Ice Wine of Austria

July 05: Austria is one of the top three producers of Icewine, known as Eiswein in Austria and Germany, but it was a discovery to learn about their Ice Wine when it was served to me by an Austrian Airlines steward, when I travelled to Austria recenty,coincidentally to attend a Wine Summit where I had the opportunity once again to taste some excellent Eiswein

Icewine is made from frozen grapes below -7˚C by regulations. The grapes like Riesling and also Vidal (in Canada) are left hanging on the vines past their maturity. When it starts snowing and the temperature goes much below zero, they become like solid balls - with the water in the grape juice freezing. The grapes thus harvested are crushed gently and are fermented very slowly. The wine that comes out finally is very concentrated, full of tropical flavours, extremely long and justifiably very expensive. A few sips after dinner-with or without (I prefer without) dessert can turn a pedestrian meal into a Royal affair.

Austria and Germany have always excelled in making Icewine-because of the Riesling that is conducive  to  freezing and providing the elixir at the end and have been leading nations-till Canada came along. Although Inniskillin is their proclaimed leader in Icewine, several other producers have come to the fore and not only Riesling  and Vidal but also Cabernet Franc have been the protagonists.  The major factor has been their consistent cold winters- sometimes they are busy harvesting when Santa Claus is in town distributing the goodies. I have since tasted apple Icewine at Vinoble- the biennial Sherry and Sweet Wine Show in Jerez, Spain-and I find them very impressive.

I was travelling to Austria over a month ago, coincidentally through Austrian Airlines, to attend a Wine Summit organized by AWMB. One of the highlights of visits to Austria is the opportunity of tasting some excellent Icewine. But I didn’t know that they are also into ice wine as I was to discover in this flight which had been delayed by 16 hours due to weather conditions at the Delhi airport. As we were being served drinks, the steward asked me what I would like. Presuming they would be serving one of my favourite Austrians , a Grϋner Veltliner, I requested for a white wine. I was perplexed when I saw a couple of ice cubes floating in the glass. Extremely disturbed, I asked the steward what in the air had he done! He said stoically that the ice in the wine would make it drinkable.

Perhaps this made an Ice Wine for him. There was a time when many Indians used to think that Ice Wine meant wine with ice. But not now- and coming from an Austrian, I thought that was shocking and rude. Maybe he thought Indians didn’t know any better. Perhaps so, but I found it insulting. I was almost rude and returned it to him. Conventionally, one is not supposed to put any ice in wine (decent ones anyway) to dilute its character. There are many parts in the world where they might do it ( I know so) , especially if it is too hot. Wine Spritzers and coolers have been in existence since decades. But a sommelier or a steward ought  never to add ice to wine on his own though he would be correct to serve ice if so requested by the customer or passenger.

During my visit a few days later to Palais Coburg where we had a tasting of a range of TBAs  (TrockenBeerenAuslese- sweeter and even more complex than Icewine and a specialty in Austria and Germany) with Kracher wines- a leading producer of sweet wines including Icewine, a few of which I have had the pleasure of tasting before, Gerhard Kracher, the Young owner  (whose rather young father Alois Kracher had passed away tragically at a relatively young age in 2007 due to cancer) of the iconic winery told me that they produced Icewine in very good years(7-8 times in a decade).  That was also perhaps the reason why Gerhard had chosen to showcase the TBAs rather the Icewine. I could not help but remember the instance of ice wine served by his national airline.

On the way back to India, the stewardess was an extremely nice and jovial person.  I narrated the story of Ice wine to her after she had been persistent with a few glasses of Prosecco for me. Suddenly she walked to me with a glass of golden coloured wine in her hand. ‘Please drink it and let me know what you think of it?’ It was a delicious, vibrant sweet wine which tasted like a TBA to me. She came back and with a wink said, ‘this is Icewine from Kracher. I picked it up especially for you from the First Class.’

Thank you, Austrian- for the Grϋner Veltliner Ice Wine.  Thank you, Austrian for the Eiswein!

Subhash Arora


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