It’s a question I’ve heard more than you’d think.

Icewine has been around forever. The Germans have been making it for centuries and while eiswein as they call it, can be made whenever enough grapes freeze on the vine, even in coolerclimate Germany, it doesn’t happen often or early enough to make it an every year treat.

Icewine is – simply put – wine made from frozen grapes. With the advent of modern refrigeration, one could freeze grapes anywhere in the world, press and ferment them, and make ice wine. Though anyone interested in making a good or quality-driven icewine (it is one word in Canada), those grapes are best when frozen on the vine.

Icewine is expensive for several reasons, starting with the fact that pressing a frozen grape only yields a small amount of highly concentrated sugary juice. Ripe grapes left on the vine are a treat for every passing bird or bear, and as fall turns intowinter, the wild beasts make a banquet of remaining grapes. The temperature has to fall to below about -10º C for several hours and stay there long enough for the pickers to rush their soon to be frozen behinds (often in the middle of the night) to pick grapes and rush them into the press. Finally, making good icewine isn’t easy and it takes skill and experience to turn the juice into good icewine.

Once released, the icewine is typically sold in half size bottles that usually retail for more than $50 and often more than $100 for 375 mL. Remember the Germans? Well they get good conditions for eiswein about once or twice a decade. Canada? Winter comes every year. We got really good at icewine really fast.

Canadian icewine is (and should be) in the pantheon of the great dessert wines like Sauternes, Sherry, Port, and others – though it is a little sweet for some. But given our fairly recent timeline of quality winemaking in Canada, I decided to pull out all sorts of weird icewines from the cellar and beg a few other bottles to see if in fact, icewine does age gracefully.

These wines are generally no longer available for retail purchase, and the estimated prices reflect scarcity, auction values or similar.

Gehringer Brothers Minus 9 2009 Ehrenfelser Icewine
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Deep colouring, with great varietal character, spice, lemon, apricot. Really nice acidity to balance the sugar – showing very, very well. Currently $42 estimated value $75.

Sumac Ridge 2005 Gewurztraminer Icewine
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Orange gold colouring with lychee, mandarin orange, honey, and hints of sponge toffee. Still unctuous with acids well balanced, showing some development to the fruits, but very enjoyable even now. No longer being made, estimated value around $60.

Jackson-Triggs 2005 Proprietors Reserve Vidal Icewine
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
The big hybrid for icewine is holding up well, lemons and apricot with a little of that “vinyl” character vidal is known for. This beauty has balanced acids, great fruits, and a long finish. Still many years left here. About $80.

Pillitteri Estates 2007 Vidal Icewine
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Yellow-orange moving to tawny in colour, aromas are of canned peaches, lemon, beach ball, and lemon scented wax. Starting to wobble, the acids aren’t quite balanced by the sweetness and fruits are oxidizing. Value about $90.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2004 Zweigelt
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
A red icewine made with the zweigelt grape, it’s moving to brown with colour similar to 10 year tawny port. Aromas are herb and vegetable leaf with dried cherry fruit and mahogany wood. Sorry, this one is a bit over the hill, a bit like eating sweetened, cinnamon-dusted sawdust. 2007 is current vintage at $148.

Magnotta 2007 Cabernet Franc Icewine
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
A bit more redness to this red icewine, but still quite brown. Aromas are subdued with pepper and dried wood over softer bruised fruits. A little tired but wow, this is tasty. Maraschino cherries, spice, and a little summer fruit. Very interesting. Worth about $75.

Chateau des Charmes 2004 and 2007 Paul Bosc Vineyard Riesling Icewine 
St. David’s Bench, Ontario
Neither cork was in great shape, but those are the breaks. The ‘04 is significantly darker than the ‘07 but aromas were pretty consistent. Both had high-toned citrus aromas, though the ‘04 was more honeyed. Acids were pleasant all around, though the wines were exceptionally sweet. Drink or keep. Current vintage is about $65 at the winery; these two bottles should be valued about $120-140 each.

Tinhorn Creek 2006 Kerner Icewine
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
The 2006 is still quite bright and pale, with floral aromas, apple core, and lemon pie on the nose. Still excellent, some minor bottle development is bringing subtle layers of caramel – awesome. I prefer this one over the recent vintages of the same wine. Valued about $40 per 200mL for current vintage.

Nk’Mip Cellars 2009 Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Bright yellow in the glass with lemon, mineral, apricots, and a touch of apple cider on the nose. Again quite sweet, but zingy acids cut through and bring some balance. The lemon fruits are just starting to move to dried lemons, but this is going to go for a while yet. Excellent. $52 at the winery, current value – about $80.

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