Cryoextract this

Cryo=very low temperatures, similar to the current NYC forecast. 

Cryoextraction is a fascinating and controversial way to make sweet white wine. 

Freshly picked grapes are held overnight in a special cold room, usually around 21°F.  The freezing point of the grapes will depend on their sugar content – only the less ripe grapes will freeze.  This means that when the grapes are pressed, the juice will only be coming from the non-frozen, ripest grapes, whose chemical composition has remained unchanged.  The colder the grapes are kept, less, but richer juice will be obtained (and vice versa).  The producer can manipulate the quantity and quality of the wine.

In essence, this process artificially replicates the conditions necessary to produce icewine.  Some notable producers, including Chateau d’Yquem from Sauternes, practice this method, opting for control and consistency instead of the wrath of mother nature. 

For true icewine production, the grapes are frozen on the vine.  This requires a deep frost with temperatures as low as 18°F.  The harvest is usually done between 5-8 am (sounds fun) and yields grapes with concentrated sugar, acidity and extract.  German producers started making eiswein in the 1960s and by the 1980s the majority of the country’s top producers joined in.  Today, you can also find icewine in Austria, the United States and Canada. 

Last night in Fundametnals of Wine class we did a side by side tasting of these two wines:

wine showdown: cryoextraction vs. true icewine

On the left is Pacific Rim’s Vin de Glacière, a single vineyard Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington and on the right is Mission Hill’s Riesling from Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, Canada. 

Both are 2007 and 100% Riesling, but the Pacific Rim is “of the icebox” as its producers say, while the Mission Hill is a true icewine.  Both were golden in color and luscious in body, but the class overwhelmingly preferred the Mission Hill, favoring its aromas of honeyed pears, its more substantial weight and its complexity. 

To be fair, there is a substantial price difference between the two wines – both bottled in 375 ml, the Pacific Rim goes for $14, while the Mission Hill goes for $59.99.  I could enjoy either with spicy food, a stinky blue cheese or as a substitute for dessert.

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