Eiswein

In Central Europe, summer is a sometime thing, and as September fades into October, grape growers start praying to the weather god to let their fruit ripen before sending the first hard frost. Most of the time their prayers are answered. But even in years when they're not, growers have a fall-back position. Instead of writing off the crop, they pick the frozen grape clusters anyway and make Eiswein. In eastern Canada, harvesttime frosts are the rule rather than the exception, and winemaker Karl Kaiser is only disappointed when they don't freeze his grapes. For him, Eiswein is not just a way of salvaging a bad situation, it's the entire raison d'ĂȘtre of his Ontario winery, Inniskillin. By harvesttime, grapes contain a good deal of dissolved sugar, which lowers the freezing point of the juice. When the grapes finally start to freeze, the ice crystals exclude the sugars as they form, lowering the freezing point of the remaining liquid. When Kaiser decides it's finally time to crush his grapes, only a droplet of liquid may remain in each, but that droplet contains the concentrated essence of the grape's sugars and flavor components. Because cold weather allows grapes to retain their natural acidity, the grapes also contain abundant acid to balance their sugar, so the resulting wine is not just sweet but refreshingly tart as well, like perfect vine-ripened fruit. Creating such wine is not merely a matter of waiting for your grapes to freeze. Even on the chilly Niagara Peninsula, some winters are chillier than others; for the 2001 crop, Kaiser didn't even start the harvest until early February 2002 and sent his pickers back through the fields six more times, the last pass, incredibly, on March 5, so the harvested grapes had to be maintained in their frozen state for a solid month waiting for their belated brethren to catch up. Obviously, any wine so labor-intensive and produced in such small quantities is going to be pricey, and Inniskillin's are no exception. A 375- milliliter bottle of the 2001 riesling, half the size of a normal wine bottle, runs around $90 retail, a 2001 vidal around $100. At those prices, most of Inniskillin's limited production will probably go to high-end restaurants to be sold by the glass from the dessert menu. But home diners should definitely consider picking up a bottle of the newest addition to the Inniskillin product line. At $28 per 375-milliliter bottle, the old-rose-colored 2001 cabernet franc ice wine is a steal. Try serving it ice-cold with fruit sorbet or even chocolate ice cream for a light but perfect ending to a summer meal. GET THIS!

The Northwest produces quite a few agreeable, inexpensive white wines; DiStefano Winery's 2000 Columbia Valley sauvignon blanc is very inexpensive (around $8) and more than agreeable: Styled like a white bordeaux, it achieves character and complexity competitive with French bottlings costing upward of twice as much. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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