I Swoon for Icewine (Tea)

Icewine – or eiswein – is an interesting German peculiarity that appeared on the scene some three hundred years ago. Simply put, white wine grapes were plucked in the middle of winter while the juices inside were still frozen. The sugars within were more concentrated as a result. Creating a batch was a labor-intensive process that wasn’t streamlined until the 1960s. Twenty years later, vineyards in Canada collectively said, “Hey, we’re cold as S**T up here. We can totally make this stuff!” And so they did.

Two years ago, the existence of icewine came to my attention by – of all things – a tea blend I happened by in my usual searches for orthodox beverages. What really impressed me was that it was a white tea/grape fusion; I could think of no more magical a combination. But I was lifted from my reverie with a geeky pang – an urge to look up (and eventually try) actual icewine. I’d never heard of such a libation before.

Two weeks ago, an opportunity to try the dessert wine presented itself at – of all things – a Rapture party. From the first sip on, I was hooked. It tasted like mead only sweeter and more nectar-y. Before I knew it, I’d downed the 16(-ish?)oz. bottle. Solo. Even the one glass that the bottle’s owner didn’t finish. Habit-forming? Understatement.

Unfortunately, having icewine everyday didn’t seem like a healthy prospect in the long run – either for my wallet or my liver. As luck would have it, though, a teashop owner in Ontario – dubbed All Things Tea – presented me with an interesting alternative. An icewine white tea blend. My odd little journey had come full circle.

According to All Things Tea, the ingredients for their white blend were Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), Ontario Icewine, and a touch of Reisling. This differed from other icewine/white blends I read about in that there were no grapes, botanicals or flavoring agents included. I was actually relieved to hear that. While White Peony had a lot of flavor to it, when blended, a subtler scenting process was more complimentary. And by whiff alone, I could tell a devil’s deal was struck.

I can’t say that I smelled much of a white tea presence to this batch, but it certainly lived up to its moniker. It boasted its white wine fragrance loudly and proudly. Notes of sour grape, honey, and a mid-point sweetness clobbered my nostrils as I put nose to bag. Given my experience with actual icewine, I had hoped for exactly that type of bluntness with the blend.

Brewing instructions on the bag recommended 1 heaping teaspoon per 6oz. cup of steaming water and a two-minute wait. I tended to aim for an 8oz. cup o’ tea, so I measured off 1 tablespoon instead and went with a 165F water temperature. After splashdown, I steeped the leaves for a good two-and-a-half minutes. It was White Peony; it could take it.

The liquor brewed to an uncanny deep gold. It looked exactly like white wine, save for a slightly lighter palette. The aroma was both sweet and sour, reminding me a bit of lychee. However, the citrus tone was backed up by a smooth texture that completed the wine-like comparison. Some of the natural grape-iness of the White Peony also made its presence known in the finish.

I found this blend’s true calling when I dabbled with ice and a pint glass. After brewing a concentrate of 2 tbsn. of Peony in 8oz. of hot water, I filled a tall glass with ice, then poured the contents over it and stirred. The lovely gold from the heated brew didn’t dissipate one bit – if anything, it shimmered more. On the lips, it truly reminded me of icewine thanks to a honey-ish lean I hadn’t detected in the hot tea version. After a couple of savored sips, I tested out a dash of stevia. No surprise, it sweetened well, too. This is the perfect iced white for summer. What a shock. All the wine taste with none of the headache.

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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 Steep Stories Comments Off on I Swoon for Icewine (Tea)

Wine Review: Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve 2007 Vidal Icewine

Last weekend I felt like I was in college again. While I wasn’t an outstanding debauch in my early twenties, there were occurrences of not-so-well-mannered behavior. Such instances could easily (and often were) blamed on alcohol. What else was there to do in a city like Reno? Not much.

Since then, however – perhaps as a result of age or (shudder) maturity – I’ve slowed down some. My libation rituals were now the relaxed sort, and more importantly, the drinks had to taste good. Maybe it was the threat of an impending Rapture, or mockery toward the claim, but this last weekend…I partied. Hard.

Being in my mid-thirtysomethings has allowed me to develop certain, how shall we say, “expected refinements”. Beverages of the “whoo!” sort had to possess some redeeming palate quality. Crafted beers were better than macrobrews. Aged scotches were better than young. That sort of thing. All of that went out the window after the first Irish Car Bomb.

There was one glimmer of partial snobbery during the proceedings, though. A friend at Rapture Party #2 had in their possession a type of wine that was on my to-drink list. One that I learned of through a tea blend, no less; the much-touted Canadian ice wine.

Ice wine – as I understand it – is made from grapes that are harvested while they’re still frozen on the vine. While the grape itself is not frozen, the water within is, lending to a higher concentration of sugars from the grape…uh…juice to be pressed. The process of extracting said “must” requires delicacy.

First attempts at using frozen grapes for wine production date back as early as Roman times. However, it is believed that the first “eiswein” wasn’t produced until the 1790s. First recorded cases sprang up in 1830. Many found it to their liking, but further creation was a rare occurrence in Germany mainly due to labor intensiveness. The invention of the pneumatic bladder press (circa 1960s-ish) made production of ice wine on a larger scale more practical; Canada followed suit much later in the 1980s

The one my friend had picked up was from the Niagara Estate, part of the Jackson-Triggs family of wineries. It was an ’07 vintage and dubbed a “proprietors’ reserve”. I had no idea what that meant. I assumed it was fancy wino talk for “this-shit’s-expensive”.  Vidal was the varietal of grape used – a white wine hybrid between Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano, also used for Cognac) and Rayon d’Or (a rare grape that shared a name with a racehorse. No joke.) Said hybrid is mentioned as being well-suited to the icing process.

The liquor was gold-to-amber in appearance with a very “port”-like aroma – extremely pungent in its sweetness. It looked like no white wine I’ve ever encountered. If anything, on sight alone, it had the consistency of a flat pilsner but with a much better aroma. To the taste, wow…just wow. Sugar punched my tongue into submission, threatening a diabetic liquid coma. And that was just the sipdown.

Once the blunt introduction (and metaphoric cavity) subsided, it transitioned into a honey-textured, mango-rich top note that lingered on well into a creamy finish. This wasn’t white wine. Hell, this wasn’t even dessert wine. I know what this reminded me of. Mead. Straight, sweet, kick-your-arse mead – the kind waxed poetic in fantasy novels and Dark Age bar settings.

Before I knew it, I had polished off two-thirds of the bottle. I felt extremely guilty for doing so. The female friend that had provided it said she was just glad I enjoyed it as much as I did. This required further study and further sip-age. Return dips to the ice wine trough, though, were way out of budget. Until I possess the necessary funds to justify this expensive palate pleaser, I’ll settle with ordinary Vidal.

But…damn…that was good.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 Beverage Blog 18 Comments

I work for tea money.


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