Winter in Yakima is awesome. Some people dread the winter months, but for me, it’s the best time of the year.
While things may stay a little colder and move a little slower here during the winter, they certainly don’t stop moving altogether. There’s a lot of farming in this region and snow doesn’t stop our production of some pretty great products.
Ever heard of ice wine?
Not a lot of folks have, but it’s a popular drink here. Wine varieties and production techniques make great dinner party conversation, but I realized that I don’t know much about either. Luckily, I have a friend in the business who can help us out.
Introducing Tiffany: the world’s least snobby wine expert
I’ve known Tiffany Britton for a good chunk of my life – she’s basically family – and her areas of expertise are wine, winegrowing, fermentation, wine production, and wine science.
Tiffany grew up on a cattle ranch in the West Valley in rural Yakima County, WA by way of the rural town of Enterprise in Oregon.
Her grandfather and great-grandfather were bootleggers, and she even helped her grandfather make hard cider when she was little. Her great-grandmother on the other side of her family lived in New England and made homemade wine from anything she could get her hands on.
Like farming, booze is in Tiffany’s blood – she just didn’t know it until she was almost old enough to drink!
Tiffany started out on a veterinary track, but later realized that she would be better suited to something different. So she started taking other classes, and one – ‘Welcome to Washington Wine’ – changed the course of her future. Tiffany quickly fell in love with the industry despite never having tried a wine she didn’t hate (seriously, she did not enjoy wine at all originally).
It wasn’t until a tasting trip to the Paradisos del Sol Winery in Zillah, Washington that she finally savored and enjoyed wine for the first time. Gone was the assumption that wine was only for fancy occasions, and Tiffany immediately knew that this was her calling.
It was during this trip that she realized wine comes in many varieties and that ultimately you can make the wines that you like! Tiffany asked the winegrower for a job and she ended up working for him and his wife Barbara for the next 2 years.
During that time, she obtained her Associate of Applied Science degree in Vineyard Technology and her bachelor’s in Horticulture from Washington State University. Since then, she’s gone on to work for some top winemakers and vineyards in Washington.
When I asked Tiffany what she loves the most about working in the wine industry, she said, “Tradition and technology, grit and glamour – this industry has everything! …I can get dirty and sweaty, make something with my hands, and then get all dolled up to share with potential customers in high-class situations. I can express my creativity while utilizing the scientific method. I will never be bored with my job.”
So what exactly is ice wine?
As you can imagine, Tiffany was my go-to lady when I wanted to learn more about ice wine.
She taught me that ice wine is typically a white wine made by harvesting and processing grapes after they’ve frozen on the vine. Once the grapes are pressed, only the most concentrated, high-sugar liquid is extracted. This process can be replicated using several artificial techniques, but according to Tiffany the best stuff is frozen by nature.
Why freezing matters
In frozen grapes, the water freezes but the sugar and other components that make up aroma and flavor do not. When the fruit is pressed, the juice that comes out is highly concentrated and more viscous than most wine.
In addition to being sweeter, the grapes used for ice wine gain a different flavor profile after being left on the vine later into the season.
Most ice wine is produced in climates with early, cold winters. The Yakima Valley doesn’t always get a proper hard freeze early enough for ice wine to be produced, so the grapes that are left to freeze can sometimes end up rotting away or being eaten by birds. Canada has a very large production of ice wine, as does Germany.
What it takes
According to Tiffany, you need three things to make a good ice wine:
- Good clean fruit (as with all wines)
- A hard freeze! Canada and Germany have laws that enforce that the grapes must reach -7° or -8°C (19.4°-17.6°F)
- Grapes that are kept frozen during the entire pressing process, to ensure the highest concentration of flavor
What’s it taste like?
When made right, ice wine will have flavors of raisin, honey, and dried versions of whatever fruit components were present in the juice earlier in the season. The finished product is typically a honey color and normally only white juice is used for this style.
The alcohol content is high in ice wine and the flavor is intense – perfect for sipping. Tiffany said that it can be referred to as “hottubbin’ wine,” but she mainly likes to take ice wine to holiday dinners and serve it for dessert.
Due to the high sugar level and intensity of flavor, ice wine can be drunk in small amounts alone. Most ice wines go great with Thanksgiving and Christmas spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, and Tiffany mentioned that pumpkin pie or spiced poached pears are a great choice for pairing.
I’m happy to try any of the flavor options above and get back to you all about which works best!
Okay, so the next time you’re shopping for wine, maybe treat yourself to a bottle of ice wine – we both highly recommend it! Let us know if you try it and what you think.