Which sweet, unctuous drink is made from frozen fruit, sometimes single varietal and sometimes a blend of varietals, which is then pressed, fermented and sometimes aged in oak casks before being released and sold at high prices in elegant, thin bottles of 375 or 200 ml?
This description fits the traditional eiswein of Germany and Austria and the newer icewines of Canada. However, it also fits the cidre de glace, or ice cider, first created by Christian Barthomeuf (pictured below) of Québec in 1990 and now made in parts of Canada and the Northern US. Since 2000 Barthomeuf has been the winemaker at Domaine Pinnacle, located in Frelighsburg, Québec. As part of our tastings for Report # 27 Sweet Wines of the World, we had the opportunity for the first time to taste several of these intriguing wines, including the delicious Eden ice ciders made by Eleanor and Albert Leger in West Charleston, Vermont. Our assessments of these ice ciders follow below.
In 2008 the Québec legislature passed the Réglement sur le Cidre that sets the standards and regulations for production of ice cider in Québec. Those standards are now voluntarily followed by quality producers (like Vermont’s Eden) in the US as well. As with icewine made from grapes, ice cider can be made either from fruit frozen on the tree and then pressed or from the frozen juice of pressed fresh apples. In either case, the freezing serves to concentrate the sugars and flavors, resulting in a sweet, fresh-tasting wine.
Given the high level of residual sugar (RS) of these wines, they are best served cold at the end of the meal, preferably with creamy desserts and cheeses. Ice cider also pairs well with foie gras or liver paté at the beginning of the meal. The simpler bottlings of ice cider have a straightforward apple character, a bit like drinking rich, homemade apple pie. The more complex bottlings spend time on the lees, are sometimes aged in oak barrels, and have a more subtle apple character complemented by notes of butterscotch and toffee with a bright acidity that reduces the impression of sweetness.
Tasting Notes and Ratings
Champlain Orchards Honeycrisp Ice Cider Vermont ($30) 88
This cider made of 100% Honeycrisp apples from orchards overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks shows toffee and apple concentrate on the nose and palate. It has a very persistent, rich finish and superb balancing acidity. Alc 10%, RS 160 g/l.
Domaine Pinnacle 2008 Ice Cider Québec ($25/375ml) 90
This yellow amber blend of six different varietals shows aromas of butter, toffee and pecan pie. It’s soft on the attack and displays a layered palate of toffee, shortbread pastry, and caramelized apple. It has a very long finish. Superb. Alc 12%, RS 180 g/l.
Domaine Pinnacle 2007 Sparkling Ice Cider Québec ($29/375ml) 88
Gold amber color with aromas of butterscotch and baked apple pie. Intense apple butter, caramelized apples, and dried stone fruit on the palate. The wine is lightly effervescent and very sweet, finishing long and a bit cloying. Alc 12%, RS 160 g/l.
Domaine Pinnacle 2008 Signature Réserve Spéciale Ice Cider Québec ($37/375ml) 91
The yellow amber Signature Réserve Spéciale exhibits a nose of toffee, butter and dried fruit and a moderately sweet palate of toffee, butter pastry, and caramelized apple pie. The finish is persistent and shows bright, uplifting acidity. Aged on the lees for 8 months. Made of Cortland, Empire, and Honey Crisp. Superb. Alc 11%, RS 200 g/l.
Eden 2009 Ice Cider Calville Blend Vermont ($27/375ml) 89
The Calville Blend is made of eleven different apple varieties, all grown biodynamically and certified organic and blended to capture the strengths of each. It shows a harmonious palate with bracing acidity and layers of flavors. Has a very long finish. Alc 11%, RS 140 g/l.
Eden Ice Cider Northern Spy Vermont ($20/187ml) 91
A single varietal cider made of Northern Spy apples aged for one year in French oak. Northern Spy (pictured here) is an antique American apple especially popular in the 19th century for baking due to its sweet tart flavor. This cider has rich caramelized apple aromas and flavors with a dense, rich palate. It has superb acidity and a very long, intensely flavored finish. Delicious. Alc 10%, RS 150 g/l.