This week’s wine news: U.S. wine tariff update, which may include some good news. Plus, is this the beginning of the end of icewine?
• Big tariff losses…: The Robb Report, addressing last fall’s 25 percent wine tariff, says “The resulting price hike has made many bottles simply too expensive for U.S. sellers to import. Now, with an abundance of wine bottles in reserve, French vintners are reportedly slashing prices to stay afloat.” The story doesn’t get much more specific than that, though it does cite the French wine industry’s continuing woes. Still, one of the smartest people in the wine business told me, after the tariffs went into effect, that this was possible. Wine can’t be stored like steel, to be sold when demand picks up. It needs to be sold every vintage, and if vintages start backing up, the only way to sell them is to cut prices. We shall see.
• …but hope on the horizon? The Financial Times, the authoritative British business newspaper, says one possible Trump Administration response to the coronavirus might be slashing tariffs. The paper’s reasoning? That if the disease slows the world economy, it makes sense to remove the tariffs to cut prices to increase demand. The article speaks specifically about Chinese tariffs, but if it’s good enough for pork and soybeans, why not wine?
• Too warm for icewine: Icewine is one of the wine world’s great treats – rare, expensive, and incredible to drink. Now, thanks to warmer winters in Germany, it may be going away. That’s because icewine is made by harvest frozen grapes on the coldest of winter mornings, and there haven’t been enough of those mornings this winter. The German wine trade group says there will be icewine vintage for 2019, and only one producer will make a tiny amount.
This is one of the most expensive wines ever reviewed on the blog — $50 for a half bottle, assuming you can find it. Icewine requires bitterly cold winter temperatures, and the past couple of winters have been so mild that not much has been made. Hence, this is the current vintage, and there isn't a lot of it left.
Icewine is made from grapes that are left to hang on the vine and only picked on the coldest day of the year. Leaving the grapes on the vine concentrates the sugars, just like a raisin. Picking the grapes after they freeze concentrates the sugars even more. The result is a dessert wine of amazing qualities, somehow very sweet and yet also balanced. The residual sugar is 24.2 percent, about eight times that of white zinfandel.
So the equivalent of $100 a bottle for the Inniskillin (sample), one of the world's top producers, is not as ridiculous as it sounds. This vintage, made with the vidal grape from Canada's Niagara region, is a stunning wine, sweet and luscious and rich and overwhelming. A couple or three sips are almost enough; swish the wine slowly around in your mouth before you swallow, and savor the way the apple, pineapple, and honey flavors blend together.
Some people claim they can pair icewine with food — cheeses and berry desserts. But, frankly, there's no need. If you're lucky enough to find some, drink it slightly chilled as dessert, and make the bottle last as long as you can. It will be worth it.