Open Newport Vineyards‘ Vidal Ice Wine with a crash helmet and a very small glass. Why? This dessert will swing its splintered bat of intensity at your face the second you uncork it.
The wine is certainly enjoyable, in the way that a rickity old wooden roller-coaster is enjoyable. You have to be ready for the ride. Exotic spices and dried fruits will siege for your attention. The musky edges on the nose and palate will rattle your senses. It tells you to forget your guests and finished dinner. Just sit back, sip its chilled syrup, and let it jerk your palate about.
How did Newport turn the humble vidal blanc into such a brawler? By waiting. Even with netting and alarms, grapes were lost to crows, deer and coworkers. Yet Newport left its vidal on the vine long after the Fall harvest. Those that survived shriveled on the vine, evaporating water and concentrating sugars to a massive 38 Brix.
By the third hard frost, they were picked at night. The cold had frozen the remaining water but not the syrup. Upon pressing the grapes, ice water and skins stayed in the press, while sugars and flavor compounds poured into the fermentation vat. A hyper-concentrated dessert wine resulted after fermentation was stopped to keep the residual sugar at 19%.
That is true ice wine: labor intensive, risky and pricey. If it is below thirty dollars, it is probably iced wine: a less concentrated late harvest that is chucked into a freezer and then pressed (i.e. cryoextraction).
Why vidal blanc?
The grape is another winter-hardy hybrid like my vignoles. Its parents include the ancient ugni blanc (i.e. trebbiano) and the modern rayon d’or (i.e. Seibel 4986). The former gives the acidity and fruit, while the latter provides thicker skins, ideal for late ripening. In the 1930s, Jean Louis Vidal bred this grape for cognac production because it was more mildew-proof than ugni blanc. But it was the Canadians and Americans around the Great Lakes that capitalized on the grape for dessert wine.
Acidity makes the difference. Without Newport’s cold, the sweetness would have nothing to clean it up. Vidal blanc’s ugni blanc parentage and the climate provide the zip.
This is not a great wine. The fruit shows no restraint, while the foxy, gamy spice overwhelms any elegance (probably from wild yeasts sneaking into unclean equipment or less-than-perfect grape sorting). There are better-balanced ices out there. But Newport Vineyard’s Vidal Blanc Icewine will grab you, whether you’re ready or not. Just strap in and let it obliterate meals, people or evenings you would prefer to forget.
There are moments when this would be the perfect wine!
It’s such a strange wine, but it works.