The Daley Question

Ice wine: Older is better?

Is 2008 ice wine still drinkable, reader wonders

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Ice wine

A seasonal worker harvests ice wine in Germany. (PATRICK SEEGER, Getty Images / December 13, 2012)

Q: I have a 2008 German Eiswein, and I haven't had it stored in a refrigeration unit since I got it. I was wondering if it is still good to drink. I have had the bottle stored upright in a dark cabinet that stays room temperature. Does it only need refrigeration just before serving? Any help on this would be great because I'd like to finally crack this bottle open.

—Hugh Scott Rockwell, Atlanta, Ga.

A: The ice wine in question here is a 2008 Nachtgold from the Peter Mertes winery, which is based in Bernkastel-Kues on the Mosel River in Germany. I think you're OK drinking it, although I'm always more confident about predicting the condition of a wine after long storage if the bottle has been laid on its side. The corks don't dry out that way and a dry cork lets air get into the bottle that can spoil the wine. You were smart to keep the wine in a dark cabinet; sunlight can damage wine. Room temperature or cooler is fine for storage.

You will want to chill this wine before serving. But don't make the mistake of forgetting that bottle in an ordinary refrigerator because the typical kitchen fridge lacks humidity and, with time, the cork can dry out.

So, back to the main question. Is it drinkable? Honestly, you're going to have to open the bottle and see. Generally, ice wines should have a deep golden color; brown tinges signal trouble.

Do have a spare bottle of something handy in case your bottle goes bust, advises Evan Goldstein, the master sommelier, author and president of Full Circle Wine Solutions, a wine and spirits education company based in San Carlos, Calif.

While the new year is always a good time to raise a glass of something special, you might want to consider keeping a couple of bottles of ice wine on-hand year 'round. The best balance a decadent sweetness with a vibrant acidity, a mouth-pleasing creaminess and brilliant golden color.

A little ice wine goes a long way. A 2-ounce pour is standard and a 375-milliliter bottle should serve seven to eight people at a sitting.

Ice wines are delicious, yes, but also expensive because they are so hard to produce. Grapes are left out on the vine until temperatures reach 17 degrees Fahrenheit — no wonder Canada is the world's major ice wine producer. The water inside each grape turns to ice and the remaining juices and sugars become concentrated. The ice and juice are separated at the winery and the juice turned into wine.

Ice wine is known as "eiswein" in Germany, where it has its own place in the country's wine classification ranking, and "Icewine" in Canada, where it is a legally protected name.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: wdaley@tribune.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.

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