By Rick Riozza 

Just the other night, our family was enjoying happy hour at the Cheescake Factory when we spied ice-skaters mixing it up with axel & edge jumps along with combination spins all on the valley’s new festive canvas of ice. 

Yep—believe it or not, this season’s unexpected and new activity for everyone is outdoor ice skating at The Renova Rink @ The River at Rancho Mirage, now open daily through January 8, 2017. 

the-renova-rink-gregg-felsenMy good friend, Palm Springs’ publicist and marketing guru, Joe Enos, wrote recently in these pages that, “The 2016 holiday season at The River at Rancho Mirage promises to the best one ever, where everyone will gather to create a lifetime of memories at the very first outdoor ice skating rink on Highway 111.  The Renova Rink brings the seasonal excitement and energy of New York’s Rockefeller Center and San Francisco’s Union Square to Rancho Mirage with ice skating under the desert’s bright warm sun and twinkling star-lit nighttime sky.

“Perfect for the young and young at heart, locals and visitors, this will be the most popular destination in the Coachella Valley for creating holiday traditions or just people watching.  Live entertainment at The Renova Rink @ The River will include local bands and DJ’s to set the tone.  Stay and enjoy ice skating, shopping and dining at our extraordinary lineup of boutiques and award-winning restaurants, or enjoy a movie in the new Luxury Loungers at The Century Theatres. The River offers guests the perfect combination of luxury and recreation -including ice skating- all within a short distance of Rancho Mirage’s world-class resorts and golf courses at the corner of Highway 111 and Bob Hope Drive.

What this all brought to my mind were the snowy and fuzzy memories of my first foray into the “Fatherland’s display of delicious vino and my fortunate stumbling onto what was to become a liquid love affair with German ice wine.  Spelled Eiswein in Germany and Icewine in Canada, it is a rich, flavorful and rare dessert wine that deserves to be on any wine enthusiast’s bucket list.

To boot, my first ice wine romance involved a very rare 1986 bottle of wine made from shriveled but premium Riesling grapes that had hung on the vines until Christmas Eve where a quick and total freeze hit the vineyards and all of the grapes were hand-harvested that night before the Christmas Day sunrise would bring its incremental heat to thaw and ruin the fruit.

That’s classic ice wine production: where as soon as the temperature drops sufficiently and the grapes freeze, grapes must be picked before dawn, and pressed into grape must. Because much of the water in the grapes is frozen, the pressed juice is concentrated, rich in flavor and high in sugar and acidity.

Indeed, ice wines are extraordinarily sweet but yet balanced by laser-focused acidity exhibiting bright fruit essences. Germany and Canada—having early and cold winters in common, probably produce the best ice wines in the world and  are the leading producers of traditional ice wines, but Austria, Switzerland and the United States, particularly Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York, also produce offerings. 

They make an excellent aperitif and these sweet nectars are a perfect complement to nut & fruit-based desserts and ice-cream or sorbets.  And, they are stunningly impressive enough on their own to be dessert.

Ice wine usually has a medium to full body, with a long lingering finish. The nose and palate is usually reminiscent of peach, pear, dried apricot, honey, citrus, figs, caramel, green apple. Further aromas of tropical and exotic fruits such as pineapple, mango, or lychee are also quite common.

Even those enthusiasts who do not even think about enjoying a “sweet wine”, once they’ve finally relented and taste the wine, they realize the bracing acidity keeps the experience fresh, alive, and exciting.  Relatively low in alcohol—often with only seven percent or so, it’s the perfect dinner party quaff—before, during, or after the meal.

The intrigue—and scarcity—with ice wines is that the perfect one-night harvest comes only once in a blue-moon, so to speak. There has to be that “perfect storm of factors”: healthy grapes still on the vines, a fast and complete frost, and a ready core of harvesters who have to act immediately, battling frostbite and lack of sleep.  As mentioned earlier, the (Trockenbeeranauslese) Eiswein I first enjoyed came from the acclaimed “Christmas Eve Harvest” that had not occurred in over fifty years, and, has not occurred since 1986.

German Eiswein is a true specialty, and a rarity, the last Eiswein harvest of any size was in 2012—it wasn’t on Christmas Eve, but absolutely delightful.  “An ideal Eiswein is like a diamond.” says Rowell Hepp, managing director of Schloss Vollrads in Rheingau (one of my favorite Eiswein production areas), “Crystal clear, pristine, pure, cool—it’s the benchmark for which all other Eisweins are judged.”

“It’s a game against Mother Nature that often results in painstakingly low, and sometimes nonexistent, yields. Birds are known to destroy entire crops. And the grapes can fall prey to a host of other dangers—wild boar, disease, mold, rain, wind or hail. Unseasonably warm winter weather can thwart an ice wine harvest completely.”  Catch the wine while you can—Cheers!

Details on The Renova Rink @ The River, such as hours of operation, pricing, renting of skates and general information are available on The River’s website at TheRiveratRanchoMirage.com. The Renova Rink @ The River VIP Lounge by Acqua will be open for Thursday-Sunday skating sessions. Parking for ice skaters and their fans is suggested on the west side of The River, near Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse.

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