The other day, while doing something else entirely different I was given an intriguing wine to try. The first thing I noticed was how good it looked, the presentation was stylish – from the appearance of the bottle and label I would have sworn it was a Canadian Icewine. On closer examination though I discovered that it came from Nottinghamshire, which is in England‘s Midlands and is not somewhere that I often associate with wine.
2006 Eglantine Vineyard North Star
Ash Lane, Costock, Nr Loughborough, Leicestershire LE12 6UX, UK
I have since spoken to Tony Skuriat who makes it and he really is a fascinating man and I intend to visit his vineyard soon. He only makes a tiny amount of North Star as it is made from a selection of his vineyard’s best fruit. It is 100% Madeleine Angevine, which is quite hardy and can ripen well in unlikely places – not for nothing is it one of Müller-Thurgau‘s parents.
North Star is a ‘technical Icewine‘, which means that the grapes are frozen in a freezer rather than on the vine – England just does not get cold enough to freeze grapes on the vine. I know from speaking to producers in Canada and New York that many people consider it gives better and cleaner results if you freeze the grapes after the harvest as it gives greater control of when the grapes are picked and can prevent all sorts of rot problems. Basically whichever way you do it the grape is frozen solid, so when it is pressed the water content stays behind as ice and you get just a tiny amount of intensely sweet juice from which a dessert wine can be made. The residual sugar content of this wine is 174 grams per litre, to put that in perspective most French dry white wines are around 2!
On tasting it North Star had a wonderful concentration of rich apricot-like fruit with real depth of honeyed and marmalade sweetness, with some barley sugar and even a richer touch of butterscotch. What made the wine sing though was the vibrant acidity that cut through the sweetness, made the wine balanced in the mouth and the finish gloriously long.
It really is a great dessert wine and does not fall into the typical icewine trap of being clean, delicious and one dimensional, this is complex and layered. When I asked Tony about this he explained that he ages it for at least 2 years on the lees. These are the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation and this ageing adds complexity and texture as well as developing the creamy characters which are alien to most icewines.
Rather wonderfully too the wine is made within the designated region of Stilton production, so at last we can truly eat a great British cheese and partner it with a perfect local English wine – who would have thought it?
I was seriously impressed and awarded this great wine 93/100 points.
At £32 per half bottle in the UK it isn’t cheap, but is well worth the money. A little is still available from the vineyard and if you get in quick from The English Wine Pantry in London’s Borough Market.
Aren’t Müller-Thurgau and Madeleine Angevine half-sisters/brothers? I thought Madeleine Royale was the parent grape. Anyway, I have mixed feelings about Ice Wine made in the freezer. To me it is something special that should only come about when the weather allows it – I quite enjoy the fact that it is beyond our control and involves bravery on the side of the vintners. However, as long as it is indicated on the label I believe everyone should do what they want and let the costumers decide. And as I am curious I will try some when I next get to the Wine Pantry (if there is still any left of course).
I sort of agree with what you say, but the wine is really great and it would be impossible to make true icewine in Leiceistershire or indeed to get botrytis or to dry the grapes in the sun – so it was the only option and it really is good. As for the genealogy, yes you are correct.
Thanks for the comment.
While I have a strong personal preference on this issues I acknowledge that this is just that, a personal preference. So I will certainly not complain if a winemaker is testing out things and makes a few bottles of ice wine using a freezer. If they want to do that regularly I also see no issue in that as such – it is their produce, after all. As a consumer, however, I would like to know what I am buying and how it is made. It also helps me to set price in relation – after all there are those who take the risk of leaving grapes on until frost comes and who shoulder the additional costs involved with one early morning getting a team together an harvest while the grapes are still frozen. Winemakers want to use oak chips instead of more expensive oak barrels? Fine, but put it on the label please.
To make this clear: I am not pointing the finger at Tony Skuriat – I am actually quite curious to try the wine -, I just raised this as a general issue. Thanks for the response, Quentin!
Thanks, I don’t entirely agree with you actually. I tried this wine blind with no idea of even the country it came from – as I said I assumed from the label that it was Canadian – and it blew me away. On reading the label I saw where it was from and reading between the lines deduced that it was made by freezing and that was confirmed when I spoke to Tony. Now I understand why he does not say how he makes it, because people will assume it is a method that is of inherently lower quality, therefore the wine should be cheap. When frankly it cannot be and when you have tried it you would realise that. There simply is no other way to make such a wine in his part of the world – it never gets cold enough for icewine there – even a late harvest would be impossible as it is so damp. So, given that the wine is very very good I think he did the right thing – with the best will in the world there simply is no way he could “take the risk of leaving grapes on until frost comes and shoulder the additional costs involved with one early morning getting a team together an harvest while the grapes are still frozen” it simply wouldn’t happen there I am afraid, but he would like it to which is why he does what he does. It has nothing to do with costs.
I certainly did not want to imply Tony did this to save costs; in England it may be the only way to make ice wine (well, until the weather gets even weirder perhaps). In other countries you can make ice wine relying on winter or on the freezer and I would insist that the consumer has a right to know. They can then decide whether they want to honour the effort to make it the traditional way and whether the quality is worth it. You have a point to say it may be unfair on Tony to have to tell the consumer how the wine is made as that may give the impression it is of low quality. I think the customer should have the right to decide and that it may be unfair to those who work with grapes frozen on the vine. Be transparent and let quality make the argument for you.
Now, the situation with regards to the North Star is so unusual that I don’t want to make this one example a special case and argue the principle right to the end. Also, while I don’t think ice wine has to be made in countries where the weather does not allow it I don’t see why this should be outlawed. Generally though I do believe that the term ice wine should be protected by law, either by a total restriction to frozen on the vine, as is the case in many countries, or at least by having a note on the label. Do what you want, let the customer decide.
a great fabulous desert wine . .. . . .
Pingback: My Summer Wine Part 2 – Welsh Riesling? « Quentin Sadler's Wine Page
Pingback: For the Love of Cheeses | Quentin Sadler's Wine Page
Pingback: 2012 – a look back at the best bits | Quentin Sadler's Wine Page
Lovely review Quentin. A beautiful wine which I searched out and was delighted to find a couple of remaining bottles of. This is artisan crafting, obviously innovative, achieving its maker’s high release standards, irregularly. Made with loving care. It has less relevance to correct nomenclature and marketing labels than to the art of fabulous taste and aroma. Cheers!