North Star – a great dessert wine

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
Eglantine Vineyard
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!

Tony Skuriat in his winery

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.

Canadian wine – Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula

Many things about my trip to New York State and Canada surprised me, not least the fact that there is a vibrant wine culture in this seemingly unlikey part of the world.

I used to always imagine that if you traced a line from Toronto, say, to Europe you would arrive at Bergen or Aberdeen – actually it’s Tuscany. Tuscany with extreme winters though. It is the winters that have traditionally prevented this part of the world from being seen as a leading wine region.

The New York part of the trip was wonderful, I learned and experienced a great deal, but the Canadian leg of the journey was in no way an anticlimax.

Firstly the journey over the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls was terribly exciting and then Niagara-on-the Lake was simply one of the prettiest towns I have ever visited – indeed it was quite like Stellenbosch in many ways, twee and touristy, but so nicely done. Staying in a wonderful hotel like the Shaw Club was a real treat. It was a great place to stay and if you are feeling lonely they will even lend you a fish for company! Continue reading