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It may be about as far away from the Forest & Wye as it’s possible to get – but bear with us. We are talking Canadian ice wine! The reason? Well, it’s a small world – the sole UK agent for the Peller Wine Estate is based in the Forest of Dean.
A Canadian speciality!
Anyway, with that tenuous connection now established, we thought we’d tell you a little more about this fabulous sweet speciality wine that we were lucky enough to taste over Christmas. This style of winemaking relies on the harsh winter conditions in the Niagara Peninsular on Canada’s eastern border. Germany and, to a certain extent, France do have a tradition of wine making this way but the Canadians have taken it to a whole new level.
So, what is this ‘ice wine’?
It’s warm enough in summer to grow vines on the expansive Peller Estate. However, the area also has deep cold winters. The grapes are left to freeze on the vine before they are picked in the dead of night at a minimum temperature of -10°c and pressed immediately. Aged on the vine, and now frozen to boot, the grapes yield very little juice (hence the expense) which is incredibly sweet and ideal for desert style wines. It’s a similar principle to leaving your parsnips sweeten in the ground when the harsh frosts set in.
Could we produce ice wines in the UK?
We chatted to Judith who runs the multi-award winning vineyard at Parva Farm in Tintern to see if British wine makers could compete. The answer, sadly, is not quite. Judith told us that “the UK climate is far to damp to risk it for commercial wine producers. To get the sugar content to anything like that required needs a very early cropping variety, which then can shrivel on the wine in very dry conditions – very risky because you could lose the whole lot”. Wine production in the UK is also, quite rightly, strictly controlled by the Food Standards Agency and one of the things you can definitely NOT do – is covertly adulterate the natural sugars of fresh pressings.
French Sauternes and the ‘noble rot’
French Sauternes is a sweet wine of this style made from grapes which have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as ‘noble rot’. But again, the damp UK climate more often produces a rot of a less than noble stature!
Back to Canada!
So, it’s back to Canada. We tried the Riesling, a lovely bright yellow wine with wafts of marmalade and the Vidal and a rich honey taste. Our favourite was the rich red Cabernet Franc, bursting with berry flavours that also made a fantastic Boxing Day champagne cocktail! Incidentally, the red was a perfect accompaniment to authentic homemade Italian style pizza!
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