Recently, thanks to my very kind brother, I became an extremely grateful recipient of a bottle of Eglantine Vineyard’s North Star 2011 (10.5% ABV, £32.00/375ml) by way of The Wine Pantry at London’s Borough Market.
Founded in South Nottinghamshire in 1979 by Tony and Veronica Skuriat, Eglantine Vineyard sits on four acres of what is fundamentally their back garden. It is named after the small, sweet briar rose that grows in its hedgerows. Despite its modest size they grow a collection of over two hundred varieties of vine, although wine is produced from only six: Madeleine Angevine, Seyval, Regent, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Their annual production is approximately 6000 bottles and can include red, white and rosé still wines, two traditional method sparkling wines – one made from Madeleine Angevine and Seyval and one made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier – and about 1000 half bottles of North Star. Not every wine is made every year; the line-up is entirely dependent upon the quality of the grapes that their 4000 vines yield. Alongside the wines, their apiary provides honey that can be purchased either in its natural state or transformed into a traditional, delicate style of mead and they also produce a rich, sweet cherry wine.
North Star is what Tony calls a “technical icewine”; it is made in the style of an icewine but it cannot legally be labelled as such. Icewine, or eiswein in German, is made from ultra ripe grapes that are left on the vine until winter temperatures drop below -7°C (-8°C in Canada) before being harvested. The low ambient temperature causes the water within the grapes to freeze and, by pressing them very gently, the ice crystals remain inside the grapes and an extremely sweet, concentrated juice is extracted. Icewines are made countries such as Germany, Austria and Canada where temperatures regularly drop to such low levels; elsewhere icewine-style wines are made by harvesting very ripe grapes and freezing them artificially as the local climate is very unlikely to freeze them unaided. Although the cryoextraction process is the same, only wines made from naturally frozen grapes can be marketed under the name of icewine – hence no mention of the term on the label of Eglantine’s North Star.
Due to the risks involved in leaving grapes on the vine for so long and in gambling on the weather, icewines tend to be both scarce and expensive. Although icewine-style wines can be produced much more reliably and regularly, similarly miniscule yields and highly labour intensive production methods mean they will never be inexpensive. However, there is very little difference in the quality of the wine produced using either of the two methods and the wines made from artificially frozen grapes should in no way be regarded as inferior, just as this particularly fine example proved.
Deep gold in colour, with an oily viscosity. The nose was richly honeyed and suggested bright mango fruit, white pepper spice, red apple skin, marmalade and a whiff of volatile acidity. Lusciously sweet and mouth coating, with very firm, mouthwatering acidity to balance. Similar mango, white pepper and marmalade flavours on the palate, along with tangy dried apricot and burnt sugar notes. What was probably a frighteningly high level of acidity ensured that the finish was as clean as a whistle with no trace of cloying sweetness. Very good indeed and a great example of what can be achieved with England’s cool climate, often highly acidic wine grapes, assuming that the weather plays ball and deigns to ripen them sufficiently.