Uncovering the past, present and future of Scandinavian wine

Mon, Dec 7, 2009


By Ray O’ Connor

How many of us can claim to have a king buried in our back yard? Swedish wine maker Göran Amnegård, for one, passes the burial site of the Viking King Blackemost mornings on his way to inspect his vines.

After spending 17 years in Canada, Amnegård returned to Sweden to produce wine and has rapidly become one of the leading exponents of Scandinavia’s niche wine industry.

Sweden’s best wine yards

As with the best vineyards in the world, site selection is vital and Blaxsta Winery is no exception. Situated on the Langhalsen lake system, 130km South West of Stockholm, the mild winds from the nearby sea pick up warm air from this shallow lake and act as an accummulator of energy to give the vines the extra two degrees in temperature they require for ripening grapes. “This area is one of the better ones in the entire country,” he explains. “In the south, near Denmark, they have a much higher humidity factor in the air, so when the grapes are ready for ripening by early October the days are shorter with higher humidity which leads to mould on the vines.”

The Icewine law

Blaxsta winery grows Chardonnay, Merlot and Vidal Blanc, a thick skinned grape with high sugar and acidity that thrives in cold climates. It is from this variety that Amnegård produces his award winning Icewines which, as the price tag reflects, are a work of art in themselves. According to the German Icewine law which he follows,temperatures must fall to at least minus seven degrees Celsius or colder before hand harvesting the vines.

A typical scenario in many vineyards producing Icewine would see temperature-regulated alarms sounding off at 2 am, dragging winemakers fromtheir warmbeds out into the snow to harvest. Amnegård knows better than to disturb his sleep patterns. He calls upon a wine club of around 25 people in Stockholm to come down the following day to get their hands dirty. The wine is then produced and aged in the sixteenth century cellar which was discovered by chance when clearing away a bush. What else is buried in this man’s garden – Atlantis?

The history of Danish winemaking

Denmark’s wine tradition is similarly steeped in history. Wine was produced by monks for over a thousand years until a small ice age in the 17th century that killed the vines. Situated in the town of Kolding, the ancient maps of Koldinghus Castle gardens portray the blueprints of a vineyard in the castle grounds which correspond to the accountant’s book of the same era, which notes the purchase of materials from Germany for growing grapes. Today, there are 63 registered vineyards spread across the country which have popped up since the EU regulations officially permitted Denmark to produce wine commercially in 2001. Since then there has been a dramatic increase in production from20 hectolitres to 546 hectolitres last year.

Situated 55 degrees north in latitude, Skærsøgaard Vin is the largest estate in the country and is owned by Sven Moesgaard who keeps up his day job in the pharmaceutical industry to fund the operation. Moesgaard relies on the expertise of a team of four to make the wine. He grows a selection of the lesser known hybrid grapes such as Rondo, Leon Millot and Orion which are suited to the local environment.

Literally translating to bright light-lake-estate, Skærsøgaard vineyard benefits from the sunlight’s reflection off the south facing lake to ensure optimum ripeness for the vines. Moesgaard also attributes the wine growing potential of this part of the world to the long sunlight hours – two hours more than Burgundy which is at 47 degrees north in latitude. “In 50 years we will see Southern European winemakers closing down their operations due to too much sugar in the grapes, giving alcohol bombs in the wine,” he claims.

Scandinavian experiments

With climate change Finland may benefit from the predicted rise in temperatures and perhaps expand from its current focus on berry wine to join its Scandinavian peers in conventional wine production. In Norway, Anne Enggrav has returned home from working in German vineyards to experiment with planting her own vines in Kristiansand, on the southern tip of the country. Unperturbed whether the plants die of frost next year or not, she considers it interesting at least to investigate the limits and opportunities that the predicted increase in temperature may bring us. Perhaps it’s time that the international wine companies planting vines in new regions like China and India should look North for new light on winemaking.

DON’s Orion Brut, Skærsøgaard, 2007, Denmark

Here is a perfect example of a quality sparkling wine without the Champagne label. It is lemon in colour with a light citrus note on the nose. Nice and dry with fantastic crisp acidity, the palate is filled with soft and creamy bubbles. Once again there’s a lovely citrus character present in the mouth which is ideal for a casual aperitif with friends over the holiday season. Available from www.hjhansen-vin.dk for DKr 395 (Approximately £48).

Blaxta Vidal Icewine 2007

A striking amber colour to the wine, aromas of intense sweetness of caramelised fruit on the nose. The intensity continues on the palate with demerara sugar, barley and honey. A nice piece of fresh goat’s cheese would be the best match to stand up to this sweetness.

Ray regularly hosts tutored tastings at Scandinavian
Kitchen, Great Titchfield St.. For dates and more
information, see www.rayoconnorwine.com or email

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