“The future success of cool-climate winemakers will depend on how well they handle these riper years”by Barry Smith / March 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Have you heard of Danish wine? Neither had I until my recent visit to wineries in Zealand and Jutland. Though winemaking is a fledgling industry in Denmark, some vineyards have picked up international wine medals.
More than 20 years ago, Sven Moesgaard, a chemistry teacher who had made his money from vitamin supplements, began the long road to securing permission from the European Union to grow vines for wine. Now SkaersØggaard, his state-of-the-art winery near the coastal city of Aarhus, produces a range of award-winning wines. While tasting the range with him, I suggested he was engaged in extreme winemaking. “Not so much,” he said. “People forget that such a northerly latitude comes with longer evening light in summer where the grapes undergo prolonged photosynthesis.” He may be right. Alex Hunt, a Master of Wine, told me, “light may be the hidden variable in wine making.”
Seasons matter in Denmark and one vintage is profoundly different from another. On early showings, 2016 appears to be a very good year with ripeness and concentration, but the real trick is how to handle acidity.
Moesgaard is keen to experiment with production to create fresher or richer wines, where the latter are treated to prolonged periods in expensive new oak barrels. However, his fresher whites and sparking wines made the greatest impression.
Delicate, clean and distinctive, the 2014 Orion Classic using the Orion grape and a little Zalas Perle was a revelation. Imagine something between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc—pale and floral with a clean, fresh finish. A favourite of the Queen of Denmark, Moesgaard told me proudly.
His sparkling wines, with the Don’s label, contained a contrasting pair. The 2014 Cuvee Brut, a combination of Orion and the more acidic Solaris, was taut and satisfying with just enough sweetness. While the 2014 Fadlagret Natural was golden, rich and powerful having had its base wine—a blend of Orion and Zalas Perle—sit in new oak barrels. It took a gold medal at the international PIWI competition, while the leaner Cuvee Brut secured a bronze in Milan.
Red wines are a trickier prospect and even when using better-adapted grapes like Leon Millot and Rondo, there was insufficient concentration of fruit to support the oak in which the wines were cloaked. Though this did not stop some of them winning medals.
At the other end of the spectrum, I met with natural winemaker, Daniel Martin, in his snowy vineyard, about an hour’s drive from Copenhagen. A successful artist, Martin, has dedicated himself to letting nature decide what can be produced from his neatly tended vines in a sloping field on his parents’ farm. His range, under the Vexpo label, have found favour among advocates of the Nordic Food Movement and his wines are stocked at its flagship restaurant Noma. It’s not hard to understand why these wines are so successful with the natural ingredients pioneered by the Nordic Food Lab. These sleek, clean wines are surely the way to go.
Sticking to what works locally and expressing the tastes and traditions of the people who have grown up under vast northern skies, Martin is sowing a rich seam. The wines tasted at the Vexbo vineyard and the wines we tasted seemed to have locked in dazzling particles of ice clinging to the vines. The floral notes on the nose were followed by a sharp acidity balanced with ample palate weight from the Solaris grape. The 2015 Vexpo Solaris was so fresh and distinctive in flavour, it tasted like a fruit nature has not yet produced. Together we sampled the not-yet-bottled Solaris from 2016—a year with long autumn ripening, greater sugar and therefore more alcohol. The contrast with the 11.5 per cent abv of 2015 was stark. It is really representative of Danish wines?
The future success of cool-climate winemakers will depend on how well they handle these riper years. The white wines are distinctive and so suitable for the new Nordic cuisine, and as more of us adopt sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients to cook with, these wines may well be just the thing. The biting cold of Denmark’s winter is may have a lot to recommend it.