When Matt Connell, winemaker for Akarua, started tweeting about his Pinot Noir ice wine, he caught my attention. Ice wine from Central Otago! Not impossible. If there is anywhere in New Zealand that ice wine is going to be made, Central Otago is the place. But it's extremely rare. In fact, to my knowledge, only two wineries had made ice wine before.
In June 2002 a polar blast delivered up to 40cm of snow and freezing wintry conditions to Central Otago. John and Judy Currie still had Riesling grapes hanging on the vines of their Briar Vale vineyard in Springvale, near Alexandra. It's not unusual for grapes for sweet wines to be left on the vines for harvest on the shortest day of the year, if conditions permit it. But this cold snap came in what had been an unusually warm June, brining record-breaking low temperatures to nearby inland areas (Ranfurly -12.5, Lauder -15.4, Tara Hills -19.1). The grapes froze too. They were harvested while still frozen and pressed immediately to make to make the region's first authentic, commercially available ice wine. The 800 bottles sold for just $25 each. I don't think it was a huge financial success for the Curries because the last time they appeared in the NZ Winegrower's list, was the annual report of 2005.
I also found, on my stored away files (ie an article I wrote for the now defunct FoodService magazine), that Chard Farm produced natural ice wine from the bitterly cold winter of 1992.
Anyway, when Matt started talking about his ice wine and I told him about the Briar Vale, he asked, "Has anyone made ice wine from Pinot Noir grapes before?" I said I didn't think so. So I had the impression that the Akarua Pinot Ice, as it's called was made from grapes that had been frozen on the vine. And another first, because it was not made from Riesling, but from Pinot Noir.
So I guess I was a little disappointed to find that this was not natural ice wine in the sense that the grapes were frozen on the vine and picked while frozen. These were pinot noir grapes that were harvested and frozen in a blast chiller for three weeks. Just a little human intervention but principally it's the same. Frozen grapes, which are as hard as marbles, are pressed to extract the highly concentrated nectar while the water in the grape stays behind as ice crystals or trapped in the frozen skins. It's all about the science of cold. Special desert wines yeasts were then used in the fermentation process.
Anyway … all was redeemed in the taste.
Akarua Noir Ice 2011 is hedonistic and amazing. The colour is like a pink sapphire and the aroma is of fresh pinot grapes with a delicate musk / rose petal nuance coming through. Decadently sweet with a texture like thick nectar, the concentration is incredible and the taste is scintillating and bright with tangelo-like acidity penetrating the spun sugar sweetness. The pinot noir grape taste exudes through the wine and the finish is like macerated strawberries covered with a fine clear toffee.
Just 10% alcohol by volume, this 375-ml bottle has a cork closure that is covered with wax. Just 2666 bottles of this 100% Pinot Noir ice wine were made. A single bottle costs $40 – quite simply a steal. Dial up www.akarua.com and get in quick – you may still get it delivered for Xmas. With 204 g/l residual sugar, it really is a sweet wine lover's treat.
© Sue Courtney
19 December 2011