While searching for new wines, Iceland is not necessarily the first stop on an oenophile’s itinerary. However, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a bottle of Iceland’s first wine while on holiday there this summer. Yes, you heard correctly, Icelandic wine! Are you sceptical? Well you should be…I certainly was.
While perusing the shelves in the local branch of Iceland’s state run alcohol and tobacco company Vinbudin, I came across a bottle of Og Natura‘s crowberry wine. Instantly, I was drawn to the simplicity of the label and very impressed that the winemaker’s name was handwritten, as was the year, batch and bottle number!! You don’t see that everyday!
Immediately, I turned to my Viking husband and asked him what in the world a crowberry was?! Apparently, they are very tiny, tough skinned, aubergine colored berries that grow in the subarctic tundra and are high in antioxidants. In Icelandic they’re called kraekiber (cray-key-bear)…that’s as good as my Icelandic gets!!! They are usually ripe and ready to eat from late July until the end of August. They can be found throughout Iceland and are very easy to pick. Most Icelanders use them to create juices, desserts, marinades and simply to sprinkle on Skyr (Icelandic yogurt).
Icelanders have been making crowberry wine for years at home. However, now the Icelandic government heavily regulates the alcohol trade, which means that it’s also illegal to make alcoholic beverages without appropriate government approval and permits. It’s a shame that so much ‘red tape’ now exists because families would have their own unique style of crowberry wine. Og Natura’s crowberry wine is sourced from biodynamic berries and naturally made without any sulfites or additives. A true reflection of Iceland’s countryside.
I have to admit that I’m a bit partial to wines made with Vitis Vinifera grapes and find wines made with other fruits are often a bit too sweet and lacking in tannins. I know this is a huge generalisation, but honestly, it’s just my personal preference. However, I was told by a wine expert in Vinbudin that the crowberry is more tart than sweet and because of its thick skin (a way the berry protects itself from the windy, subarctic condition it faces) there is a higher level of tannins present than would be found in other berries, such as the Icelandic blueberry. Despite some reservations, I was willing to give it a go.
As I reached for the corkscrew, I soon realised my mistake…the bottle was sealed with a bottle cap! I have to admit that I wish it would have been sealed with a cork, as I think that gives it a bit more of a sense of occasion. Oh well, maybe I’m just too old school? While pouring this intriguing Icelandic creation, I was greeted by a pleasant, sweet floral aroma and impressed by the clarity and medium red, slightly purple colour that flowed from the bottle. Honestly, it looked like a glass of Syrah. As I gently swirled the wine, a starfruit aroma caught my attention. It’s been awhile since I’ve come across this note, but it definitely surprised me! In fact, it was quite pronounced once identified. However despite its dominance, I also detected the gentle aroma of ripe summer blackberries and raspberries. Once on my palate, I enjoyed a floral sweetness upfront of ripe red summer fruits (strawberries and raspberries) and some pomegranate notes accompanied by surprisingly sufficient tannins on the mid-palate with a longer than expected finish. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised!
My next predicament was what food would best accompany the newly discovered treasure in my glass? Well, to be quite honest, crowberries grow in the Icelandic tundra and what better food to pair it with than a good ol’ Icelandic roast leg of lamb. Often, the best pairings occur naturally.