There are some topics that I find interesting which are made more so because I know there will be people who want to read about them. Posts about Wine & Spirits Education Trust exams are popular because there’s a small group of people who care a great deal, and even if I’m not a huge authority on the subject, they’re often happy for whatever information or analysis I can provide. Today’s topic, on the other hand, will be of interest to very few, if any, other people in the world. Nevertheless, if obscure grapes are your thing, I hope you enjoy this post concerning the Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009.
When I was studying with the WSET, I often found it unusual that they devoted any time at all to wine production in the UK. While there are some interesting wines being produced there, particularly sparkling wine from the south of England, the quantities and their impact on the global wine trade are so insignificant that it hardly seems worthwhile devoting pages to them in the syllabus.
That said, were it not for having to study wine production in England and Wales, I never would have heard of Madeleine Angevine. Course materials from 2000 in the Advanced class describe it as “A variety that supports the British climate and gives a good yield. It is perhaps best used for blending as it is low in acidity.” At the Diploma level in a more recent study guide, the variety is relegated to the “Less Important” topic list.
The grape variety is of relatively modern origin, having first been cultivated in 1857 and released in 1863. It ripens early, often ready for harvest by Sainte-Madeleine’s Day (22 July) from which it takes part of its name, while the city of Angers in the Loire Valley contributes the rest. It is the offspring of two grapes not currently used in commercial wine production, Circé and Madeleine Royal, and has been used as a parent for other varieties, notably Siegerrebe and Madeleine X Angevine 7672. It only has female flowers, which means it cannot self-pollinate, requiring other vines to be planted nearby. It does well in cool climates, and while it has all but vanished in the Loire, it seems to be embarking on something of a second life in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada. It is also used as a table grape within Krygyzstan.
You may have noticed that I didn’t list the UK among places it is planted, and there is a good reason for that. Despite what I quoted from the out of date course materials, Madeleine Angevine as described above is not what was planted in the UK. In fact, their vines are the Madeleine X Angevine 7672, cultivated originally in Germany as a self-pollinating offspring of Madeleine Angevine and an unknown father. There are other plantings of one or the other (possibly both) in Sweden and Denmark, but I can’t determine which.
Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of the grape until I moved to Australia, some thousands of kilometres from the nearest planting, cursed to forever remember its name but with little prospect of ever tasting it. That is, until a trip to Vancouver allowed me to stock up on obscure varieties bred for cold climates.
This one is from Larch Hill Winery, in the now familiar Okanagan Valley of British Columbia – read my post on the JoieFarm Chardonnay for more information if the Okanagan Valley is unfamiliar. Owned and run by Jack and Hazel Manser, the vineyard and winery were conceived in 1987 and planted commercially after five years of experimental plantings. The list of their vines reads like a Who’s Who list of cold climate crosses – Ortega, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, and Agria, as well as this Madeleine Angevine. In addition to their own plantings, they source Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and Merlot from neighbouring growers, and their site also lists Semillon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Lemberger (Blaufränkisch). Their wines are largely varietal bottlings of the above, with a few blends, and a trio of dessert wines.
A quick note on the spelling of the grape variety in this wine – the bottle says “Madeline” but their website has the extra “e” in “Madeleine” that is the more typical spelling. I don’t understand why they’re using two spellings. As with most things, I consider Wine Grapes to be the final word.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a few quick legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium minus intensity and notes of pear, custard, lychee, and red apple. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length. The palate matches the nose in terms of pear, red apple, and lychee, but also brings with it rosewater and a honeyed character. It makes the wine taste slightly sweet, but not in a residual sugar sort of way.
This is a very good wine. It has a rich flavour, with balanced intensity and length. While it is fruit dominated, it’s a fairly complex collection of fruit, and the rosewater almost gives it an aromatic quality. While I get very excited at the prospect of trying new varieties, I set my expectations low in terms of how they will taste when it comes to obscure crosses. Generally speaking, if they produced exceptional wines, they would be more widely planted, right? While that sounds pessimistic, it means the surprise is all the more pleasant when I come across something I thoroughly enjoy, like this wine or the Niche Wine Company Foch from back in December.