Mention the words ‘Scottish wine’ and a few eyebrows are inevitably raised. ‘Isn’t Scotland too cold to grow grapes?’ is the question that often comes back.
Fife-based chef Christopher Trotter hit the headlines when he unveiled plans for his winery, while English Wine Producers – the official website for the English and Welsh wine industry – lists no less than four vineyards north of the border. Christopher has opted for three early-ripening varieties – Rondo, Siegerrebe and Solaris – and may even be able to produce his first experimental wines this autumn.
But you don’t necessarily need grapes to make wine, as Ron and Judith Gillies have been proving since 1987. They founded the Cairn o’ Mohr winery at East Inchmichael, near Errol, part way between Dundee and Perth, and now produce about 20 different types of wine and cider from fresh Scottish fruit.
Back in 1987, they were producing around 3,000 bottles each year, but this year the total will exceed 300,000 bottles, with about a third sold through supermarkets, another third through independent shops and the remainder direct from the winery or via its online shop.
Those original wines were in excess of 20 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) at a time when the average bottle of still table wine made from grapes was hovering around the 8 per cent mark. Today, Cairn o’ Mohr’s products are around 11-13 per cent ABV, while grape wines are now regularly clocking-in at 11-15 per cent.
Just like wines made from grapes, many of the fruit wines are also aged. At a recent tasting organised as part of 2014 Food & Drink – a year of events to tie in with the Year of Homecoming and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games legacy – sales manager Linzey Cairns highlighted that most of the range is aged for around a year before going on sale but some varieties – including the bramble wine – can spend two years developing their flavours before hitting the shelves.
The labels, website and brochures for the winery all emphasise the fun that the staff have making the wines, but it was the high standards of the more-serious quality assurance process that really struck me. Some of the ingredients for the wines are foraged by permission from estates around Perthshire, while others are cultivated on farms. Either way, Cairn o’ Mohr can use the batch numbers on the back of each bottle to trace back to find out exactly from where the strawberries or elderflowers or apples came. Impressive stuff and reminiscent of how seriously grape winemakers are also taking traceability these days.
Picking up a glass of the Gooseberry Wine, you’re immediately struck by the gooseberry and elderflower aromas, which at first bring to mind a glass of New World Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate, the wine is much sweeter than a dry grape wine, but there are still slightly flinty mineral notes coming through in the finish.
There’s no getting the Strawberry Wine mixed up with anything else – it’s really pronounced, with the aromas of strawberry jam and strawberry sweeties jumping out at you. The fresh strawberry and strawberry jam notes come through on the palate and are joined by hints of marshmallow and burnt sugar, along with a slightly sherbet-like finish. This is no Pinot Noir look-a-like, it’s a strawberry fest all of its own.
To the eye, the Elderberry Wine could easily be mistaken for a red grape wine thanks to its deep ruby colour. On the nose, there are notes of blackcurrant and wet leaves, with the dark fruit being joined by a slightly spicy note on the palate.
Linzey recommended trying the Elderberry Wine with steak pie or cheese – definitely some combinations worthy of further investigation.
Find out more at www.cairnomohr.com