Thursday, December 1, 2016

Marcus Sedgwick's Snow and Ice Wine

It's December which means that I've already had a solid month of full on Christmas, complete with migraine inducing flashing lights, at work. What I'd really like to do right now is retire to some relativley peaceful spot where I could bake and read until it's all over. By some cruel twist of fate that's not an option, so instead I'm going to mark the days off on my advent calendar and focus on great books and matching drinks and hope for the best.

When I have more time to do 'Snow' justice I'll write about it again, it's the second of the Little Toller monographs I've read 'Mermaids' was the first) and its confirmed my impression that I really want the whole series. They're beautifully produced, elegant, little books that fit perfectly into a pocket and odd moments for reading (the chapters in this one neatly filled my bus journey to and from work - perfect). They're exactly the sort of book I like to give and receive, both because short as they are they pack a lot in, and they're so perfectly desirable as objects.

In 'Snow', Sedgwick covers a little bit of science, etymology, art, mythology, and history. He shares a few stories, and considers the transformative effects of snow, all in a way that sends the reader off on their own journey through memory and association, gently signposting some possible directions of thought along the way.

The obvious wine to go with a book like this has a magic and romance of its own - Ice Wine, or Eiswein can only be made under very specific conditions. The grapes, often Riesling (which is suitably disease resistant) are left on the vine to continue ripening deep into winter, until a frost of at least -8 comes along, and they're frozen on the vine. At this point they have to be quickly picked by hand as the grapes need to be 'clean' (no noble rot desired) and then they're pressed, still frozen. The result is a small amount of very concentrated juice which creates an intense, sweet, wine.

Because making it is both risky (if the frosts don't come in time and the grapes rot, there's no wine) and labour intensive, Ice Wine ranges from comparitivley, to eye wateringly, expensive. It's also very sweet - though well balanced with a zingy acidity that makes it taste incredibly fresh, and for want of a better word, pure.

There's a lot of prejudice against sweet wine which I do my bit to fight against. There will be people who don't like them under any circumstances, but for most of us its just a question of how we think about it. For me that means treating the wine as the main event rather than as an accompniement to a dessert (though if you like a salty blue cheese, these wines love them, and it's an incredible match). A modest glass of something as exquisite as an Ice Wine is a great alternative to a pudding, and as it deserves a bit of leisurely appreciation enjoying it with a book seems entirely sensible too.


  1. I've not tried Eiswein, but would love to. I always have a little bottle of sweet wine in for Christmas. (Brown brothers floral Muscat is gorgeous and cheap). Maybe I'll treat myself this year...

  2. Meant to add, glad you appear to have enjoyed Snow too.

    1. Loved it. The Brown bros orange Flora muscat is very good, but eiswein is another level. I think either Aldi or Lidl do one for around £14 which is excellent value and gets good reviews. Maybe one day we could get together and share a really exciting dessert wine!

  3. I have yet to read Snow but it is on my TBR list since I read and greatly enjoyed Adam Gopnik's Winter: 5 Windows on the Season. Ice wine is the perfect pick!!

  4. It certainly explores one aspect of the transformative properties of snow and ice. It's a gorgeous little book with a lot in it, think you have a treat in store :)