Sneaking a peak at Sweden’s burgeoning wine industry

While perhaps best known as the home of Absolut vodka, Sweden also boasts a growing selection of wineries, food blogger Maia Brindley Nilsson discovers.

Sneaking a peak at Sweden’s burgeoning wine industry

It’s true! There is actually a Swedish wine industry – developing quietly and steadily in some of our own Nordic neighborhoods.

If this realization leads you to daydreams of lazy afternoon wine tastings at a charming local vineyard – think again.

Due to Sweden’s stringent regulations this is not as easy as one would hope.

My first introduction to the Swedish wine industry came this summer when I was browsing for a bottle of rosé at the local liquor store and happened to notice a lovely, slim bottle of Interkardinal ‘vin från Sverige’.

Although it was a little less wine (50cl) for comparatively more money (but still only 98 kronor — $14.70), I was intrigued.

Wine from Sweden? I had no idea.

In fact, there are 36 vineyards listed as members in the Swedish wine grower’s association, Svenska Vinodlare.

Most of them are located in the nation’s southern region of Skåne and range from hobby growers to more commercial operations as far north as the Gute Vingård located on the island of Gotland.

Isn’t Sweden too far north to produce quality wine grapes, you ask?

Although 50° N has been traditionally considered the northernmost latitude for successful vineyards, and vineyards in Sweden range from 55-57 ° N, the climate is changing.

The warmth is creeping northward and grape varieties are being developed specifically for climates like that of southern Scandinavia.

According to sommelier and journalist, Ann Janson, the most common green grape variety in Sweden today is Solaris while the most common red is Rondo. Janson believes there is real promise for Swedish wines.

“The Swedish white wines have a fresh and crispy style which is possible to produce because the grapes naturally keep a high acidity level thanks to the cooler climate,” she explains.

“This is harder to get in regions and countries were the climate is becoming too warm.”

Rather than trying to compete with the already established wine-making regions, Annette Ivarsson of Arilds Vingård also believes the success of Swedish wines will be found in matching the right variety of grape with the temperature variations of the cool southern Scandinavian climate.

She believes the Solaris variety that was developed in Germany is key to producing high quality Swedish white wine and that Chardonnay grapes can be successfully used to produce a sparkling wine of higher acidity.

Arilds Vingård is also working with Pinot Noir although Ivarsson admits that due to the climate “it will be harder for Swedish vintners to make full-bodied red wines.”

But that’s not to say it can’t be done.

My visit with Jeppe and Nina Appelin at Vejby Vingård, a small 2,000 vine operation, was inspiring.

They aim to be an organic vineyard that produces “distinctively Scandinavian” wines.

As Nina stated, “our vines have now finished their fifth growing season which means they are now mature enough for quality wine production.”

So far they have been experimenting with test wines of the red varieties Regent, Cabernet Colognes, and Cabernet Vineta.

This young, architect couple aim to keep everything done manually from harvesting the grapes to stomping them by foot in the old tradition. They even have plans to eventually age their wines in Swedish oak barrels.

For me, that combination of elements is intriguing and something worth paying a little extra for when the times comes.

And based on their first test vintage of a 2009 Regent (they aren’t licensed commercially yet so it was possible for me to try their test wines), I am enthusiastic for the day they officially open to visitors and to see what emerges from Vejby Vingård’s traditional methods.

While current laws don’t allow for any bottles of wine in Sweden to be sold outside of the state-controlled Systembolaget, there are options to support locally-grown wines.

There are a handful of Swedish wineries that have restaurants on-site where you can try their wines by the bottle or glass and potentially pay a fee for a wine-tasting.

Unfortunately you can’t buy any bottles to take away with you.

In July 2010, Systembolaget announced that Swedish beverage producers would be able to sell their products in the three stores nearest their production site. Additionally, all Swedish products available within the Systembolaget system are listed in the special order catalog and can be ordered with no additional shipping cost.

On separate occasions I asked my local Systembolaget for opinions of the two Swedish wines they stocked. The replies were not entirely encouraging.

I was told that although they are good wines, you could get something of the same quality for a much lower cost.

While that may be true, it seems reasonable to spend slightly more to support an intriguing local wine industry.

In addition, a Swedish wine is a unique option to present to your friends as a gift or to guests at your table. I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my bottle of Swedish rosé.

So when can you expect to be able to make that wine tasting trip to the Swedish vinvägen (wine road)?

Time will tell.

As we wait for the laws to change, the vines are maturing, which is a good thing. Let’s just hope the wait isn’t so long that a promising industry fades into a romantic memory.

Maia Brindley Nilsson is a designer and food enthusiast based in Malmö, Sweden. Her food blog semiswede is “sort of about Sweden, and sort of not.”

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.