This should have been English Wine Week – the annual celebration of our local product; a week when wine producers open their doors to visitors and wine merchants lay on special tastings to promote one or more of the over 500 vineyards now making wines commercially in England and Wales. But not this year. The restrictions arising from the coronavirus outbreak mean that the date has had to be postponed and we will have to wait another month – until the (possibly optimistic?) revised timeframe of 20 – 28 June – before we can sample the latest home-grown award winners.
But we, and 2 local wine-loving friends of ours, decided not to wait. Our garden is (just about) big enough for appropriate social distancing for 4 people and, with a little planning and each couple contributing a bottle, a most enjoyable and informative comparative tasting of English fizz took place, accompanied, of course, by our usual attempts to solve most of the world’s problems!
Wines from the Chapel Down Estate in Kent are widely available in most larger supermarkets with a number of different bottlings, both sparkling and still, to choose from. But, it’s, perhaps, their Sparkling Bacchus (around £15 – £18) that most says ‘English fizz’ to me. Bacchus is rapidly becoming one of England’s most important grape varieties and this crisp, fresh example has lovely hints of pineapple and fragrant elderflower.
Just a short drive from Chapel Down is the Hush Heath Estate, who make wines under the Balfour label. Their non-vintage Leslie’s Reserve (Marks and Spencer, £25, Waitrose, £28 or direct from the vineyard) contrasted well with the Bacchus. Bottle-fermented in what we must now call the ‘Traditional Method’ (the people of Champagne say we mustn’t use the term ‘Champagne Method’), this is a typical blend of the major Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, given 18 months on its lees to add a slight biscuity or brioche character to the lemony fruit.
So, 2 very different English sparklers, both attractive in their own way and showing just how far English Sparkling wine has come in only a couple of decades.