Category Archives: English Wine

Sparkling Wines for a Sparkling Time

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Sparkling wineIt’s that time of year again!  So, if you’re going to have some friends around over the holiday season, what better choice to welcome them than with a glass of something sparkling? 

‘It’s Christmas so it must be Champagne’ will be the view of many but, as regular readers to this Blog will know, English Sparkling wines are consistently beating the Champenois  at their own game and, for me, a bottle of something from Nyetimber, RidgeView or one of the many other accomplished English sparkling wine producers is a better choice – as well as a good talking point.  You’ll find them at many wine merchants and Waitrose supermarkets for £20 – £30 – the same sort of price you’d pay for a reasonable Champagne.

But, if your budget won’t stretch that far, there are many excellent value alternatives.  French wines made outside the Champagne region but using the same production method are called ‘Crémants’ and bottles from Alsace or the Loire can often be found in supermarkets and are frequently very good buys.

From Spain and Italy respectively, both Cava and Prosecco have become increasingly popular in recent years – and for good reason; but do avoid the ultra-cheapies: sparkling wine making is a complex process when done properly and bottles selling for around £6 or £7 are likely to be pretty basic and uninteresting.  Prefer something around £10 and, if you’re going for a Prosecco, look for the letters DOCG rather than just DOC on the label – the ‘G’ is important and will be on all the best examples.

But that’s just Europe.  If you normally prefer still wines from the New World, why not sparkling wine from there, too?  New Zealand has an ideal climate and Pelorus (Majestic, £17.99) and Lindauer (same supplier, £10.99) are favourites of mine, while Champagne producer Moët and Chandon have set up in Argentina and clearly know what they’re doing – their Brut and Rosé are each £12.99 (Majestic, again).

So, there you are.  My quick guide to some sparkling wines for a sparkling holiday season.

 

A Birthday Celebration

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2016-10-19-09-34-50You may not think a trip to a vineyard would be anything special or unusual for my wife – we’ve visited many together over the years (“too many”, do I hear?) – but that’s exactly how she asked to spend her birthday recently.  And not even a vineyard in some exotic location!  We travelled barely 40 miles (65km) north of Bristol to Three Choirs Vineyard, close to the town of Newent in Gloucestershire.

We’ve been to Three Choirs a number of times and watched it develop into what it is today: one of England’s largest vineyards with some 30 hectares (75 acres) of vines growing at least a dozen different grape varieties.  From these, Martin Fowke, their well-respected and multi-award winning winemaker, blends a range of wines available in their on-site shop and restaurant as well as on-line.

The restaurant gives you the chance to taste the wines and see how well they work with food.  We sampled four during our 2 night stay: the Classic Cuvée is an elegant, Traditional Method sparkling wine that makes a very pleasant aperitif, while Coleridge Hill is a light, dry, fragrant and easy-drinking white for fish or chicken.  Ravens Hill is the surprise package – a proper English red!  Understandably light-bodied but with aromas and flavours of damsons and pepper, you could easily take this for a good Valpolicella.  And finally, perhaps even rarer, the gently sweet Late Harvest is a good partner for a delicate fruity- or creamy-dessert.

But the real bonus is that, after dinner, you can stay overnight; choose a room close to the restaurant and winery or, for the more adventurous (like us!) one of the individual wooden lodges right in the middle of the vineyards.  There’s little to compare with waking up in the morning to a view of vines touched by the morning sun, changing to their autumn colour and framed by trees, followed by a short walk through the vines to breakfast.   

In many countries, vineyards are now offering accommodation and meals to those who want to get close to where their favourite wine is made – try one – you won’t regret it!

Celebrating English Wine – Again!

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English Wine Week ends today (Sunday June 5th) and, of course, my wife and I have been celebrating by tasting some delightful examples over the past few days. But we also made a brief trip to Devon to visit a couple of the vineyards that are contributing to the rise and rise of English wine.

Devon may be less well-known as a source of English wine than, say, Kent or Sussex, but there are more than 20 producers there and its mild, Atlantic-influenced climate makes it a perfect place to ripen grapes, especially for crisp, refreshing (mainly white) wines.

Many of the county’s growers are small scale and only open to the public by appointment but others, like Sharpham, near the historic town of Totnes, welcome visitors daily (see www.sharpham.com for details). There, you can have a delicious lunch overlooking the vineyard (with a glass of their local product, of course!), taste a selection of wines and cheeses made on the estate and, if the weather is fine (as it was when we visited) take a marvellous walk among the vines and alongside the picturesque River Dart (see below).

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Further north in the county, near Tiverton, is another of our favourite Devon vineyards: Yearlstone. Smaller and less commercial than Sharpham, you always get a warm and personal welcome here – not least from the resident dogs! Timing your visit around lunchtime is a good idea as they, too, have an excellent café but you can also taste the wines and enjoy a peaceful stroll in the vineyard with its wonderful views over the Exe Valley (see below).

DSCN1352Yearlstone’s wines are well worth trying; they aren’t widely available outside the county, but you can buy direct from the vineyard (www.yearlstone.co.uk).

And that, perhaps, is part of the problem with English (and Welsh!) wines: they are made in relatively small quantities and so aren’t on every wine merchant’s or supermarket shelf. But do look out for them; either ask your local wine merchant or, if you have a branch of Waitrose close by, they are great supporters of English wines and have Sharpham as well as many other local names on their list.