Midsummer Madness!

AldwickA guided tour of a local vineyard followed by a wine tasting and a light supper. What better way to spend an evening in June? My wife and I quickly signed up for the Bristol Tasting Circle’s summer outing: a visit to Aldwick Estate vineyard, a few miles south of Bristol. We were looking forward to it but, as ever in Britain, the weather can spoil the best laid plans. And, on this particular evening in June, it was as far from summer as you could imagine: cool and with rain lashing down – more like November.

But, the trip went ahead and, after a welcoming glass of Aldwick’s Jubilate fizz, most of the group were happy to ignore the rain and go to see the vines – my wife was more sensible and stayed behind! So, along with Sandy Luck, the owner, we donned our wellies and waterproofs and stoically walked round the vineyard hearing about the varieties planted, the different methods of vine pruning used and the threat to the fruit from badgers.

Back in the warm and dry, we tasted 3 of the estate’s wines.   Bacchus is becoming quite a common variety in English vineyards and ripens well in our relatively cool climate. Aldwick’s example was delightfully fresh and showed all the aromatic, elderflower character that is so much of Bacchus’ attraction. Next up was Mary’s Rosé, named after the owner’s mother and already a medal winner from the International Wine Challenge. The blend of the rare Solaris grape, together with Pinot Noir and Regent produced a delicate but flavoursome strawberry-fruited dry wine that I sense would be quite food-friendly. And finally, just to prove how far English wines have developed, we were served the estate’s attractive, peppery red made entirely from their Regent vines.

With delicious charcuterie and cheese boards to follow, you could almost forget the weather – until, of course, the time came to leave for home!

Best Vintage Ever

Dunleavy 18 1 (2)With reports that the 2018 wine grape harvest in England and Wales was the best on record, I was really looking forward to the launch of the new vintage from one of my favourite local vineyards – Dunleavy, based at Wrington, just a few minutes’ drive south of Bristol.  And I was not disappointed. One sniff of Ingrid Bates’ Pinot Noir Rosé (£12.95 direct from the vineyard – www.dunleavyvineyards.co.uk – or from local wine merchant Grape and Grind) revealed a glass full of delightful spring blossom fragrances, followed on the palate with lovely raspberry fruit and a hint of smokiness. This is a proper rosé, almost dry, ideal for drinking, well chilled, on its own but with enough body to pair nicely with, perhaps, a fresh tuna steak in a Niçoise salad. In my mind, a deserving winner of a Silver Medal at the Independent English Wine Awards.

Although only the rosé was on show at the launch, appropriately held once again at Bellita Wine Bar, who pride themselves in a winelist comprising all female winemakers, Dunleavy are also now producing a sparkling wine from their own Seyval Blanc grapes. Only 500 bottles of the initial vintage were produced and, not surprisingly, sold out quickly before I was able to get my hands on a bottle. But I look forward to tasting and reporting on this new development later in the year.

As I have said before, English (and Welsh) wine has improved enormously in the last 30 years and there are now almost 500 vineyards operating commercially.  Many will be opening their doors or participating in special events during English Wine Week, the now regular annual celebration of our home-grown product, which begins on Saturday 25 May.  Do check the English Wine Week site for details.

And finally, let me repeat an important clarification: English and Welsh wines are often incorrectly referred to as ‘British wine’. British wine is produced from imported grape juice or concentrate and is not recommended; English (or Welsh, if appropriate) Wine is a quality product made from freshly picked grapes and reflects the place where those grapes are grown.

Sparkling Wines for a Sparkling Time

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.