English Wine Week

This is English Wine Week, the annual celebration of our local wine industry.  And this year, my birthday fell during the week so, of course, we celebrated with a glass of Furleigh Estate Classic cuvee at a restaurant at Beaminster, Dorset, just a few miles from the vineyard. 

Back in Bristol, the next day, we met with some good friends of ours and, again, out came the English fizz, this time from Hattingley Valley Estate in Hampshire.

But the main event of the week was an English Wine dinner at Harvey Nichols (HN) restaurant here in Bristol.  A chance to taste 4 more English wines and to see how they match with food.  The evening started with canapés accompanied by a glass of HN’s own label sparkler, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with some of the characteristic creaminess from 3 years ageing.

The starter, soft shell crab, was accompanied by a vibrant mango, chilli and coriander salsa – perhaps not the easiest to match with a wine but the lively, crushed strawberry fruit of HN’s Cotswold Pinot Noir rosé managed admirably; the wine made for HN by the well-regarded Woodchester Valley vineyard near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Historically, England has struggled to ripen grapes sufficiently for a red wine so finding a pairing for a main course of lamb might have proved challenging.  But not in one of the best English vintages of recent years, 2018, where Litmus estate’s Pinot Noir, grown in Kent, reached 13% alcohol and, after 19 months in oak, had the richness and savouriness to work ideally with the lamb.

Then it was back to fizz to end the meal – not just in the glass but in the dessert itself: an elegant raspberry jelly made with Nyetimber wine accompanied, of course, with the same producer’s demi-sec (medium-sweet) Cuvee Cherie. 

A very sweet dessert would have overpowered the delicate and not-too-sweet wine, but that didn’t happen here; the balance of weight and sweetness was just right and a lovely way to end the meal.

A busy week of tasting– and there’s still 2 days to go until the end of this year’s English Wine Week.

A ‘Novel’ Evening

One thing I’ve missed over the last 2 Covid-blighted years is attending wine dinners.  At their best, they are great opportunities to meet producers or wine merchants at local restaurants where they can show off their wines paired with well-chosen dishes in a relaxed, sociable setting.  So, when Novel wines sent out invitations for an evening at Bath’s Green Bird Café recently, my wife and I were keen to book.   

Novel Wines specialise in areas often ignored by other merchants, particularly Hungary and the rest of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.  They also have an interesting selection of English sparkling wines on their list and a glass of one of these, Woodchester’s crisp, citrussy Cotswold Classic from Gloucestershire (£24.99), greeted us on arrival.

We were promised that chef Dan Moon would treat us to a 5-course Seafood Extravaganza and we were not disappointed.  Among the food highlights of the evening were a lovely piece of cured salmon with a creamy haddock chowder foam, some scallops in a delicious sticky crab risotto (my favourite dish) and, for dessert, panna cotta with rhubarb sorbet.

And then there were the accompanying wines, of course, all introduced by Ben Franks of Novel Wines. 

One of Hungary’s native grape varieties is Furmint which can produce high quality wines in all styles from dry to lusciously sweet.  It was one of the former, the rich, nutty Endre Demeter’s Estate Furmint from the Tokaji region (£24.99) that was my star wine of the evening, perfectly cutting through the oiliness of the salmon.

The choice of a rosé – and particularly one from Turkey – to pair with the risotto surprised me a little but a glass of Kayra Beyaz’s Kalecik Karasi (£15.99) convinced me.  The Kalecik Karasi is, again, a native grape and produced a delicately pink wine with crisp citrus and floral flavours – one to enjoy throughout the summer with salads and other light meals.

I love dessert wines to accompany puddings and Vakakis’ deep, intense but not cloyingly sweet Muscat from the Greek island of Samos made a perfect end to an evening of interesting and delicious wine and food pairings.

All wines are available from Novel Wines of Bath or can be ordered on-line.

Lightening the Gloom

The last 18 months have been a difficult time with Covid affecting all of us in some way or another.  So, when my wife, Hilary, had a ‘big’ birthday recently, we decided it was important to find something to lighten the gloom and celebrate.  And, like so many before, we decided it had to be fizz.  Traditionally, that would have meant Champagne; today, the choice is so much wider. 

Sales of Prosecco are booming, with its lighter, fruitier and slightly sweeter taste appealing to many.  The quality of Spanish Cava, once thought of as only a cheap and cheerful alternative, is improving greatly, too (although I still think you need to choose carefully).  And then there’s New Zealand with its perfect cool climate for fizz, Australia, South Africa, California.  How many birthdays would we need to sample all of those?

And the choice doesn’t end there.  There are different methods of production – traditional (as used in Champagne), tank, transfer, ancestral and so on – with each giving its own style and character to the wine as does the grape variety (or varieties) used.

So, with all these to choose from, what did we open? 

A delightful dry rosé sparkler from the Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall.  Made with Pinot Noir, one of the Champagne grapes, this was light and elegant with lovely strawberry fruit, a mouth-filling mousse and a long herby finish.  Delicious!  It’s quite widely available but we bought it from the Wine Society for £28 – a bargain when compared to equivalent quality rosé Champagne.

Regular readers will know that we’re great fans of English sparkling wines (indeed, English and Welsh wines in general) and this bottle confirmed our view.  But don’t just take my word for it, look at the number of medals and top awards our local bottles are winning and you’ll see why it really is time to take our home product very seriously.