Not so long ago, English Wine was a joke – and a not very funny one at that! The pioneering growers in the 1960s and 70s chose to plant the varieties they thought were likely to ripen in our climate – often the unexciting Muller-Thurgau (the main grape in Liebfraumilch). They then tried to balance the inevitable acidity of barely ripe grapes by leaving plenty of residual sweetness in the wine, often back-blending in the German style (“sussreserve”) for extra sweetness. The result: wines that were, in the main, ‘interesting’ – in a masochistic sort of way!
How things have changed in the last 2 decades! English wines have improved beyond all recognition and many are multiple international award winners – often against the best in Champagne. In particular, our sparkling wines grown in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire on the same chalk soils you find in Champagne and using the same grape varieties. Many are so good that Champagne producers are buying up land in the south of England to produce their own versions. But, despite this, many customers’ views of English wine are still conditioned by the past and it remains an uphill struggle to convince them.
But there’s a great opportunity soon for those who haven’t tasted an English wine recently (or even those who have): English Wine Week begins on Saturday 27th May and many vineyards and wine merchants are holding special events to celebrate.
Not wanting to be caught out without a relevant bottle or two to open during that week, I’ve been collecting a few examples on recent shopping trips. The problem is, once they’re sitting on the wine rack, the temptation is close at hand and, in fact, the empty bottle from the Devon-based Sharpham vineyard’s Estate Selection dry white (Waitrose, £13.99) is already in the recycling bin. It was delightfully fresh and floral and, although only 11.5% alcohol, there was enough weight to go with some flavoursome smoked whiting.
English wines really have changed. Do give them a try.