Tag Archives: English Wine

Drink Local!

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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.

Sharpham Estate SelnNot 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.

 

 

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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.