May is National Wine Month in the UK and, given it closes with English Wine Week (28th May – 5th June), what better excuse could there be to crack open a bottle or two of English or Welsh wine?
There’s no doubt that the UK’s home-grown wine industry is thriving. Quality just keeps getting better and recently released figures revealed that 2010 was the largest volume harvest on record, at 30,346 hectolitres – the equivalent of four million bottles. Even Tesco, the UK’s largest grocer, has jumped on the bandwagon, launching an own-label ‘Finest’ UK white wine.
But what to buy? (And, equally, what to avoid?)
Recently I attended the English Wine Producers (EWP) Annual Trade & Press tasting in the grand setting of One Great George Street, London.
For once there was an air of genuine excitement in the room – quite different to the very British, resolute optimism that used to surround this yearly event. And rightly so: the industry has come a long way in a short time and the UK is now making world-class wines of which the entire country can be proud.
The sparkling wines are, without doubt, the leaders in terms of quality. (See also my blog on the ‘Judgement of Parson’s Green’ blind tasting.) In this regard, it’s good to hear that figures show around 50% of wine grapes produced in the UK are now intended for sparkling production.
The whites are still a work in progress in most cases, with far too many unpleasant and/or bizarre aromas and flavours kicking around. The few reds I tasted, by contrast, were the surprise of the day. Until now I thought it was a pretty pointless exercise trying to make decent reds in the UK. But now I consider myself a convert – and look forward to tasting new reds as they emerge over the next few years.
Listed below are my top wines from the tasting with notes and scores.
Information on stockists was not provided but wines are generally available from the wineries themselves or from one of the more enlightened retailers, from supermarket Waitrose to London independent merchant Artisan & Vine (which has now also started running tours to UK vineyards).
In addition, there are a few exciting new retail operations aiming to specialise in UK wines which are either just starting or about to open.
One is The Wine Pantry in London’s Borough market, which also features a tasting room with more than 20 wines to samples.
Another we’ve come across is Great English Wines, a website set to launch soon. This venture actually started out life as a business to import ‘boutique’ wine but whose owner Mark Haddock changed tack after a Damascene moment when he realised, ‘you can’t really get more boutique than the wine produced in the United Kingdom’. As he puts it, ‘the desire to promote English wine has taken over’.
It’s a zeitgeist thing…
Ridgeview Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2007 £24.95 – Attractive and vibrant lemon curd and fresh bread aromas. Rich and full-flavoured in the mouth. The acidity is intense but this is still a compelling mouthful of fizz. A very lemony and refreshing style with potential for further development. 7.5/10
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2006 £24.99 (Labelled as ‘Méthode Anglaise’) Slightly rustic in feel with bold red apple fruit and a touch of spice. This has the same flavour profile as some of France’s best small grower Champagnes. It’s uncompromising in its bruised orchard fruit way. 7/10
Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004 £25.00 (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Blanc) Deeply coloured and aromatic, with blossom and red apple fruit flavours. The apparently high level of residual sugar is well balanced by lovely, tangy acidity in this very gluggable fizz. 7/10
Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve 2006 £21.99 - Deep colour and rich, bready aromas. Not as funky or exciting as the Blanc de Blancs but still a rich, broad and very drinkable style. 6.75/10
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2006 £29.99 (55% Chardonnay, 23% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Meunier) Perhaps I expect too much from Nyetimber but I was ever so slightly disappointed by the two white sparkling wines on show. The Classic Cuvée was tasting better than the Blanc de Blancs. It displayed gentle, champagne-like aromas and simple bready flavours. 6.5/10
Camel Valley White Pinot 2006 £29.95 (100% Pinot Noir) A simple, fruity style with flavours of red apple and pear. The palate is more impressive than the nose suggests and has broad, tangy appeal. 6.5/10
Ridgeview Fitzrovia 2008 £22.95 (69% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir, 12% Pinot Meunier) Elegant red berry aromas with lovely, nutty overtones. A broad and tangy style with bruised apple fruit and lots of character. 7/10
Nyetimber Rosé 2007 £40.00 (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir) Bright but delicate, youthful pink with clean, summer berry scents. Still very youthful but with impressive fruit quality and refreshing acid structure. Very ambitiously priced. 6.75/10
Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé £38.00 (55% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier) Simple, lifted and refreshing, if a little confected. Expensive. 6.5/10
Chapel Down Brut Rosé NV £25.00 (100% Pinot Noir) Very pale salmon pink. Elegant summer fruit aromas. Palate a little one-dimensional but this is still a light and pleasing style. 6.5/10
Chapel Down Chardonnay 2009 £14.00 – An attractive and juicy, unoaked chardonnay. Shows some leesy complexity and minerality, reminiscent of a broad style of Petit Chablis. 5/10
Stanlake Park Wine Estate ‘Madeleine’ 2009 £7.49 (100% Madeleine Angevine) Aromatic and waxy with dry extract feel to the palate. Could work well with lightly spiced Asian food. 5/10
Chapel Down Bacchus 2010 £11.00 – The best example of Bacchus at the tasting. Vegetal, juicy and tangy. 6/10
Astley Veritas 2009 (Unchaptalised) £11.00 (100% Kerner) Gentle herbal and citric aromas in this off-dry white. The palate shows refreshing acidity and an interesting array of exotic flavours that won’t be to everyone’s taste but are interesting nonetheless. 6/10
Denbies Ortega 2009 £9.99 – One of the most interesting and successful whites of the tasting. Blanched nut and dried herb aromas are followed by bitter, pithy notes on the palate, which also shows a broad, dry extract waxiness. 6.5/10
Chapel Down English Rosé 2010 £10.00 (Pinot Noir, Rondo, Regent) – A very drinkable, summer berry fruit style. Displays a touch more complexity and nuttiness than the other still rosés on show. 6.5/10
Denbies Rose Hill NV £7.95 (Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Rondo) – Very bright, cherry-flavoured boiled sweet aromas. Good fruit ripeness in this attractive, light-bodied style. 5.75/10
Chapel Down Pinot Noir 2009 £13.00 – Nose a little closed but with attractive black fruit and pepper flavours. Almost Rhône-like in its engaging, plummy character. Falls away a bit and would be better with more fruit concentration. 6.5/10
Chapel Down Trinity 2009 £13.00 (Pinot Noir, Rondo, Pinot Noir Précoce) Purple. Really dark and juicy. Could do with a touch more fruit sweetness but a good, inky red that is reminiscent of Old World Cabernet Franc. 6.5/10
Biddenden Gribble Bridge Dornfelder 2009 £8.70 – Smoky cherry fruit, fresh and breezy style. Try chilling for summer alfresco drinking. 6/10
Bolney Wine Estate Lychgate Red (Dark Harvest) 2008 £9.99 (Rondo, Dornfelder, Triomphe) Dark, rich and oaky/smoky – a definite BBQ wine. Rounded and juicy. 6/10