I wouldn’t put myself in quite the same league but it’s hard not to feel a certain patriotism at the moment, not only in the afterglow of the Olympics and Diamond Jubilee, but also as our home-grown wine comes of age. A celebration of the UK wine industry earlier this week provided ample proof not only of the status it now commands but also the quality of its produce.
Vintners’ Hall was the setting for what can only be described as a glittering English sparkling wine reception attended by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, the current president of the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA).
I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of a number of guests to officially meet the Duchess and, in the interest of making our brief conversation as relevant to the occasion as possible, I couldn’t resist commenting on the fact that she was clutching a large glass of red wine while the rest of us were sipping away at the various sparkling wines dotted around the room.
Her answer was that she loves red wine, something that I admit I’d ordinarily consider unfortunate given her position as president of the UKVA. However, it seems that last night she was a step ahead of us all.
Leaving aside the fact that the bitter weather was more suited to a warming glass of red than chilled sparkling wine, the biggest surprise of the evening was the quality of the red wines poured with dinner.
While we have come to expect our sparkling wines to be world class, and certainly those I tasted last night didn’t disappoint, our reds are historically more mixed and unreliable: perhaps not surprisingly given our climate. Hence my surprise and delight to find that Biddenden Gamay 2011 (served at a perfect ‘cool’ temperature) was full of bright, refreshing and exuberant black cherry fruit, while Three Choirs Cellar Door Pinot Noir 2010 provided a seductive contrast with its fragrant and warming summer berry compote flavours. Both made a delightful match for a comforting plate of Roast Breast of Gressingham Duck with pureed potato, glazed carrots, curly kale & juniper and port jus.
Other vinous highlights of the evening included the Denbies Noble Harvest 2011, a gorgeous glass of golden liquid reminiscent of good Sauternes but with a little more zest to its honey-scented sweetness, and Furleigh Classic Cuvée 2009, the ‘loyal toast’ wine which I just managed to take a sip of before I had to slip away to catch my train.
It was a terrific evening and particular mention must go to the Worshipful Company of Vintners and Master Vintner Michael Cox for hosting a fabulous event. Credit also to Paul Langham, Chairman of the UKVA and Julia Trustham Eve of English Wine Producers. Kudos, moreover, to all the brilliant, committed producers without whom the industry could never have achieved so much in such a short space of time.
We should all be very proud indeed.