Monday, 15 June 2015

English Pub, English Wine!

So I've not blogged for a good 5 months now, it's about time I got going again!... An exceptionally busy Christmas at The Wingerworth was followed by having our first baby at the end of January, then moving house just 5 weeks later. The past few months can be described using every emotion imaginable, more often than not paired with incomprehensible exhaustion. But it's all good, because there's been plenty of wine along the way!

I've got so much to write about but my return to blogging has to begin with something that I've grown incredibly passionate about - English wine. Although I've tried a fair bit of the stuff over the past few years, my eyes were truly opened during my visit to London in May, to attend the English Wine Producers Trade and Press Tasting. Aside from brushing shoulders with some of the industry's big-wigs, I was privileged to try around 120 delicious English wines, some of which were just stunning. Genuine world-beaters! I have, of course, uploaded the majority of my tasting notes to Vivino now, but having been blown away by the quality on show I was disappointed to find that English wine was not a recognised style on the app. Since then I've started a small crusade to raise awareness and even created a petition to be presented to Vivino at some point in the not too distant future. Please do show your support!

There were so many brilliant examples and styles represented at the EWP tasting, it was difficult to choose favourites. But I've done it and here are my Top 10 English Wines of 2015:

10. Denbies Wine Estate, Juniper Hill, NV
Bowland Wines - £12.95
If you like crisp, grassy Sauvignon Blanc this is the wine for you. Nestled in the Surrey countryside, I actually visited the winery when I lived own that way whilst studying at Tante Marie. It's nice to think that I probably walked between the vines that bore this wine, but Juniper Hill makes the list on its own merit, not just nostalgia. In terms of single varietals, Bacchus was the most represented at the event, but aside from Bolney's offering, I found them to be too austere and tart. This blend of 40% Bacchus with 60% Ortega was lovely - in fact, it has just picked up an IWSC silver medal! Some might be surprised to find that the blend results in SB-like qualities, as Bacchus is actually a hybrid of the Germanic grapes Silvaner, Riesling and Muller-Thurgau and Ortega is Muller-Thurgau crossed with Siegerrebe. It's the cooler British climate that brings higher acidity and "green" notes to the wine. Juniper Hill is highly floral, with lots of freshly cut grass, herbs, tart gooseberry and a long, fresh finish. The high acidity is mouth-puckering, but not at all astringent.

9. Bolney Wine Estate, Pinot Gris, 2014
The Wine Society - £16.00
When I think of Pinot Gris I long for rich oiliness, powerful spice, apples and a floral edge. Indeed, the trepidation I had with an English Pinot Gris is that it will lose all of that lovely elegance and opulence that distinguishes it from, well, Italian Pinot Grigio... However, Bolney's position just 14 miles from the South coast in Sussex gives an interesting topographical advantage to their wines. Close enough to benefit from sea breezes, whilst far enough to be slightly sheltered and far South enough to maximise on sunlight and warmth. What results is an almost Alsatian example, full of green apple, pear, waves of mountain flowers and a honeyed sweetness that is beautifully balanced by the high acidity. What I really like about this though, is just how easy-drinking it is. I've got a bottle waiting on the rack for a sunny day.

8. Camel Valley, White Pinot Noir Brut, 2011
Waitrose Cellar - £28.99
Camel Valley are one of the "big boys" on the English wine scene and have been producing award-winning wine for decades at their gorgeous Cornwall vineyard. If you're ever in the area, their tours are highly recommended. I have a real soft spot for Blanc de Noirs. Whilst I do love Chardonnay, it's not for every occasion and there's something pleasing about getting a hint of sweet, ripe strawberry in your fizz, which is dampened down in a Classic Cuvee. As a 100% Pinot Noir, this BdN is surprisingly rich on the nose, with luscious strawberries and cream on the palate. If you're choosing a fizz to accompany Wimbledon-viewing, this has to be the one! Elegant, with a fine mousse and a hint of white pepper on the long, long finish. What an absolute delight of a wine!

7. Astley Vineyards, Late Harvest 2014
Hoppocket Wine, £16.19 (37.5cl)
Oh that's right, I've recommended a little-known English dessert wine! There were three on offer at the EWP Tasting and this was just stunning. What I like about Astley is that they're understated - exclusive you might say! With no website or online shop, they rely on reputation, word of mouth and the steady stream of awards that they keep winning year upon year. But that's fine, because their ethos is all about quality - using low yields to consistently make top quality wine. Based just North of Worcester, all production happens at nearby Three Choirs Vineyard. This Late Harvest wine is 100% Siegerrebe (Madeleine Angevine crossed with Gewurztraminer). What results is a generally low-acid wine, though some acid does creep through as a result of the cooler climate in the UK - not that this is a problem, because I think it creates a great balance to the wine. As expected with Gewurz, delicious aromas and flavours of lychee are prominent. In this instance accompanied by honeysuckle, candied lemon peel, ripe pear and a beautiful floral honey finish.

6. Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs 2007
Berry Bros & Rudd, £39.95
This is the first of two wines from heavyweights Nyetimber to have snuck onto my Top 10 list. Whilst many raise an eyebrow at the price-point their wines command, it is clear when you compare them to the rest of the field that they are doing something truly special in their small corner of West Sussex. We added this wine to our list at The Wingerworth last year and it has been a huge hit with anyone who has tried it. Just to affirm how good it is, the 2007 BdB recently scooped an IWSC gold award. Being a BdB, it is of course 100% Chardonnay and the reason it scores so highly for me is the sophistication with which the grape shines through. The nose is so inviting - a rich buttered toast aroma, with Earl Grey tea and slight hints of yeast. On the palate traditionally British flavours of apples and elderflower join the party, along with nuts and buttered brioche on the long, complex finish. It's just a joy to drink a sparkling wine like this - it honestly makes me wonder why anyone buys Champagne! Speaking of which, just a quick note about their Classic Cuvee blend - although it just missed out on my Top 10 (mostly because I didn't want three Nytimber on there) it's on offer at Waitrose (£23.99) at the moment and out of this world value at that price!

5. Hattingley Valley, King's Cuvee 2011
Slurp, £63.99
If Nyetimber are pushing the price-boundaries for English wine this King's Cuvee is certainly giving them a run for their money. So what makes this Hampshire wine so special? Well firstly it's a limited release, which will undoubtedly raise the price bar slightly. But most importantly, it's just very, very good! Unlike their Classic Cuvee (90% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier), the King Cuvee is a blend of 72 % Chardonnay, with 14% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This gives the wine a bit more freshness and fruit, but that said, Hattingley Valley do seem to heavily-Chardonnay their wines. The good news is, I like that!... The nose is buttery as you'd expect, with apples, pear, hints of ripe stone fruit and fresh dough. I'd like to see a bit more age on it, but given the limited nature of its production, I'm not sure if much will remain in 4 years time for it to compete like-for-like with the Nyetimber. Do I like it? Oh, yes! Would I pay over £60? Errr....

4. Chapel Down, Blanc de Noirs 2009
So I said I had a soft spot for BdN and this is a top example for me. The annoying thing is that eager to purchase, I couldn't find it for sale anywhere online! In fact so rare is this wine at the moment, that I couldn't even find an image of the bottle!... Having chatted with a Vivino friend, I understand that it won't be released by Chapel Down until their 2008 Pinot Reserve (50% Pinot Noir, 50% Pinot Blanc) has all been sold. The Pinot Reserve itself is another great fizz, which might have slipped into the Top 10 and is currently on offer at Majestic for £19.98, so there's really no excuse for us not to stock up an get our Summer drink on!... Back to the BdN - with 97% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier, this fizz is a bit of a fruit-bomb. Whilst some producers concentrate their efforts on a very small core range (2-3 wines in some cases), Chapel Down have so many interesting and well-made varietals/blends in their portfolio. Again, I was only chatting to someone yesterday evening about their Flint Dry (46% Chardonnay, 14% Reichensteiner, 12% Schonburger, 7% Huxelrebe, 7% Bacchus, 6% Muller-Thurgau, 5% Pinot Blanc and 3% Ortega) in particular, but just how consistently good their range is - I mean, who's mind works to make a blend like that?!... The BdN is full of delicious red fruit flavours - strawberry, raspberry and red cherry, with a fine mousse that spreads the flavours to every corner of the palate. In addition we get hints of green flavours including ripe lime and crisp green apple, leading to a slightly spiced finish. So what makes it stand out from the Camel Valley above? I think it's just more interesting and complex on the palate (whereas the CV is easier-drinking - both have their merits!...). Either way, I can't wait for this to be released.

3. Wiston Estate, Sparkling Rose 2011
Swig, £35.95
Wiston were one of the surprise packages of the EWP event for me - their wines are consistently brilliant. In fact, their Brut only just missed out on a Top 10 spot for me. I'm not usually a fan of rose wine, but this pink fizz from West Sussex blew me away - it's hands down the best rose I've ever tried. So much care goes into everything at Wiston, it's not surprising that their wines end up as good as they are - just take a look at their website (and label story). It's one of those rare wine moments, where your jaw hits the floor, it all sinks in and then a big grin creeps across your face. You cannot help but smile, I challenge you! And I'm not the only one who feels this way - it's just casually picked up a Gold Decanter Award, as well as  IWC Gold and Sommelier Wine Awards Gold... 57% Pinot Noir bangs in bundles of delicious fruit including sour cherry and raspberry, as well as adding a delicious spice to the finish. 33% Chardonnay adds richness and opulence without being overbearing - buttered brioche on the nose, with citrus folding its way into the complex palate. It's sublime, stunning, sexy, Summery and sophisticated! I've already put my neck on the line with the Nyetimber, but find me a better sparkling rose Champagne than this and I'll eat my hat! Unbelievable...

2. Nyetimber, Demi-Sec NV
Majestic, £25.98
We're getting to the business-end of the list now and this second offering from Nyetimber stopped me in my tracks, just as the Wiston did above. OK so a Demi-Sec is hard to pair with a meal, but you could quite happily drink this at the start of your meal, at the end of your meal with a fruit-based dessert or basically any other time that you wanted... Made from 100% Chardonnay, this wine has all of the brioche, butter, toast and lemon that you'd expect, but this is folded in with almonds, stone fruit and did I detect a hint of pineapple? The high acidity cuts through the richness of the grape and provides perfect balance to the higher sugar content. I've used this word a few times today, but it's stunning. I've also got to say that Majestic are doing us a great service at the moment by giving us 33% off these incredible wines!

1. Litmus Wines, Element 20 2012
Waitrose Cellar, £16.99
So my top wine - a still wine, not a fizz! This wine gets my top vote not only because it's exceptionally good, but because it completely took me by surprise. It's everything that I love in a white wine and I just wasn't expecting that an English producer could defy the British climate in producing a wine like this! It's rich, opulent, creamy, buttery, toasty and biscuit-y - just the things I look for when I'm searching for a good Californian Chardonnay. A carefully considered blend of 48% Chardonnay, 48% Bacchus and 4% Pinot Gris, this is the latest wine to find its way onto our list at The Wingerworth as part of a feature on "Our Favourite Wines". Praise indeed, but praise deserved!... The Chardonnay provides the bulk of the richness, bringing an amazing buttered toast nose and a lovely oily mouthfeel, along with a butterscotch sweetness to the finish. A refreshing mineral edge comes from the Pinot Gris and Bacchus brings bundles of crisp apples and slight acidity for great balance. The wine's name "Element 20", comes from the fact that the soil in which it's grown is rich in calcium, which also comes through on the finish. Oak ageing further enhances the flavour, adding a nutty edge and bringing all the flavours together. This is quite simply the best English wine you will find. Go on, treat yourself...

I feel so strongly about this, we've now got some serious world-beating fizz and white wine on our hands in the UK! I could only pick 10 favourites for this blog, but my original shortlist was 24-long. The EWP Trade Tasting left me with an enormous sense of pride for what British winemaking has achieved and how it is progressing in the wider world of wine. As a British pub, we felt that we were taking a bit of a gamble by adding a couple of English wines to our list over a year ago as a quirky feature, but it's much more serious than that now. Our "feature" has grown to 9 wines (certainly the most extensive offering in the area) and everyone who tries the wine loves them. Come on EWP, just as the cheeky chaps in California left Bordeaux stunned in '76 in the Judgement of Paris, let's sort out a Blind Tasting Competition against Champagne - let's get the cane out of the cupboard and give those boys across the Channel a damn good thrashing...

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