By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 25 May 2019
English wine week starts today (Saturday 25 May – Sunday 2 June) with vineyards, restaurants and shops across the country celebrating the phenomenal rise in quality of English wines.
UK grape growing is entering its golden age. It has changed dramatically in the last two decades with plantings tripling since 2000; now with 2,888 hectares under vine, 522 commercial vineyards and 164 wineries.
A staggering two million vines were planted in 2017 and 2018 with a further 2 million planned for this year, so the industry is growing rapidly – even with Champagne houses Taittinger and Pommery crossing the channel to join the planting frenzy. Many of the grapes being planted are the classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Thanks to a bumper crop last year, 2018 production reached a phenomenal 15.8 million bottles of which 10 million were sparkling wines – and the UK industry is hoping to reach some 40 million bottles in the next twenty years.
The good news is that 99% of the UK’s fizz is made using the high quality traditional-method fizz with second fermentation in bottle, the same method used in Champagne. The bad news is that English wine prices are still high and have to compete directly with non-vintage Champagne. Some critics question who will actually buy the new big volumes of English fizz at these prices once new plantings come on stream.
The quality of English wine (both still and sparkling) can be mixed – with producers struggling to balance the high acidity with ripe enough fruit – but last summer’s glorious heat helped them with ripe 2018 vintage. Quality is also improving thanks to better early ripening clones, better sprays, good site selection and climate change with earlier bud burst giving a longer growing season to develop flavours.
Tastewise English fizz has more elderflower aromas, greener fruits and higher crisper acidity than Champagne, but it makes a perfect aperitif for serving on a hot summer’s day. Take a look at my pick of my favourite finds to see who has succeeded so far with both still and sparkling:
ENGLISH STILL WHITE
South Devon: EXQUISITE LYME BLOCK ENGLISH WINE 2018 ***STAR VALUE***
Grapes: Bacchus & Pinot Blanc
Well done Aldi for sourcing this lip-smackingly crisp vibrant blend and selling it under a tenner. I hope it encourages people to try English wines as this is fabulous value with its zesty zingy citric notes. Its crisp high acid and green fruits, it will certainly appeal to those who normally drink Sauvignon Blanc: 12.5%
West Sussex: STOPHAM ESTATE PINOT GRIS 2016
(£16.99 Waitrose Cellar; Hennings Wine)
Grapes: 85% Pinot Gris & 15% Bacchus
Tasted blind you might not that think this exotically aromatic Pinot Gris with its hint of sweetness, peachy fruits and rich intensity could come from the UK – it is . Stopham are building a great reputation for their still wines, created by Formula One racing designer- turned-winemaker Simon Woodhead who planted vines 12 years ago. He manages to balance the vibrant high acidity with rich texture – and note the moderate alcohol: 11.5%
ENGLISH STILL RED
Essex: LYME BAY PINOT NOIR 2016
(£19.49 www.lymebaywinery.co.uk; www.farehamwinecellar.co.uk)
Grape: Pinot Noir
Made by the Devon-based Lyme Bay winery, whose winemaker Liam Idzokowski sources grapes from Michael and Heather Bunker between the Crouch and Blackwater rivers in Essex for this Pinot Noir. Delicious cherry fruits, roast coffee beans and vanilla hints – a wine to serve to your wine buff friends to see if they can guess the origin: 12%
West Sussex: ASHLING PARK CLASSIC CUVEE BRUT NV ***STAR BUY***
Grapes: 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay & 10% Pinot Meunier
The outstanding favourite at a recent sparkling wine tasting – many people thought it was a Champagne. Ashling is an exciting newcomer to the English fizz scene. The 50 acre estate in West Ashling is owned by Gail and Matthew Gardner who cleverly employed the acclaimed winemaking consultant Irishman Dermot Sugrue (who worked at Nyetimber). Rich biscuit notes, depth of citric fruit concentration, vibrant, crisp and fresh with a dazzlingly long finish.
Oxfordshire: WYFOLD VINEYARD BRUT 2013
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Tony Laithwaites’ wife Barbara planted a two hectare vineyard on the Chiltern hills in south Oxfordshire and now son Henry is tending the vines – so it is a Laithwaites family affair – although the fizz is actually made at Ridgeview winery. Our tasters loved the zesty citrus fruit, soft creaminess and dry minerally undertone – more approachable in acidity than other English fizz: 12.5%
West Sussex: BREAKY BOTTOM CUVEE GERARD HOFFNUNG BRUT 2009 ***STAR BUY***
(£34.95 Corney & Barrow www.corneyandbarrow.com)
Grapes: 60% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Noir & 18% Pinot Meunier
Long established Breaky Bottom vineyard, first planted in 1974, in the South Downs is now making classic creamy cuvees. Rich intense bready nose, apple and apricot flavours with zesty citric undertones, soft texture with a rich nutty finish – this would match well tasted against Champagne. Named after the inspirational illustrator Gerard Hoffnung, a friend of Breaky Bottom’s owner and winemaker Peter Hall : 12%
ENGLISH SPARKLING ROSE
Dorset: BRIDE VALLEY ‘BELLA’ ROSE 2014
(£31.50-£35 www.rudewines.co.uk; www.thewinesociety.com; www.thewhiskyexchange.com)
Grapes: 80% Pinot Noir & 20% Chardonnay
A beautifully crafted rose fizz from grapes grown on a converted sheep farm near Bridport. It was bought in the late 1980’s by Steven and Arabella Spurrier who planted 44,000 vines across 25 acres inspired by the unique chalky Kimmeridgian soils – and the vines are finally mature enough. This has an attractive blush-toned ripe fruit rose with a soft mousse and rich berried flavours: 11.5%
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Join Rose’s Wines of Tasmania tasting on Thursday 11 July at Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com