A few years ago I came across an international wine guidebook that had a, tiny, section on England. I don't remember the exact wording of the first sentence, but it basically said that English winemaking was no longer exclusively dominated by rather mediocre efforts of retired army and navy officers. Not the most flattering of compliments perhaps, but still a sign of the wine world starting to notice that something is happening in England. To learn more about what exactly is going on in the green and pleasant land, I attended the English Wine Producers press tasting.
For two weeks I have been agonising about whether to write this wine review or not. I knew that there was no way I could do this wine justice, but I also felt I had something that needed to be said. What makes for a very pompous start does actually come down to a simple lesson: if you are exhausted and have a cold, don't open a wine you want to write about. So, kind reader, take this review with an even bigger pinch of salt than you should take any tasting notes.
Maybe I can make up for the lack of being precise or fair in my description of the wine by giving it a little context. Regular readers of the Wine Rambler will know that we are on a mission to explore English wine. Some of our past exploits have been failures, some boring, some great successes. All were fun. So when I headed out to the Sussex coast earlier this year to visit Hastings with friends, we made a detour to the Carr Taylor winery. Back at home I found that mysteriously a bottle of an award winning sparkling wine had found its way into my rucksack.
When the two Wine Ramblers met in London early in June to celebrate one year of wine rambling, it was obvious that we had to do a blind tasting. Because of our increasing interest in sparkling and English wine the choice of wine was easy: get an English sparkler and a German Sekt and then let's have the two of them slug it out. It would be 1966 all over again, Geoff Hurst facing Helmut Haller. The bottle is round and finishing it takes 90 minutes (or so). So, who will win the 2010 battle of the sparklers? And will it tell us anything about the England vs. Germany match at the 2010 world cup?
East Sussex may not be the first place on earth coming to mind when thinking of sparkling wine. And yet winemaker Will Davenport has had a lot of success with sparkling wines made in the classic champagne style since he started out with 5 acres of vineyards in Kent in 1991. I bought this wine from a wine bar/shop in South London that specialises in English and natural/organic wines - the Davenport sparkler happens to be both. The Limney Estate wine is made from 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Auxerrois and has been aged on lees for over 2 years, which seemed to make it an ideal candidate for a blind tasting against a German sparkler.
This is a story about a dialogue, a dialogue between English and German wine - or rather my personal experience of it. Moving from Germany to London made me see wine differently and I think I have benefited from this experience. In particular, it was a blending of national perspectives, perhaps even bias, that had some fruitful effects and made me look out for and experience things in wine I would otherwise not have done. While this is partly a personal story, it can also be read as a plea to look at wine in different ways and turn whatever national drinking bias we might have into a force that makes us see more, not less.
When the Wine Rambler committee assembles in Munich, we often send two evenly matched wines into a blind tasting battle. Last weekend was no exception and two formidable contestants were preparing themselves for the main event. To get us in the right mood for this epic battle, a good supporting act was needed. So I brought along a mystery wine. It was pretty obvious that the properly wrapped wine was a rosé, but little did my co-ramblers know that it was from the County of Kent. However, I too was in for a surprise - little did I know that this support-act blind tasting would turn into a triumph for English wine (to be followed by a defeat for German winemaking, but that is another story).
An English wine? Yes, very much so. One of the Wine Rambler's wine resolutions for 2010 is to explore the subject of English wine, and report back here. Today, that mission (virtually) leads me to Oxfordshire, specifically to Wallingford, about eight miles from Oxford, where Bob and Carol Nielsen planted 14 acres of wine in 1988. Today, Brightwell Vineyard make five different wines, including a rosé, a red (mostly made from Dornfelder) and a sparkling Chardonnay. They have won several prices for their wines and the 2007 Bacchus was awarded the Silver Medal in the 'Wine of the Year Competition' of the UK Vineyards Association.
It is time again to write up some wine relate news: the juicy, the interesting, the random and all other sorts of miscellaneous wine information the Wine Rambler happened to stumble upon over the past few weeks.
Let's start with one of your favourite topics, women and wine. Apparently, girls are somewhat intimidated by buying wine and they need a little help to overcome that fear: if the wine label is pink, features stilettos or if the wine is called 'Girls' Night Out' or 'Bitch', girls are apparently more likely to buy it. This is according to the Canadian National Post that recently ran an article entitled Wine, women and wrong?, asking the question: 'Do tarted-up labels do a disservice to female drinkers?' I do wonder why they do not consider that men too might want to make a wine their personal bitch?
It has been a while since I had my last English wine; so far my exploration of local produce has had mixed results, but then I have never systematically looked into English wine. Denbies is an estate that is hard to overlook though, seeing as they are the largest largest single estate vineyard in the UK. Located near Dorking in Surrey, the winery makes a lot of the fact that the North Downs have the same soil-chalk structure as the Champagne. The Surrey Gold, however, that we opened yesterday, is not a sparkling, but rather a "deliciously fragrant off dry wine [that] is rich in fruit and floral aromas with subtle hints of spice and a crisp finish", as the label informs us. It also tells us that the wine is a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus and Ortega; what it does not mention is the vintage.
While the week comes to an end, it is getting time for some wine news from the Internet: the miscellaneous, the bizarre, the enlightening. Let's start with Spar. 'Spar' means 'save money' in German (and, as I understand, also in several other languages such as Dutch, Danish or Norwegian) and I always took it for a smallish continental food retailer, until I found out that it actually is one of the world's largest. Maybe it is this international aspect of the business that has convinced Spar to go local with regards to wine. In the UK, Spar is now selling wines with the labels translated, well, not into English, but into regional dialects.