About English Wine
English Wine production has reached a new milestone in terms of popularity and position in the world wine market, so much so that even French wine makers are investing their time and money to capitalise on this growing success, particularly in the creation of English Sparkling Wines of the highest standard to rival their own Champagne!
The international demand for English wines has never been greater and that is due to the hard work and diligence of many English wine producers.
You may be forgiven for thinking that English wine is something relatively new in terms of world wine production, but this is certainly not the case. The Romans were just as active in planting suitable English locations with vines as they were in any other country they invaded. In fact as far back as the 1st century AD wine making was as popular in England as in any European region where there was Roman influence. Then in time and with the advent of Christianity, the monasteries became the focal points of most wine production in England with wine for sacramental purposes and local consumption.
The French Connection
It was however the marriage of King Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine that influenced the major decline of English wine popularity. With the introduction of many different styles of wine made available particularly from the southwest of France, taste for French wine became the trend and English wine began to experience a considerable lack of importance. This was accelerated later by the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, thus destroying the remaining sources and necessity of wine production in England at this time.
Did you know... "It was an English scientist called Christopher Merret, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, that first discovered the ‘Champagne Method’ in 1662, some 50 years before French Monk Dom Perignon laid claim to the process!"
Now more recently in the 60’s and 70’s, English wine has fought its way back and with a remarkable twist, a major Grand Cru Champagne producer from France, Didier Pierson-Whitaker has just released his first sparkling wine creation from its vineyard location in Hampshire and after seven years of vine cultivation, 5,000 bottles of Menohill will soon be available for sale, here in the UK and the international market.
However this must not overshadow other far sighted and experienced English wine growers of course who have invested considerable time, expertise and money into wine production over these recent years. Those of remarkable note include the wines of Chapel Down [the choice for the Royal Wedding in 2011] Three Choirs [one of the first pioneers] and the remarkable recent successes of Ridge View [winners of the 2011 International Wine and Spirit Competition] with their premium range of Sparkling Wines.
Finding the best English Wine
There are around 400 vineyards situated in England producing wines of notable quality and due to the damp climate of the areas of production, it is of paramount importance that the driest locations and those with the most adequate drainage are utilised. This is why the majority of the best wines come from vineyards in the south-west of England, but there are exceptions with notable vineyards further north such as Durham.
English Grape Varieties
There are many different grape varieties being used including as Muller Thurgau, Seyval Blanc, Bachus and Ricenstiener. Many are of German origin as our climate here in the United Kingdom is very similar and with the introduction now of Riesling it will be interesting to see whether this ‘king of the white wine grapes’ can produce some of the great wine styles it is famous for. Pinot Noir is also being experimented with by some growers in England and also Cabernet Sauvignon, producing some of the first English red wines, we must wait and see!
Did you know..."The largest English vineyard of 250 acres is situated only 20 miles outside of London, being ‘Denbies of Dorking’!"
The secret of the rise to fame of English Sparkling Wines is again location. The Sussex, Kent and Hampshire Downs rest upon the same chalk mass that runs from the Champagne region of France and the UK climate is also very much the same.
So by using the three grape varieties that go to make all Champagne and with the same method of production it follows that with the right expertise it is a natural path for producers to create their own Sparkling Wine based upon the ‘Champagne style.’
So as proud as we are of our ‘home grown bubbly’ I have listed below some of the major characteristics we should look for in the ‘best of the best’.
How should english wine taste like?
On the Eye: Pale straw to mid gold, with a fine and persistent mousse.
On the Nose: Aromas of crushed freshly baked biscuits, citrus with a hint of melon and perhaps honey.
On the Palate: Crisp, fresh and clean with light fruit and toasty notes. Should display a good balance of acidity
Matching English Wine with Food
Made for every occasion, all ‘sparklers’ of note are so versatile when it comes to pairing with food that as long as there is not too much overriding spice such as hot curries or an ‘overdose’ of chilli, then feel free to experiment.
It is best though to either choose to drink before as an aperitif or of course ‘for no reason at all, or make sure that you stick to the same wine throughout the meal including dessert and cheese! I would however recommend the ‘Bolney Blush Bubbly’ with a bowl of ‘fresh fruit salad’, the exotic the better, with kiwi and passion fruits, pineapple, 3 colours of melon and cape gooseberries, plus all the regulars. A little fresh cream, not too much and a glass or two of this delicious wine is a lovely way to enjoy a lunchtime, afternoon or early evening light hearted treat!