Grapevine Archive for English wine
How times change!
Vines have been in England since Roman times, even listed in the Domesday Book; however, the depth and diversity that is now on offer is remarkable. The experience many winemakers have had in other wine-producing regions, such as Martin Fowke from Three Choirs in New Zealand and Josh Donaghay-Spire of Chapel Down, in Champagne, Alsace and South Africa, along with investment in cutting-edge equipment has resulted in an increase in quality, aided by a climate that is making grape growing more favourable.
This week The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage is hosting no fewer than 10 English wines to try: three sparkling, six white and one rosé.
The award-winning sparkling wines would make the perfect fizz for summer days to come. Gloucestershire’s Three Choirs bring us the crisp Midsummer Hill (£7.50 per bottle), to start a picnic in style and, of course, the red-berry delight that is Three Choirs Rosé (£7.95).
It would be folly to forget the charms of the bacchus grape, which does so well in England. Chapel Down Bacchus (£11.50) and Camel Valley Bacchus (£13.95) both show off the flinty and fragrant flavours of this grape, which make a worthy alternative to sauvignon blanc and, as such, fine choices with a goat’s cheese tart or salad.
Other varieties which members may be more familiar with in our Alsace range can be seen in Chapel Down Pinot Blanc (£12.95), a lovely example of this grape with hints of melon on the palate and an ever-so-slightly off-dry finish, and the smooth Bolney Pinot Gris (£16), which has this variety’s characteristic spice and honeyed quality.
If you can’t make it to The Showroom, we include links to the wines above should you wish to join in the celebrations from the comfort of your own home!
The Cellar Showroom
Finding a wine able to complement a range of different cheeses can be a challenge. Some outspoken gastronomic experts even deem it an impossibility given the sheer scope of flavours and textures on offer.
Most cheese falls into one of five or six family groups: goat and sheep’s milk cheese, hard or cheddared cheese, bloomy cheeses (camembert and brie), washed rind cheeses (epoisses, munster etc) and blue-veined cheese.
Generally speaking, certain styles of wine will work better with each of these groups, but a good cheese board will probably include examples from all of them. So how do you find a wine that can cope with a strong, salty cheddar, a pungent goat’s cheese and a ripe camembert? This was the challenge we set ourselves when choosing wines for our special Christmas cheese and wine cases.
The line-up of cheeses included representatives from both sides of the Channel. In the French corner, we had:
Brillat Savarin – a triple-cream, soft cheese, made with unpasteurised cow’s milk with a deep, earthy and salty flavour.
La Graine de Vosges – a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese; pungent but with an unctuous, creamy and earthy flavour.
Vacherin Mont d’Or – a seasonal cow’s milk cheese made on the Swiss border shaped in cloth-lined moulds then encircled with a strip of spruce bark and washed with brine for at least three weeks. The spruce imparts a resinous flavour to the pale interior of the cheese which becomes almost liquid as it matures.
Bleu de Chevre Cendre – an unusual ashed and soft blue goat’s milk cheese made from the milk of Alpine dairy goats.
… and in the British corner were:
Cornish Smuggler – a hard cow’s cheese with lovely acidity and creamy texture and a soft red veining through the cheese.
Sharpham Brie – soft, unpasteurised, full-flavoured almost fruity creamy brie.
Ragstone – creamy, pronounced flavoured goat’s cheese from Herefordshire.
Golden Cenarth – award-winning washed-rind organic cow’s milk cheese from west Wales Its smooth interior texture in contrast with its interesting, sweet rind.
We tried a raft of different bottles with the cheeses (the idea was to choose French wines to go with the French cheeses) but as the tasting went on, one wine seemed to bring out the best in all of the cheeses, French or British again and again…The wine was Midsummer Hill 2010. This English white blend from the Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire is comprised mostly of madelaine angevine, seyval blanc and phoenix – in such a way as to be refreshing, light (10.5% alcohol), flavoursome and zingy – in sufficient quantities to take on all comers.
Yet another feather in the cap of a wine that’s been a patriotic Society favourite for some time now, so I thought I’d share the news. Should you wish to try it and indeed other English wines besides, The Society is currently running an offer enabling members to do just that!
Many congratulations to Mike Roberts, founder, director and winemaker at Ridgeview Wine Estate who has been recognised in the Queens Birthday honours. He has been awarded an MBE for his services to the drinks industry through his position as Chairman of the English Wine Producers.
Mike currently supplies The Society with two sparkling wines Ridgeview Bloomsbury, 2008 and Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rosé, 2008. The 2004 Fitzrovia Rosé was recently served by Her Majesty The Queen at a dinner at Buckingham Palace attended by President Obama and other guests.
Well done Mike!!
PS: Look out for our offer of English wines due to be made in August, which will include Ridgeview sparklers.
And so another annual English Wine Week draws to a close. As merchants and growers have been focusing on the continuing rise in both availability and quality of the native liquid, The Society’s Ewan Murray spoke to BBC Three Counties Radio about English wine earlier in the week. Click on the link to listen. BBC3CR 30th May 2011
Recently I was involved in a PTA fundraising and social event at my daughter’s school loosely based on the old TV panel game Call My Bluff. Wines are tasted blind in turn and the three panel members each give a different description, only one of which is true, and the answers – true or bluff – are revealed after teams place their vote. The Society’s tastings team has held such events in the past which have gone down a storm and more are planned for 2011, in case you’d like to come along and see how it’s done.
It is a fun way to taste and learn a bit about wine and raise valuable funds in the process, and I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone involved in their own school committee. You don’t need a Master of Wine or wine buyer to make this happen either, just a willing panel of parents and/or teachers. Stars of our recent evening were our Deputy Head, who settled in very comfortably to the role of raconteur and all round good sport, and Midsummer Hill 2009, an English white made for The Society by Three Choirs in Gloucester.
The Midsummer Hill was delicious and couldn’t have been better on such a balmy evening. It opened many eyes to English wine and just how far it’s come in such a short time. With English Wine Week upon us, why not drop in to one of the many events happening throughout the country, including at our own Showroom in Stevenage where bottles of English wine will be open to taste every day. Let’s hope we get more balmy weekends to celebrate with our own domestic product!