English wine is a game of two halves. The wine that has bubbles in and the wine that hasn’t. As far as sparkling wine goes, it has really come of age with a high world class standard much in evidence.
On the face of it, yesterday’s English Wine Producers annual trade and press tasting showed that there is now a discernible style right across the proliferation of producers of English sparkling wine. The standard was generally very reliable with many vast, tangible improvements in evidence year on year, impressive given that acreage has doubled in the past eight years.
I had 8 out of 10 sparkling wines being very good to excellent with the Blanc de Blancs, Traditional Varietal Cuvées and Blanc de Noirs showing well, the Rosés less well. The four non-Champagne varieties/ blends (ie they all used Serval Blanc), were good, the sole Demi-Sec on show, the Nyetimber was as good as always. I know it’s hard to sell a sweeter style but I still rate this as one of the finest English sparkling wines we produce.
The vast majority then I would be happy to have on my table and I would be happy to pay premium prices. It was the homogeneity of style that knocked me out – steely, linear acidity like brilliant shards of sherbet lemon cutting into your mouth, green apples, cream soda, an over-abundant mousse, terrific texture. What’s not to like?
With very few exceptions, however, the still wines were a disappointment. Kit’s Coty Estate 2013 proved once again why Chapeldown is arguably England’s finest producer of still Chardonnay and I do have a soft spot for some of the Bacchus but that was by and large it.
To use another sporting analogy. English sparkling wine is like one kind of English cricket innings where the openers settle down and play a solid session followed by a succession of batsmen who each get into double figures and manage a vast array of classy shots to rack up a sizeable score before the cream tea comes out. The score on the pavilion is just as good as the away team, if not better, and there is a confidence that belies the youth in the team.
English still wine, on the other hand, is like an English cricket innings where the whole team is out before lunch and you are left scratching your head wondering if England should concentrate on a game it can excel at.
It was as though the organisers had already judged this. A long central tasting table that had 115 wines on seemed to go steadily downhill after halfway, like a Spitfire taking a bit of flak and then slowly plummeting earthwards. Smoke trailing. If the tasters had done just half of the tasting then they would leave with a great impression. Perhaps it’s not just the contrast between sparkling and still wine in this country that makes for hard work of the latter. Perhaps it’s also the contrast between still wine on the one hand and beer and cider on the other, both drinks that we produce to such high standards.
6 things you need to know about English Wine 2016:
1 English wine is fast becoming a vintage business
There was a marked difference between the Have and the Have Nots – those houses that are big enough to be able to sit on their 2010s and release them now and the smaller who have had to release 2012 and even 2013 because 2012 was such a lean vintage. Let’s hope that many producers can hold back their 2014s which will become a landmark vintage. And pray for 2016 to start getting better quick.
2 Blanc de Blancs, Cuvées and Blanc de Noirs show well
Buy with confidence in these categories. They were almost all very good to excellent. Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs 2010 had very good fruit, balance and lovely lean citrus edges. Many other were first rate and not just the well know names.
3 Exton Park was best in show
The Blanc de Blancs 2011, Brut NV (best value) and Pinot Meunier Rosé were all first class. This wasn’t just me. A number of people were extolling Exton Park‘s virtues. It feels like they have terrific terroir, sorry, I mean a great location.
4 The new Rosés are patchy
Some were showing variable issues with yeast, barrels and handling. There were houses I couldn’t recognise from last year (see point 1). Try before you buy I would.
5 English sparkling wine has grown of age
English sparkling wine has a real discernible style across so many producers. The overall standard is moving inexorably upwards. And fast.
6 Room for many more
The quality of the new entrants such as Marlow’s Harrow & Hope, run by Laithwaites Jnr was very impressive indeed. Their Brut Reserve for approximately £25 RRP was one of the buys of the day.