Two years ago One George Street was the setting for the annual Champagne tasting day in London. Now, for the second year running, English wine had taken over this prestigious venue to show off how “bloody good” English sparkling wine has become. Not only that, but Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones has had his head turned by a number of classy English still wines as well.
Before we look at the English wine that really stood out at the annual tasting, we examine the rhetoric that was being used at the event and consider whether it is justified or not.
“Let’s show the world how bloody good we are,”
“Let’s kick the very best and show we can beat the Goliaths at their own game,”
“It is time to be proud to be British.”
These were some of the sentiments (toned down in some cases) echoed by many proud English winemakers attending The English Wine Producers Annual Trade & Press Tasting 2017.
And what better place to showcase our amazing wines, than in the splendid Great Hall of One George Street, an Edwardian building that echoes British Class.
Two years ago in the same venue Champagne hosted its annual bash, and this was not dissimilar in appearance, with a fabulous turnout of the great and good of the wine press and gallons of exceedingly fine bubbles on show.
Despite some negative issues with recent frost damage which will effect quantity not quality, the winemakers were in a positive and jovial mood, and it was a delight to taste through some 70 Sparkling Wines on the central table, with more peaks than dips.
With the peaks it was more Everest than Epernay, with truly amazing quality coming from some of our finest growers.
But it was not all about Sparkling Wine and I was taken aback by the quality of English Still Wine on show. Yes, I had over the last few years seen a trickle of fine English Still Wines coming on the market but this was more of a Severn Bore of English Still wines gushing around Parliament Square with particular praise going to Chapel Down.
There are still a few whispers of searching for a ‘name’ for English Sparkling Wine, but I firmly believe that the word ‘English Sparkling’ already echoes the perfect fit for these wines and is a term used by winemakers all over the world who discuss the success of these wines with great excitement.
So let’s not try and be too clever, but stick to what it says on the tin!
Just a fraction of some outstanding wines tasted. (All prices are Retail per bottle)
Bolney Bubbly NV £23.99
Grapes are Muller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Chardonnay. Bright and zesty, delicate brioche, honeysuckle and creamy finish with a nice zesty acidity.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2013 £39.99
Beautifully balanced, precise bubbles, very fine elegance, perfect white stone fruit, citrus and mineral notes.
Harrow & Hope Blanc de Blancs 2013 £35.00
Savoury and spiced, full flavour with a hint of perfect apple crumble, lovely texture and depth.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2010 £43.99
Clean, perfect purity, fabulous depth but keeps its focus, gentle aromas of candied lime, touch of perfume, a pretty perfect Sparkling Wine.
Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs 2010 £39.95
Both Nyetimber and Wiston received my highest marks in this category, with the Wiston just a touch sweeter and deeper than the Nyetimber offering a superb wine to go with food. Winemaker Dermot Sugrue has excelled here. There is a ‘sweet pastry’ background, then juicy white currants, a wine that is still evolving and will reach even greater heights.
Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve £29.95
Classic in name classic in taste, clean and precise, lovely balance and such a joy to drink. Think summer herbs, and vibrant apples, with a lovely depth from time on the lees, juicy luscious wine that has a beautiful finish.
Hambledon Premiere Cuvée £42.50
Champenoise nose, deep rich honeycomb, lime, rich, long palate, with vibrant, fresh citrus acidity to keep it balanced.
Harrow & Hope Brut Reserve NV £26.00
Savoury, spiced, balanced, beautifully poised, elegance, flinty, complex, this is a step up from their Blanc de Blancs and a great new treasure – great value too.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée NV £34.99
A pretty perfect wine, this gets better and better.
Exton Park Blanc de Noirs NV £30.00
Textured, restrained, very fine ‘Pinot’ flavours, fraises de bois, Perigord truffles balanced together, a feminine touch gives this so much class – a wonderful wine.
Hambledon Classic Cuvée Rosé NV £35.00
This has evolved beautifully since I tried it last October, now displaying levels of greatness, soft perfumed, gentle summer berries but restrained, masculine and fine boned, a wine to savour.
Nyetimber Rosé NV £39.99
Purity, precision, a delicate perfume, with a lovely elegance
Wiston Rosé NV £24.95
Clean, precise, wonderful English red berries, gives it freshness, but there is added creamy texture that lifts this wine with a bright finish to encourage another glass.
Digby Fine English Vintage Rosé 2009 £44.99
Intense flavours, masculine in style, vibrant, deep full flavoured with fine bubbles, textured, flavours just keep bouncing on the palate a great Rosé to go with Salt Marsh Lamb.
Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2013 £28.95
Bright and savoury on the palate, firm but delicate style, the ‘Pinot” style gives it a masculine firm-but-balanced flavour, this is a serious Sparkling Rosé that is evolving well.
Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV £35.99
100% Chardonnay, more of a Champagne Rich style, has been and still is my favourite English Sparkling Wine, its style, vivacity and cleverness knows no bounds. Perfect with sashimi, oysters or foie gras or with Stinking Bishop cheese this is an absolute star wine.
Bolney Wine Estate Lychgate White 2015 £14.99
Blend of Germanic grapes, clean and bright with fresh melon, zesty, citrus flavours bouncing together on the palate, a light and refreshing wine.
Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc 2014 £14.99
Clean, forward, fresh, bright a lovely example of Pinot Blanc in its purity.
Chapel Down Flint Dry 2016 £11.49
Eight grapes including Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, Schonburger and Pinot Noir giving this a beautiful nose, textured, layered, balanced, creamy wine with an excellent acidity to cut through and keep it fresh and vibrant.
Lyme Bay Shoreline 2015 £16.69
Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc. Richly textured, good balance of fresh limes and soft acidity, evolves into a seaside ‘Fish and Chips’ experience, wet stone, saline, freshness, sea air – a great little number that reflects its shoreline name.
Chapel Down Bacchus 2016 £12.99
Mightily impressed with this classic, perfect Bacchus with its purity, freshness and precision, but that was before I tried the Chapel Down Bacchus Reserve 2015, which was seamless, a Hunter Valley style modern Semillon, soft herbaceous flavours, texture but fresh, a wonderful wine showing how good Bacchus can be.
Chapel Down Union Red 2014 £12.99
Spiced, fresh, clean, fruit-filled but controlled.
Hush Heath Manor 2015 £19.00
100% Pinot Noir, purity, precise, focused, good balance of ripe berries but controlled, touch of creamy vanilla but it is balanced, fresh and exciting.
Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2014 £29.99
Beautiful, rich and modern Chardonnay, savoury and full of bright stone fruit, matchstick, flinty, and plenty of lees and oak flavours, will benefit with decanting but a wonderful example of how Chardonnay can be made in England.