It’s great to see English Wine start to make a real impression, with not only retailers, but also restaurants and bars starting to take an interest. As a regular user of Wine review app Vivino, it is so pleasing to see English Sparkling wines feature more and more prominently in users’ tasting repertoire. Along my various Vivino adventures, I have befriended fellow user Lauren Denyer. We’ve enjoyed many a conversation about wines of the world, and I was super-excited when she asked me for some advice on creating a lineup of some of England’s best still and sparkling wines for an upcoming tasting evening.
Lauren is WSET Level 3 Distinction awarded and currently studying WSET Diploma level. Joined by her sister as wine events company Chateau Canard, she hosts regular wine tasting evenings in the Deptford & New Cross area of London. February's theme was then, as this article would suggest, English Wine! The venue was the recently opened Buster Mantis in Deptford: part bar, part creative space that fuses great cocktails and Jamaican food with an extensive selection of local beers from independent breweries in the surrounding area.
Back to the wine, and three criteria were decided upon for the wine selection; they must be English, they must be delicious and they must be (relatively) easy to obtain and purchase. Perhaps the biggest problem facing English wine drinkers is that the more unusual (and potentially best) wines are just not widely available yet. The final lineup of wines were, the Bacchus aside, all available from UK supermarkets (either in store or online – mostly thanks to Waitrose Cellar and M&S). The lineup includes many of my favourites that I’ve tried over the last year and was an excellent opportunity to revisit and compare the wines side by side in their categories: Sparkling, Still White, Red and finally an expectation-bending Dessert Wine.
We started the evening with a sparkling, the Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Rosé Brut. This non-vintage release is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes sourced from Kent Sussex; it is available from Waitrose for £24.99. Light and fruity on the nose with aromas of cherry, raspberry and citrus – it was a joy to start the event with. With its clarity and light fruity character it was great to hear others agree on the wine’s elegance and balance. We were then taken to to Sussex with the delicious Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2013. I’m ashamed to say that I only first tasted this wine two days previously at another wine event, but I was immediately drawn to its youthful vibrancy. Lauren compared it to a good non-vintage Champagne – which was agreed with by many of the group. The Bloomsbury is available from most Waitrose stores for £24.99, and many online retailers including The Wine Society also sell it.
The final English Sparkling we were treated to was the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (sold by Waitrose & Majestic for around £31.99). I’ve always been pretty vocal about my appreciation of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, after all it was wine that introduced me to English Wine in the first place! The 2010 is one of my favourite vintages with its rich aromas of citrus, honeyed fruit, baked bread and sweet brioche. Of the eight wines tried during the evening, this was one of the highest rated, with many noting the complexity and bready notes. The Sparkling wines were all very well received, and I think Lauren did an excellent job in selecting three contrasting English Sparkling expressions.
Moving on to the still wines, and we were introduced to the LDN CRU Bacchus. It was the only wine in the lineup that isn't widely available, but it can be purchased directly from the winery for £15.00. I’ve covered this wine previously, as it’s one of the most delightful examples of English Bacchus I’ve tried. Made in London from grapes grown in Kent at Sandhust Vineyard, this was presented as the quintessentially English alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. The group appreciated the aromatics and fruit focus of this wine, and many were fascinated of the idea of an Urban Winery in the middle of London. Buster Mantis also have this wine on their wine list, again thanks to Lauren's helping hand – it’s a perfect match for the bar’s locally sourced drinks philosophy.
The next still white was the Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc 2013, £14.99 and again sold by Waitrose. This wine has a fuller palate, with more pronounced acidity balancing a rounded fruit mix of citrus and peach. The verdict was split on this one, as some found it a touch on the acidic side. However, the juicy stone fruit mid taste and layers of mineral and herb notes were appreciated and provided a nice contrast to the more aromatic Bacchus.
Next was the Litmus White Pinot 2011, perhaps one of the most excitingly different still white wines to be produced in England at the moment. Still white wines made from Pinot Noir are not something that you come across often, but there are several winemakers exploring this style in England. The Litmus is a big rich oaked wonder; slightly oily with textures reminiscent and flavours of a Burgundy Chardonnay. It was a wine that split the opinion again. Whilst some found the oak quite intense – perhaps dominating, it was still applauded for its startling texture and complexity. I think the Litmus was a crucial part of the line-up, as it showed that English wines are not all about light, fruity & floral whites. Litmus White Pinot is sold by M&S for £22.00, it is also stocked by Mayfair's Hedonism Wines and Harvey Nicholls.
With both English Sparkling and still white wines taking the focus of most English winemakers, it was still important that we didn’t overlook English red wine. Our reds are often very light and fruity, so the Bolney Estate Pinot Noir 2014 was selected thanks to its bright red fruit flavours, smoothness and the subtle hints of spice and tannin giving body. The wine was actually rather well received, partly due to a thirst for red wine from some of the crowd, but it is one of the better English reds I’ve had at this price point (£15.99 from Waitrose).
And so we move onto the final wine of the night; a dessert wine in the form of Denbies Noble Harvest 2014. This wine is a really indulgent surprise; not only because it is a botrytis affected dessert wine – made in England, but also because it’s really quite beautiful. On the palate is an unctuous rich sweet fruity mix of stone fruit, mango and orange oil, but with just enough acidity to rein in the 107.9g/l residual sugar sweetness and keep everything perfectly balanced. Whilst it comes at a premium price (£19.99 for a half bottle from Waitrose), this wine was a fitting end to the tasting. The Noble Harvest was clearly one of the favourites of the night, with some very favourable comments comparing it to Sauternes.
So there we have it, eight wines later and the group has had an excellent adventure into English wine. It was great to see perceptions on English wine be broken, and I’m sure almost everyone found a wine they really enjoyed on the night. It’s these kind of smaller more intimate tasting events that will help our wines find a place in the hearts of new English wine drinkers. With mainstream increasingly taking notice of the booming local wine industry, I think Lauren’s naming of the evening ‘It’s Time for English Wine’ could not have been more appropriate!