I’m always delighted to see something English on a bar’s wine list. I’m even more excited when the list extends beyond a token offering of English fizz and provides a meaningful selection of home-grown wines. So, as I stared down at a list of 31 different English wines, I was understandably ecstatic. This was my first visit to the English Vine, and I can already tell I’m going to have a great time.
Competition is fierce amongst wine bars in London and establishments have increasingly focussed on specific niches – be they certain regions or trends like “natural” winemaking – to set themselves apart from the pack. The English Vine, however, is the first bar to focus entirely on English and Welsh made wine.
Even as a certified English wine nerd, I was blown away by the choice on offer. The list features producers up and down the country, big and small. There are wines I know and love, wines I’ve been meaning to try for ages, and even a couple of entirely unfamiliar names. The English Vine also offers an impressive selection of still whites and reds, in addition to the fizz we all know and love. What’s best: many are available by the glass, and the menu prominently advertises flights of sparkling, white and red. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me. Being nothing but a consummate professional, I rolled up my sleeves and got down to it.
My companion and I began with a glass of sparkling. I choose the Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noir from Marlow in Buckinghamshire. It offers all the concentration and character you’d expect from Pinot Noir, with buckets of red berry and pastry flavours. My companion opts for the less-conventional Fitz Sparkling Wine, a Charmat-method blend including Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc from Sussex. It’s fruitier than mine, with lots of pear, stone fruit and floral aromas and slightly lower acidity, making it feel rounder. Imagine a slightly richer Prosecco.
Appetites thoroughly whetted, we move on to the still wine. We’re at a loss as to which whites to choose when our friendly and enthusiastic server, Elisabeth, steps in to recommend a flight, solving our dilemma. Our highlights are the Three Choirs “Willowbrook” from Gloucestershire, an off-dry, aromatic blend that tastes of Turkish Delight; and London’s very own Forty Hall Ortega which offers a potent mix of orange, honeysuckle and minerality. They remind me of a Gewürztraminer and Riesling, respectively.
As we agonise over the which reds to try, we’re introduced to Neil, who set up the English Vine as a pop-up to celebrate the quality and diversity of winemaking in the UK. It’s clearly been a success: it’s a frigid Wednesday evening when we visit, and the bar is almost full. It isn’t difficult to see why: the eye-catching signage, featuring a raised fist clutching a bunch of grapes, stands out even on the Shoreditch’s busy Great Eastern Street.
Since opening, Neil has held a range of tastings and supper clubs, often pitching English wine against the best from the rest of the world. One of English wine’s greatest challenges will be to get that first glass into the hands of consumers, who enjoy an unparalleled selection of well-made, competitively priced wine from elsewhere. But this is the ideal environment to make that happen. Neil explains that most of the customers are walk-ins, many completely unaware of what home-grown wine has to offer. It’s a fun, informal atmosphere that would put even the most wine-averse punter at ease.
Finally, with Neil’s help, we select the reds. First up, is Three Choirs’ “Ravens Hill”, a vibrant, juicy, light-bodied blend of Regent, Rondo and Triomphe. Then, Will Davenport’s “Diamond Fields”, a pleasantly complex Pinot Noir with all the depth of a red Burgundy. We finish with a Cabernet Noir made by Blackbook, an urban winery in Battersea. It was pleasantly tannic with lovely freshness and excellent intensity of flavour that points to promising ageing potential.
The evening I spent at the English Vine is not one I’ll forget soon. The wine on offer underlined the diversity of wine made at home. We don’t just make world class fizz, but a range of cool-climate still wine from zippy Bacchus to aromatic Ortega, juicy red blends and surprisingly full-bodied Loire Valley stand-ins like Cab Noir. Initially, I was sceptical that an all-English wine bar could work, but I was happy to be proved wrong by Neil and team.
Sadly, like all pop-ups, the English Vine has come and gone. But, with plans for something more permanent already in the works, it won’t be too long before we can all enjoy a glass or two!
Additional photos with thanks to The English Vine.