English Wine Week runs from Saturday, 2nd June and continues until Sunday, 10th June 2012. The week will be celebrated in many vineyards around England through tastings, guided tours and tutorials. Great British Chefs asked wine blogger Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary and founder of Revolution Wine Tasting to give us the low down, on “British” or should that be “English” wine
In the month that sees the Queen celebrate her Diamond Jubilee and the start of Euro 2012, I thought I would chip in with my own show of patriotism by profiling the ever-improving English wine scene.
Photo by Food Stories
Despite attracting a lot of positive media coverage recently, it seems that for a lot of people the jury is still out when it comes to English wine. But, in fact, the story of English wine over the past couple of decades is really not so different from that of England’s cuisine.
Just as the food scene in Britain has undergone a recent revolution, giving rise to numerous destination restaurants and award-winning chefs, a similar revolution (albeit on a smaller scale) has been taking place in a number of our wineries, as many winemakers have raised their game to unprecedented heights, moving from the ranks of amateur to that of the professional.
Photo by Chris Osburn
This has not only led to an increase in the amount of English wine being produced (which is up a staggering twenty-five per cent in the last ten years) but also has crucially resulted in a rise in the quality of the wine being made. But don’t take my word for it – you only have to look at the raft of awards that English wines have received over the past few years, the latest being a Gold Medal for Cornwall based winery, Camel Valley, at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards. You can even now find a range of English wines stocked at most of our supermarkets here in Britain.
So, what is it that has caused this seismic shift in the fortunes of English wine? One of the key factors to the success of English wine has undoubtedly been the decision to plant grape varieties that are suited to our climate and soil. Fifty percent of the wine produced in England is sparkling and one of the aces up our sleeve is that certain areas across the South of England have a climate and soil type that is very similar to that of Champagne. Both regions benefit from south-facing slopes, chalk-based soil and Champagne is only marginally warmer. It has even been suggested that if global warming continues at its present rate, England’s climate will be better suited in twenty years time to growing Champagne style sparkling wines than Champagne!
Photo by Eating East
Unsurprisingly, a number of wineries in the South have already cottoned-on to the fact that if they plant one or more of the Champagne grape varieties (i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), they stand a great chance of producing world-class sparkling wines. Denbies, Nyetimber and Bolney Wine Estate are all great examples of wineries based in that area that have taken full advantage of this to great effect.
Photo by imcountingufoz
While the growing conditions in England may favour a sparkling style of wine, we should not overlook the good progress that is also being made by the still wines. The white wines – often made from either the Bacchus or Ortega grape varieties – are coming on strong and their tart and zesty character often make a welcome accompaniment to fish or seafood. A number of good rosés are also being made and make for very pleasant quaffers on a warm summer’s day.
Of course, it would be misleading to say that it is all smiles and sunshine. The red wine is generally speaking not yet up to scratch, many of the still whites continue to be overpriced and our unpredictable climate means that any given vintage is never far from disaster. But, the important thing is to focus on the positives – English wine has made huge strides over the past few years and with a little help from global warming I really believe that its future potential is limitless. So, if you are not familiar with English wine why don’t you a give it a try – you may be pleasantly surprised!
p.s. if you want to know why I refer to “English wine” and not “British wine”, drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to explain!