English Wine Week – May 26-June 3: Raising a glass to Cotswold wine!
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Deborah Thompson talks us through the distinctive qualities of wine produced right here on our doorstep
“…grapes, famous for their flavour… and manufactured into wines of great relish, equally luscious with those from France.”
These were the words of historian, William of Malmesbury, describing the wines of Gloucestershire in the 12th century, and now Gloucestershire and the surrounding areas are once again producing wines of distinction…
English Wine Week is celebrated from Saturday, May 26 to Sunday, June 3, 2018. This is when we raise a glass to English wine in all its glory. And glorious it is becoming: the quality of English wine has improved dramatically and is earning the compliment William of Malmesbury gave it in the 12th century. A general trend of increased temperatures (despite the long cold winter we had…), significant investment and, expertise coming to these shores to enhance our wine making – expertise earned from all over the world, including New Zealand, which has a climate not wildly dissimilar from our own – has resulted in a significant growth in the English wine industry. The UK wine industry now has more than 500 commercial vineyards producing roughly six million bottles of wine, and it’s increasing.
English wine makers are doing wonders with the Bacchus grape, which dare I say it, is now doing for the English wine industry what Sauvignon Blanc did for the New Zealand wine industry, namely, putting us on the map. They’re doing some cracking reds too, with a number of vineyards successfully producing some fine early pinot noir red wines. These are not the only grapes, however, with many grapes coming from cooler climate countries, such as Germany: They have been studied, adapted and used in our wine production. Our sparkling wines, or Bulari, as Poulton Hill has so ingeniously named it, are now competing on a level with Champagne, with some sparkling wines being produced with very similar characteristics to Champagne, such as Herefordshire’s Castlebrook, whilst others, such as the Three Choirs Sparkling, are proud to be different. All our local sparkling wines are produced using the traditional method, so that the fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in the bottle, just like Champagne, rather than in a large pressurised steel drum like prosecco. The traditional trio of Champagne producing grapes is Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir and some producers use these grape combinations, or just the Chardonnay to create a smooth Blanc de Blancs, or just the Pinot Noir to create a sparkling with lots of ‘backbone’. However, some wine makers are producing their own unique blend. So, who’s doing what locally in Gloucestershire? I have pulled together some wines definitely worth a try. They all, for me, have a bouquet that conjures up the English countryside in spring and summer. They all deserve to be paired with great local produce and, in fact, come into their own at this time of year when we have an abundance of delicious seasonal fruit and veg to accompany our local meats and fish.
This family owned vineyard was established in 2007, when the founder, Fiona Shiner planted the first acre of vines after hearing the history of winemaking in Gloucestershire mentioned in the Domesday Book. Viticulture and wine-making courses followed with further vine plantings: The estate now has 45 acres under vine. Jeremy Mount is the winemaker: His career has been spent at some of the most prestigious wineries across the great wine production areas of the world, bringing back valuable experience to Woodchester.
The estate has recently invested in a new winery enabling them to produce their own wine from their three vineyards at Woodchester, Amberley and Doverow. Depending on the harvest, Woodchester produces about two thirds still wines to one third sparkling wine. They have rightly earned a number of awards for their wines and have recently planted some pinot noir vines. Their grape varieties also include Chardonnay, Bacchus, Ortega, Seyval Blanc, Regent, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Solaris and Siegerrebe. They currently produce: A rosé sparkling – we are waiting for the new vintage; a still Pinot Noir rosé, the 2017 vintage has recently been released, a dry rosé with hint of berry and English country hedgerows; a Bacchus – the current vintage is 2016; an Orpheus Bacchus – the current vintage is 2016 – a more refined version of the Bacchus; and a blend called, Culver Hill. Either of the Bacchus wines would be great with a plate of local asparagus, a generous knob of Cotswold butter, a sprinkling of Droitwitch salt and some cracked black pepper…. I found these wines to be quite crisp on the palate, but with a smooth finish – very pleasant.
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This is another small family-run vineyard, based near Cirencester producing some really good still and sparkling wines - also winning awards. Poulton Hill was the first to coin the term, ‘Bulari’ for English Sparkling wine. The term, Latin for ‘bubbles’, reflects the fact that vines and wine making was first introduced in this country by the Romans. Poulton Hill Estate has now trademarked ‘Bulari’. The estate has three hectares under vine. The soil is clay loam and the aspect is south facing with the land gently sloping.
The 2013 sparkling Rosé comes in half bottles and is very pleasant and would go well with seafood or berry desserts – it’s also lovely as an aperitif being well balanced with plenty of berry fruit on the palate. It’s a blend of Seyval Blanc, Phoenix and Regent/Rondo grapes. Why not try it with some Severn & Wye gravadlax? The still Rosé is very quaffable too – it’s a combination of Seyval Blanc, Phoenix, Regent and Rondo grapes. A super wine with a hint of cherry, and great for an English summer barbeque. The Special Reserve Red, vintage 2016, is really good too – it’s a Regent Rondo blend with great colour and bouquet and plenty of red berry fruit on the palate - this would go very well with some new season English or Welsh lamb.
Poulton Hill also produces a Cotswold Brandy – the next distillation is ready for bottling, so we wait with anticipation as the last batch has sold out!
Three Choirs are probably one of the better known local vineyards – they are based near Newent. They have recently undergone a re-branding, using a lovely painting of their vineyards, different clips of which have been used for their bottle labels. The result is a quintessentially English look. The Three Choirs produce a number of award winning wines - I’ve just picked a selection.
The Classic Cuvee Brut is a non-vintage sparkling white produced using the Seyval Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes. An independent style of sparkling – they’ve not tried to mimic Champagne but gone for a sparkling that genuinely and best reflects the grapes. It is crisp and clean on the palate and is well balanced. It’s also well priced.
The still white Bacchus 2014 is very good with a bouquet of the English countryside at this time of year. At a slightly lower price point is their Coleridge Hill, which is fresh, crisp and zesty. Their still Rosé is a blend of Phoenix (white) and Regent (red) grapes and is very drinkable. Their red, the Ravens Hill, produced from a blend of Regent and Rondo grapes has a great colour and is a good wine having benefited from a degree of ageing in oak barrels – lots of berry fruits on the palate – great with some lamb and minted Jersey Royals…
This small vineyard is just outside Chipping Campden. They produce two wines, one still and one sparkling from the Siegerrebe and Seyval Blanc grapes they grow. They are particularly proud of their sparkling wine produced from Seyval Blanc grapes (with a little Siegerrebe added to the second fermentation to produce their house style). Seyval Blanc is another grape that has adapted well to our climate being more tolerant of lower temperatures, fairly robust against disease and, ripening early.
Other wines that are worth a mention are:
Castle Brook – this award-winning Champagne-like sparkling is produced by the Chinn family in Herefordshire and is made using the traditional trio of grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir). Frankly, this sparkling takes a bit of beating having picked up a number of prestigious awards. The vineyard is planted on the site of an ancient Roman vineyard on a steep south-facing slope and they use many different clones of grape varieties so they can get the blend just right. The Chinn family take their time producing this wine (4½ years plus) and the malolactic fermentation gives it a smooth quality. The family have recently released a rosé sparkling, which will no doubt pick up a few of its own awards.
Sixteen Ridges produces both white and rosé sparkling wines, a still Bacchus and white and rosé pinot noir wines. The pièce de résistance is probably the award winning early Pinot Noir red – it’s smooth with a hint of berry fruits and oak. If there’s one English red you have to try, it’s this one. It’s not heavy and would go well with new season lamb – alternatively put it with duck or venison. Winemaker, Simon Day, has created some very enjoyable wines for Sixteen Ridges from the Worcestershire/ Herefordshire borders.
The a‘Beckett’s is the largest vineyard in Wiltshire, based near Devizes, where a number of still and sparkling wines are made. One that stands out is the Cuvée Victor, a sparkling white made from Pinot Auxerrois grapes - a good English sparkling that would go well with asparagus, or fresh local peas or watercress. It’s also vegan friendly.
All of these wines are fairly well priced for the quality. Don’t forget when you reach for the bottle of £4 supermarket plonk – there’s very little value left for the wine: Duty accounts for £2.16 a bottle (75cl) for still wine and £2.77 for a sparkling – plus VAT is payable – you’re effectively being taxed twice because you’re paying VAT on the duty. This means for every bottle of wine you buy nearly £2.60 goes to the Treasury and nearly £3.33 for a bottle of sparkling, regardless of the price or quality. If you think about the costs of bottling, labelling and transportation, that doesn’t leave a lot for the wine itself. The more you spend on a bottle of wine, the better value you will receive – assuming that the price reflects the quality, of course.
I’ve shared with you some of my thoughts on our local wines – but don’t take my word for it – get out and try it for yourself. All these vineyards have their own websites and some offer tours and tastings – but do book in advance - and have a great day out exploring and discovering English wines. All these vineyards hand harvest their grapes, so the months of September and October are an extremely busy time of year and are best avoided.
Let’s hope we have a good summer to ensure a successful grape harvest come early autumn, so English wine can continue to go from strength to strength!
Deborah Thompson is the owner of Teddington Stores, Evesham Road, Teddington GL20 8NE, tel: 01386 725400, www.teddingtonstores.co.uk