8 May 2008
By Douglas Blyde
A colleague recently predicted that we will soon be drinking considerably more homegrown wine.
A combination of improved conditions brought about by global warming, the obstructively robust Euro, increased transportation charges and a desire for lighter alcohol levels would determine this. In his vision, he isolated restaurants as being the most popular conduit. Local, food friendly, delicately aromatic whites and crisp, supple reds could be served by the carafe, as on the continent. Champagne might no longer be an affordable option, the reserves destined for an affluent and in some cases tax-free, luxury brand conscious East. This would open the cellar door to our award-winning fizz, made to the same formula.
At present, English wine is available in top flight establishments, from the boutique Hotel du Vin chain, to various Gordon Ramsay outposts and even The Ivy. Providing growers can keep pace, a realisation of my fellow professionals philosophy would see an extended, more egalitarian approach.
In advance of the industry's annual campaign, 'English Wine Week' (Saturday 24 May - Sunday 1 June) I ventured to a comprehensive tasting. Overlooking the hallowed turf of Lords Cricket Ground, I enjoyed slurping my way through 100 examples, naturally thinking of England…
Two of my favourites came from Denbies. Many involved in the English wine business have arrived there via curious trajectories. The winemaker of this substantial South Downs site is no exception. In his previous life, Marcus Sharp worked as a shipbroker chartering oil tankers. Away from the slopes, he is a keen 'free-diver', a startling aquatic activity whereby the diver plunges deep into the abyss on only a lungful of air.
I thought his '06 'Ortega' - a German grape inexplicably named after Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset - was succulently quenching. Crisp, lemon scented, bevelled with a delicate oak spice and a sustained finish. His Hillside Chardonnay (£12.99, also '06) was nervy, balanced by a creamy silkiness, with a strikingly pure minerality (£13.50). To my mind, it could give a Rully a run for its money. Both may be purchased online or at the vineyard, which makes a good day out (www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk).
I also got the chance to sample a wine made by students at England's wine college not far away in Plumpton. The appropriately titled 'Dean Blush' Sparkling Rosé was absolutely delicious. Swallowing it was unavoidable. Made from Pinot Noir, which a fellow wine writer termed 'the Brigitte Bardot of grapes', this rendition was crisp, fresh, agile and detailed with lithe wild raspberry notes. If you fancy a bottle, act fast. There are fewer then 1,000 bottles. (£20, T. 01273 890454).
See www.englishwineweek.co.uk for information about visiting vineyards and special events
*The Romans introduced grapevines to England
*There are over 400 English vineyards producing two million bottles per year
*The biggest vineyard is only 20 miles from London (Denbies, Dorking - 265 acres)
*The majority of wine is white: light, with a refreshing acidity and crisp aromas of liquefied hedgerows
*Sparkling styles are the most highly prized; royalty rates the best
*Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape
Win a bottle of wine
Win a bottle of English white to accompany a cheeseboard for two at Bedales Wine Bar, Borough Market. Simply answer the following:
How many bottles of wine does England produce each year?
A). Two million
B). Five million
C). Ten million
E-mail the answer to email@example.com
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