Do you eat ice cream on cold winter days? I do, and for some reason I fancy it more often when it is cold than during the few really hot days of summer which London allows me. Maybe for that reason I don't seem to be buying into seasonal wine reviews and I don't find that I crave heavy reds more often in winter than in spring. Therefore it is purely coincidental that I am reviewing this year's first rosé just in time for the official start of spring.
However, if you do enjoy strawberry goodness with sunshine I am sure this English rosé will deliver the goods for you this summer - almost too much, in fact.
With the festive season with all its celebrations and debauchery now upon us what could be better to review than a classy sparkling wine? Well, yes and no - I have never held much with going for wines that are in season. Sometimes I want a bold red in summer, sometimes a refined sparkler on a dull Tuesday evening with nothing to celebrate. When it comes to wine I tend to go with the advice the head of department in my first full time job gave me: "A good Riesling in itself is a reason to celebrate." A wise statement, although I think it can be expanded to cover all glorious grapes and wonderful wines of this world. So here is another reason to celebrate - and behold, it is an English sparkling wine.
A Nyetimber 2003, to be precise - a wine from the Nyetimer vintage that caused a little sensation when a few years ago its sibling, the Classic Cuvée, won a respectable international sparkling wine tasting, beating the likes of Bollinger, Pommery and Louis Roederer. How good is the Blanc de Blancs?
Rock star, film director or actor - you haven't really made it to the top unless you own a vineyard. If you want to be up there with Aykroyd, Banderas or Coppola making your own wine is now an even better status symbol than a private jet. In the case of Barbara Laithwaite I suspect the motivation was different. Like her husband Tony, the co-owner of the UK's biggest wine company has stayed away from the limelight, and I'd be surprised if she'd own a jet. She also resisted the urge to buy an existing winery in California or Provence and instead planted vines in the Chilterns to make sparkling wine.
Fast forward a few years to find the Wine Rambler sitting down with a glass of 2009 Wyfold Vineyard brut.
It's so annoying not to be able to call it Champagne, when it is Champagne. This statement about English sparkling wine comes from the Crown's "resident wine expert", the Duchess of Cornwall. It highlights a sparkling rivalry between England and France where the Frenchmen have law and reputation on their side: no matter whether you make sparkling wine in the same way (Méthode Champenoise) and to the same quality only fizz from the Champagne region may bear that prestigious name. The plucky Brits have no chance winning this battle but they do at least have a battle cry: the Méthode Champenoise actually is an English method.
The banner under which this battle cry is made is that of the three geese of Gusbourne, and it came to me on a bottle of fantastic sparkling wine.
2012 is the year of Britishness. We had the long weekend of celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. We have the success of the London 2012 Olympics. And a public sphere proclaiming a rebirth of Britishness. British wine drinkers apparently felt the same: the Jubilee weekend meant record sales for British wine. All is good then, expect for the fact that I will now face a very stern talking to from about every representative of the wine industry in this country for calling their product British. It may be English, it may be Welsh, in the future it even may be Scottish - but don't you dare call it British.
This distinction is so important to the industry - and for good reason, as we will discover later - that the first ever English wine consumer class held at the WSET started with explaining it. More importantly perhaps it was a great introduction to English wine, and a necessary one as the quality of English wine will still come as a surprise to many a seasoned wine drinker, foreign or British.
It usually takes some convincing to get continental folk to accept that English sparkling wines are not only drinkable, but can be quite excellent. But since we already know that, we hold them to a higher standard than most other German wine drinkers probably would. It is from this fairly lofty perspective, and only from there, that this one disappointed us somewhat when it was soundly beaten by a French sparkler costing less than half in this mildly humiliating Wine Rambler blind tasting.
Tasting wines blind can be cruel. I wonder if Rober Parker Jr. or Jancis Robinson have been there before - that red-faced moment when you realise that what you thought was, say, the 1990 Médoc was in fact the 2001 Lemberger from Württemberg, that where you thought you were on the safe side, you've been as wrong about the identity of two wines as you can possibly be. That sinking feeling. That barely disguised glee in the eyes of the other participants, who knew all along. If so, cheer up, Robert and Jancis, we've been there as well. If you have followed our blind tasting adventures so far, you may get the impression that we have an uncanny tendency to end up there as soon as the paper bags come off, but if so, we do all this in the spirit of selfless sacrifice and journalistic objectivity.
But let's take a step back from the brink of embarassment, and meet the two colour-coded contestants henceforth to be known as Green and Blue. Here is what we knew: One was a classic, somewhat pricey bottle of the very finest English sparkling, provided by London Wine Rambler Torsten, who may be the German-speaking world's most tireless advocate for English Sparklers. The other was a bottle of Vouvray Brut for a mere third of that price, and with absolutely nothing to lose. Not much hope for the underdog, was there?
There are not many things I like more than a bad pun. Good wine is among them, of course. During rare moments of hilarity, good wines and bad puns come together. This can be in an intentional way, for instance when Mosel winemakers Haart name a Riesling "Haart to Heart". Other brands are unintentionally funny. And then there are good wines with bad puns that really only exist in my mind: when I moved to England I learned that the polite word for "ass" is "bottom" - and now whenever I hear the East Sussex winery "Breaky Bottom" mentioned I cannot help but giggle.
What a "breaky bottom" looks like I'd rather not imagine, but whatever vision I may now have planted in your brain just forget it. Your are looking at a serious sparkling wine that is neither bottom nor breaky.
"Good luck to her, she may need it.", was the comment a wine loving Englishman made when I told him I was about to meet a woman who had just invested her life's savings in a shop. Not just any shop. A shop dedicated to English wine. To set this in context: when I tell people I blog about German wine I sometimes get the "is there such a thing?" look, or perhaps the "enjoy the Liebfraumilch" comment. These come from people who are not familiar with the wine world, otherwise they would know that some of the world's best wines come from Germany. Now imagine what the reaction is when someone dedicates their life to the cause of English wine - a cause that even wine professionals often respond to with the "is there such a thing" look. So there you have the above quoted reaction.
Enter Julia Stafford, a spirited woman who thought London could do with a shop dedicated to raise the glory of English wine: Wine Pantry at Borough market.
Sometimes a wine can save your life. I would assume that at least some of you will have had such an experience, but I would also assume that the number of you who had this type of encounter with an English wine may be fairly small. Since recently, I am one of them, and I would like to thank the folks from the Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall. Yes, you have read correctly. Cornwall.
How did Cornwall fizz save my life? The story actually begins with me saving something - the European Union.
A few years ago I came across an international wine guidebook that had a, tiny, section on England. I don't remember the exact wording of the first sentence, but it basically said that English winemaking was no longer exclusively dominated by rather mediocre efforts of retired army and navy officers. Not the most flattering of compliments perhaps, but still a sign of the wine world starting to notice that something is happening in England. To learn more about what exactly is going on in the green and pleasant land, I attended the English Wine Producers press tasting.
Held in early May in a very traditional venue - One Great George Street, right next to the Houses of Parliament in London - the EWP tasting was a chance to try over a hundred English wines, not only dozens of sparklers, but also rosés, whites (from dry to aromatic, oaked and sweet) and reds. Yes, English reds.
For two weeks I have been agonising about whether to write this wine review or not. I knew that there was no way I could do this wine justice, but I also felt I had something that needed to be said. What makes for a very pompous start does actually come down to a simple lesson: if you are exhausted and have a cold, don't open a wine you want to write about. So, kind reader, take this review with an even bigger pinch of salt than you should take any tasting notes.
Maybe I can make up for the lack of being precise or fair in my description of the wine by giving it a little context. Regular readers of the Wine Rambler will know that we are on a mission to explore English wine. Some of our past exploits have been failures, some boring, some great successes. All were fun. So when I headed out to the Sussex coast earlier this year to visit Hastings with friends, we made a detour to the Carr Taylor winery. Back at home I found that mysteriously a bottle of an award winning sparkling wine had found its way into my rucksack.
When the two Wine Ramblers met in London early in June to celebrate one year of wine rambling, it was obvious that we had to do a blind tasting. Because of our increasing interest in sparkling and English wine the choice of wine was easy: get an English sparkler and a German Sekt and then let's have the two of them slug it out.
It would be 1966 all over again, Geoff Hurst facing Helmut Haller. The bottle is round and finishing it takes 90 minutes (or so). So, who will win the 2010 battle of the sparklers? And will it tell us anything about the England vs. Germany match at the 2010 world cup?
East Sussex may not be the first place on earth coming to mind when thinking of sparkling wine. And yet winemaker Will Davenport has had a lot of success with sparkling wines made in the classic champagne style since he started out with 5 acres of vineyards in Kent in 1991. I bought this wine from a wine bar/shop in South London that specialises in English and natural/organic wines - the Davenport sparkler happens to be both. The Limney Estate wine is made from 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Auxerrois and has been aged on lees for over 2 years, which seemed to make it an ideal candidate for a blind tasting against a German sparkler.
This is a story about a dialogue, a dialogue between English and German wine - or rather my personal experience of it. Moving from Germany to London made me see wine differently and I think I have benefited from this experience. In particular, it was a blending of national perspectives, perhaps even bias, that had some fruitful effects and made me look out for and experience things in wine I would otherwise not have done. While this is partly a personal story, it can also be read as a plea to look at wine in different ways and turn whatever national drinking bias we might have into a force that makes us see more, not less.
When the Wine Rambler committee assembles in Munich, we often send two evenly matched wines into a blind tasting battle. Last weekend was no exception and two formidable contestants were preparing themselves for the main event. To get us in the right mood for this epic battle, a good supporting act was needed. So I brought along a mystery wine. It was pretty obvious that the properly wrapped wine was a rosé, but little did my co-ramblers know that it was from the County of Kent. However, I too was in for a surprise - little did I know that this support-act blind tasting would turn into a triumph for English wine (to be followed by a defeat for German winemaking, but that is another story).
An English wine? Yes, very much so. One of the Wine Rambler's wine resolutions for 2010 is to explore the subject of English wine, and report back here. Today, that mission (virtually) leads me to Oxfordshire, specifically to Wallingford, about eight miles from Oxford, where Bob and Carol Nielsen planted 14 acres of wine in 1988. Today, Brightwell Vineyard make five different wines, including a rosé, a red (mostly made from Dornfelder) and a sparkling Chardonnay. They have won several prices for their wines and the 2007 Bacchus was awarded the Silver Medal in the 'Wine of the Year Competition' of the UK Vineyards Association.
It is time again to write up some wine relate news: the juicy, the interesting, the random and all other sorts of miscellaneous wine information the Wine Rambler happened to stumble upon over the past few weeks.
Let's start with one of your favourite topics, women and wine. Apparently, girls are somewhat intimidated by buying wine and they need a little help to overcome that fear: if the wine label is pink, features stilettos or if the wine is called 'Girls' Night Out' or 'Bitch', girls are apparently more likely to buy it. This is according to the Canadian National Post that recently ran an article entitled ">Wine, women and wrong?, asking the question: 'Do tarted-up labels do a disservice to female drinkers?' I do wonder why they do not consider that men too might want to make a wine their personal bitch? [read the full post...]
It has been a while since I had my last English wine; so far my exploration of local produce has had mixed results, but then I have never systematically looked into English wine. Denbies is an estate that is hard to overlook though, seeing as they are the largest largest single estate vineyard in the UK. Located near Dorking in Surrey, the winery makes a lot of the fact that the North Downs have the same soil-chalk structure as the Champagne. The Surrey Gold, however, that we opened yesterday, is not a sparkling, but rather a "deliciously fragrant off dry wine [that] is rich in fruit and floral aromas with subtle hints of spice and a crisp finish", as the label informs us. It also tells us that the wine is a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus and Ortega; what it does not mention is the vintage.
While the week comes to an end, it is getting time for some wine news from the Internet: the miscellaneous, the bizarre, the enlightening. Let's start with Spar. 'Spar' means 'save money' in German (and, as I understand, also in several other languages such as Dutch, Danish or Norwegian) and I always took it for a smallish continental food retailer, until I found out that it actually is one of the world's largest. Maybe it is this international aspect of the business that has convinced Spar to go local with regards to wine. In the UK, Spar is now selling wines with the labels translated, well, not into English, but into regional dialects. [read the full post...]