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This week is English Wine Week – a celebration of all things English wine. While typically, this means vineyards and wineries opening their doors with special events and tastings, this year it's a bit different.
I don't know if this is true of every wine person, but I always think of weather now in relation to how it's affecting vines.
Two years ago this month, I was preparing the start of my English wine podcast. We didn't quite know it yet, but 2018 went on to be the country's greatest vintage yet. Every winemaker I met was hesitant to celebrate at this stage: know what some disastrous weather between now and September would do for the vines.
With hindsight, we know they had little reason to be worried. 2018 has gone on to be a great year for the wines – with many still being held back until the time is right.
I opened three English wines this weekend including one still chardonnay. The 2018 chardonnays and pinot noirs were the wines I was most looking forward to, and the quality in each new one I try really is exceptional. Between Tillingham, Oxney, and Westwell, you'd be mistaken for thinking you were in Chablis. All I wish for now is a giant cellar so I could buy cases of these and see how they'll develop in coming years.
English Sparkling Wine is now well recognised and appreciated, but I also encourage you to track down a still wine this week. Many of the country's independent merchants now stock at least one or two – indeed if you're in the south-east, you're rarely more than a few miles from an estate.
If you can't celebrate in lockdown during a heat wave when can you?
Aldi Gavi is good. At £6.99, it's very good. And on a hot heatwave evening like this, it's exceptionally good. Lemon, sweet ripe peach, and a nod of something green and herbal. There's a touch of residual sugar here (4 grams / litre – props to Aldi for displaying so prominently online), which just adds to the balance.
Mineralstein is part of M&S' new Classics Range (£9.50 / bottle) and this off-dry (8 grams / litre of sugar) riesling is a treat. Apples, pears, limes, lemon, lychee. It's all here. Elegant wine with classic riesling acidity, balanced wonderfully by that sugar.
If I had to describe my go-to favourite white wine aromas, I'd probably lean on lemon, jasmine, buttery oak, and pear and/or peach. It's why I'm so fond of both white Burgundy, and Rhone whites. Imagine the delight then when I tasted Tocco Passerina. This is an indigenous Italian grape that produces this wonderful wine that feels like a lovechild of both the Rhone and Burg.
I've been a few conversations recently where old wine myths popped up again, so here is a short list of some of the common ones I hear – debunked.
1. Organic/natural wine doesn't give you a hangover. I can assure you a personal level this isn't true. But as they say, the plural of anecdote isn't data – and so it's important to fall back on science. Alcohol and dehydration cause hangovers. So if you want to avoid one, drink less, and drink plenty of water.
2. Big indents at the base (also known as a punt) mean better wine. Some logic could be explain that the bigger the punt, the more glass that’s needed, and therefore manufacturers must be willing to spend more on it. But: if we know this, then so do savvy marketing departments.
3. Netting on Rioja is a sign of quality. This stemmed from a time when counterfeiting was rife, but today is unnecessary.
4. Lots of medals = good thing. Anyone can start a competition and award something to someone. Though, the International Wine Challenge (IWC) and Decanter World Wine Awards - are two reputable ones worth keeping an eye out for.
5, Screwtops are bad. From doing tastings recently, I heard this myth re-emerge. Cork's only advantage is when ageing a bottle of wine, but considering the majority of wine is consumed within six hours of purchase – this won't be a problem for the most part.