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I’ve recently finished reading A Celebration of English Wine by Liz Sagues. We have over 500 commercial vineyards in the UK contributing wine to 160 wineries. All of the stats point towards strong growth: in expertise, in volume, and in quality. It’s now become a slight habit to seek out English wine wherever I go.
Wine tastes have changed a lot over the last few years. The so-called international style popularised in the 80s and 90s is in fast decline. What the French call terroir - the soil, the way the climate affects growth, the positioning of the vines, the agriculture, etc - is now one of the most cherished properties of a wine. Our own terroir is fantastic. Much has been said about Champagne-like conditions for Sussex sparkling wine, but try tasting an East Anglian bacchus and not getting transported to a childhood of picking fruit from a hedgerow.
As we drove through Sussex on the way back from Brighton on Sunday, I have to say I was a little saddened to find a gastropub serving just one English wine. This year’s weather, however, feels particularly set to be fantastic year (fingers crossed). Perhaps a stellar year of not just world-class sparkling wines - but also of zesty, vibrant whites and, dare I say it, a few brilliant reds - will be enough to boost some homeward demand for this blossoming industry.
In the mean time, next time you’re in your local restaurant or bar, ask if they have any English wine on offer and give it a go. If not, those gentle nudges might just start to persuade the buyers and those with the power in their hands.
Prepare for a broad sweeping statement based on two tastings, but here we go: white Rioja is fantastic.
This last week, some serious food and wine friends invited us over and shared a bottle of Pharos 2017 (£10.50 from EWW Wines). This was everything I love in a white at the moment: savoury, stone fruits, tropical fruits, and some minerality. The Pharos had the added advantage of some oak ageing that gave it a softness as well. Bargain - go snap some up now.
White tempranillo is rare, or so I was told while cracking into the sublime Ad Libitum 2016 (2018 around £15 at Vinoteca). Again there’s savouriness here, peach, lemon, and even a background warmth. Something spicy.
If you see a white Rioja on a menu, give it a go. Feels like a winner based on current drinking.
Not all wines are ageworthy. I remember horror stories of hearing people putting down bottles of four quid plonk in a cold, wet, dark cellar in hope of bringing value out of it.
Wine predominantly needs one of two things to age well: tannins and/or acidity. Whites, which don’t benefit from tannins, require good acidity (which is why you get age-worthy northern French/cool climate whites). Ageable reds like acidity too, but importantly they love tannins.
That said, a poor tasting wine with horribly clawing tannins in youth, isn’t going to turn into a masterpiece with age. The final factor is great fruit flavour: these things have got to be present early, for them to display later.
Bin is a term used by merchants to describe a stacked display of wine. The ‘bin ends’ are the last of those bottles, typically sold at a discount. Find a retailer you like whose doing a bin ends sale, then head along.