England’s Green & Pleasant Land

Fingers crossed for a great future for English wine and here’s to some flashes of brilliance on the way…

I love the idea of English wine. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a country that was a serious wine producer, both for quantity and quality. To that end I so wish we had a more generous climate that made winemaking more of a reliable proposition here. As it is, every now and again – usually after a good summer – we get a false dawn for a wine producing future. How many times have the media told us that it will soon be an everyday occurrence to see grapes growing and wine being made in England?

Well, I fear the truth is not as rosy as the press would often have us believe. England is at best a marginal place to grow grapes and in reality worse than that – 50˚ North lies just to the South of the Cornish coast, so nowhere in these islands – except for the Southern point of The Lizard Peninsula – lies in the classic grape growing zone which is between 30˚ and 50˚ North and 30˚ and 50˚ South.

So, as UK grapes are not grown where they ought to be, English producers start with an incredible disadvantage and the problems never really let up. English producers are truly trying to beat nature, which can seem pretty impressive and awe inspiring when all is going well, but it must surely also account for the reason that success is so infrequent.

Like many of you I have tried a handful of really good English wines, but they have failed so far to make real inroads into many people’s wine awareness and rightly or wrongly most of us have the impression that the good wines are the rare exception rather than the norm.

Personally I have a sneaking suspicion that given our unreliable climate for ripening grapes, then the best English wines will often be the ones that balance the potentially rampant acidity somehow, so off-dry styles and sparkling wines may well be what we should focus on? Certainly our most famous wines now seem to be the sparklers and if you have not tried Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down or Camel Valley traditional method sparkling wines, then you really should.

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Dom Pérignon 2003

The Release of a Challenging Vintage

I love Champagne and wish I was wealthy enough to drink more of the stuff. I am especially appreciative of very fine Champagne, but sadly do not get the chance to enjoy much of it. Happily, every so often I get invited into the glamorous world of Champagne.

The Launch of 2003 Dom Pérignon this week was just such an occasion. I have tasted some Dom Pérignon over the years, enough to know that it does deserve a very high reputation, but not enough to truly understand the cuvée or know what to expect. In all honesty my initial thoughts were something along the lines of bemoaning the fact that I was invited to the launch of the 2003 – of all vintages.

Ungrateful? Possibly, but you must remember 2003? It was very, very hot. So hot that in Champagne they were forced to harvest in August for the first time since 1822. I relish acidity, poise, minerality and freshness in Champagne, so have found the few 2003 vintages that I have tried to be not quite for me – this extends to other regions of France too, by the way.

Well I shouldn’t have been so graceless – if only in private – as it turned out the whole event was fascinating. I loved tasting the wine and experiencing the showmanship that surrounded it.

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