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.

Of course with our climate it is no good expecting England to produce bold, Shiraz-like red wines – or much red at all really. No, light-bodied white wines are the order of the day and recently I have been able to try a few more straightforward English wines and I have become quite excited by what can be done. Whilst visiting Plumpton College recently I was impressed by their:

2010 Cloudy Ridge White
a very light, overwhelmingly fresh, crisp and lively dry white with a very sappy feel to it.

In a similar, but more impressive vein I was also thrilled with this:

2010 Limney Horsmonden Dry White
Davenport Vineyards
This impressive winery has been based near Tunbridge Wells since 1991 and has 2 vineyard blocks, the original one at Horsmondon in Kent and another a little way away in East Sussex. All their grapes are grown organically and the wine is a blend of Bacchus, Ortega, Siegerrebe, Faberrebe and Huxelrebe fermented with the wild yeast and aged on the lees for 3 months. (Interestingly most of these grapes were bred by George Scheu)

Lifted citrus, elderflower, blackcurrant leaf, herbs and floral notes, quite lovely – in a delicate way it smells like a Summers day with a touch of tight stony minerality keeping it from being too assertive.
The palate is light bodied, clean fresh, lively and mineral. The acidity is high, but not piercing or out of balance, the little touch of mouth-feel just balances it enough.

It is a lovely flinty wine, bone-dry, clean and pure, like a good Vinho Verde or fine Muscadet, there was even a touch of the Chacolí about it – not to mention those increasingly trendy Koshus from Japan.

Perfect with Asian dishes, seafood, salads and lots of other stuff, or just by itself – 89/100 points, I have given it an extra point for being an English wine and an organic wine that is not stupidly priced.

This seemed to me to be the best English still wine that I have tried for a long time, because it worked on its own terms, it was a good wine, made from grape varieties that perform well here, the grapes were organic and the wine was beautifully made. It would have held its own in a tasting against any other similar weight wine – very light in body, but full of flavour. What is more, this is not a ridiculously priced wine, it can happily hold its own at around £10 a bottle.

If this is what England can do, with all the odds stacked against it, then perhaps the future of English wine is much more exciting than I had realised?

11 thoughts on “England’s Green & Pleasant Land

  1. Why so pessimistic, with regards to the climate? Even though the UK is rather far north, there is the Gulf Stream factor to consider, which makes a big difference climate-wise, no? I’m thinking of planting a vineyard in Scotland, actually, in one of those sneaky hidden micro-climates where even palm trees grow!!!

    • Thank you for that, what an exciting idea – I look forward to trying your wine. I’m not pessimistic really, I am amazed by the quality of some English wines coming through now, but you have to admit the climate does not make it easy! The Gulf Stream makes grape growing possible, not straightforward or even the ideal crop.

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  5. This is a great blog you have here. I’d like to contact you for a product review / wine tasting request for wine making client of mine. I’ll email you with the details. In the meanwhile keep the great blog posts coming.

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