Try 'England in a glass' during English Wine Week
- Credit: Liz Sagues
Imagine a white wine that's mouth-wateringly crisp, with scents of of meadow and hedgerow flowers plus flavours that add smooth pear, apple and gooseberry to lemon, lime and more. Or a red with vibrant berry fruit, soft tannins and appetising freshness. These are England in a glass.
In English Wine Week (June 19-27) it's time to celebrate and, crucially, enjoy the products of the burgeoning vineyards throughout the south, east, west and even the north of the country. In the wake of Covid-19 disruption, the 2021 events list is shorter than usual, but live happenings range from tours and tastings to smart dinners, plus on-line encounters with winemakers.
Unfortunately for last-minute decision-makers, many are already sold out (check with individual vineyards, contact details at winegb.co.uk), so why not create your own – there are plenty of ideas and offers from producers or retailers.
Maybe, though, I'm preaching to the converted. Spectacular popularity is being reported. At Waitrose, which lists around 100 English and Welsh wines, sales from January to May this year were up by 46 per cent against 2020. That figure excludes major sparkling brands (Nyetimber, Ridgeview and the like) which are recorded separately, but those bottles flew off the shelves even faster during the whole of last year, rising by 52 per cent.
Marien Rodriguez, who selects the still wines and all the "local" English wines (Waitrose is great at supporting vineyards close to its branches), believes part of the success is due to prosecco drinkers trading up, and she also notes a huge surge in local red wine sales. Still wines, she argues, are improving in both choice and quality. "I wish I could list more!"
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In comparison, The Wine Society's offering is tiny, though the choice is boosted for English Wine Week. Yet over the first four months of this year English still wine sales increased by more than 200 per cent, with fizz not far behind.
Supply shortage of new vintages and sometimes-patchy quality are among the reasons slowing the expansion of the selection, says the Society's English wine buyer, Matthew Horsley. "As always, we buy on quality first."
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That quality should shine through in the current offer (from June 19), including two very tempting six-bottle cases, sparkling and still, each from six top producers (£178 and £73, thewinesociety.com). And the confidence from beyond our shores in the potential of English wine continues. Domaine Evremond, the Kent initiative of Champagne Taittinger, is bottling its first sparkling wines as I write. Carefully matured, they'll be released in 2024. "We can't wait to try them," says brand director Lynn Murray.
English Wines to Try in English Wine Week
Here are two bottles to prove how good the still wines are now. The Society's English White (£8.50, thewinesociety.com), from Three Choirs in Gloucestershire, is flowers, crisp fruit, herbs and more, a thoroughly modern-flavoured wine showing off 2020's sunshine at a great-value price.
Marks & Spencer is joining in the celebrations, too, and a star of its selection is Balfour Chardonnay-Ortega 2020 (£13), from Hush Heath in Kent, with layers of aromatic and mouth-filling pleasure. Serve it blind, and no-one will identify its origin! It's evidence of leading sparkling wine producers' growing interest in also offering high-quality, appealing still wines.
And three Australian reds
One style still out of reach of cool English vineyards is the big reds of Australia. Except that they are no longer so oak-heavy or alcoholic – there's an increasing move towards elegance rather than brute force.
This shows in Yalumba's classic cabernet sauvignons from Coonawarra, from vines up to a century old. The Cigar 2016/2017 (£23-£25, Majestic, winedirect.co.uk, auswinesonline.co.uk) and the even more complex The Menzies 2014/2015 (£34-£41, same stockists) are serious yet very, very drinkable – for optimum enjoyment, pour and allow them time to develop in the glass.
Margaret River, the far south-west corner of Australia, is the country's other prime region for cabernet sauvignon, and Vasse Felix was the first to plant vines there, in 1967. Filius 2018 (£18, auswinesonline.co.uk, winedirect.co.uk) is the "son" of the company's flagship cabernet, and is a very promising youngster, with spicy blackcurrant fruit and attractive length. A sizeable splash of malbec intensifies colour and perfume.