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So Many Reasons to Celebrate English Wine Week

White, rose or fizz, English wine has much to celebrate in this month’s Wine Week

Many of us will remember the summer of 2023 as a dull, wet and miserable one.

While that was true of July and August, other parts of the year were actually very helpful to producers of English wines.

Things were good exactly when it mattered.

Mild weather meant little damage from late frosts and June was near perfect for the main flowering season.

Best of all though, harvest was helped by exceptional warmth in September that ran through until the rains returned in mid-October.

The overall result was high yields, although ripeness and acidity both seemed to be down a bit.

Nothing there, though, to stop the English wine bandwagon rolling on.

While those yields may be helpful news on prices, the headline stealer must be quality.

The steady rise in quality over recent years means that – especially sparkling – top-notch English and Welsh wines are moving into the outstanding category.

For sure, English Sparkling Wine is not cheap but – pound for pound – performs very well indeed when measured against comparably priced Champagne.

In his excellent book, English Wines, Oz Clarke sums it up thus:

“We really do have a shot at being the greatest, cool climate wine country in the world”.

All the more reason, then to celebrate this month’s English Wine Week – which runs from 15-23 June 2024.

Details of many English and Welsh Vineyards appear on a special web site that helps pinpoint those that are open to the public. Click here for the link …https://winegb.co.uk/our-producers/winegb-producer-directory/

As is normal here, pictures are provided to guide you straight to the right wine on shelf or web page – so are hyperlinks where possible , although the Waitrose links do not seem to be functioning as this goes to press.

Starting with that latest vintage

2023 Balfour Nannette Rosé (currently £18.75 from the Winery and 12% abv):

Although it may be early to see much of the 2023 vintage yet, this rosé is already available and is a “brand” that has been produced regularly since 2010.

It uses the main “Champagne” grapes – Pinot Meunier (50%), Pinot Noir (35%) and

Chardonnay (15%) – to create a rosé that, to me, can match similarly priced alternatives from Provence.

Pale pink with typical summer aromas, it is built around smooth and ripe red currant and red cherry flavours.

As partners to that base, it contains a spicy backdrop along with sharp acidity but, nevertheless, also has an edge of sweetness.

Click here for a link to the relevant web item … https://balfourwinery.com/product/nannettes-2023/

Classic English white wine

2022 Blueprint English Dry White Wine (£9.99 at Waitrose and 11.5%):

To give an idea of “what all the fuss is about”, Waitrose have included English still white wine in its Blueprint series – a range that highlights great value but typical examples of classic wine.

This is made by Denbies in Surrey – although the varieties used are not clear – and does indeed capture what gentle, fresh, summer drinking, English wine is like.

Clear with an aura of purity, it provides soft melon, cooked apple and greengage flavours.

These are given verve by assertive grapefruit acidity and accompanied by a trace of white pepper.

Star Chardonnay

2022 Simpsons Estate Chardonnay (£16.99 at Waitrose and 12.5%):

The Simpson family first captured attention with the delightful rosé they produced in Languedoc but subsequently began creating wine in the North Downs in Kent.

The result here matches, pound for pound, some of the unoaked chardonnays from Northern France and certainly offers a quality glassful.

Star bright and nicely textured, it brings us velvety quince, orchard fruit and peach flavours.

Citrus zest and lemon acidity with contrasting celery based savouriness complete the picture of a elegantly configured white wine.

Let’s move to the bubbles now.

Chapel Down English Rosé (£31.99 at Waitrose and 12%):

Since around two thirds of English wine is sparkling, that is where the primary focus invariably goes.

Although some High Street outlets do have versions, I concentrate today on the more expensive options – as befits a celebration of what is so good about English wine.

First up is a nicely made rosé from one of the biggest producers with a bright colour but slightly lazy bubbles that lead invitingly into well-defined cranberry, raspberry and red cherry flavours.

Those are supported by sharp acidity and a creamy texture bathed in soft fruit aromas.

And for something with a little age.

2018 The Society’s Exhibition English Blanc de Blancs (£28.81 at The Wine Society and 12%):

Red grapes have tended to run behind white ones in settling into their home this side of the Channel.

So, it is no surprise that aged sparkling wine favours the chardonnay part of the three prime sparkling wine grapes – with Blanc de Blancs.

And we switch from Kent to Sussex for the first of those with an example featuring small rapid bubbles and a lively mouth-feel that all serve to excite expectations here – and you will not be disappointed.

Nicely balanced grapefruit, melon and nectarine flavours command the next stage that is embellished by lemon acidity and a rich finish containing subtle yeast influences.

Click on this link to go to the web page concerned … https://www.thewinesociety.com/product/the-societys-exhibition-english-blanc-de-blancs-2018

Finally to an aspirational choice

2019 Rathfinny Blanc de Blanc (£48.50 from the Waud Wines and 12%):

I stressed at the outset that English sparkling wine is not cheap, but any judgement needs to be against comparably priced champagne, not with what we normally pay week in, week out.

Here, the guys at Rathfinny produce a superb wine from the Sussex downlands (which, of course, have the same chalk seam as the Champagne region).

This does indeed stand comparison with £50 Champagnes.

While its bubbles take their time to surface the sharp grapefruit acidity displays exactly the energetic opening that signals up the quality that is about to unfold.

Green apple flavours with traces of apricot are the wine’s primary foundation but that is reinforced by a lingering finish and a balance that makes Olympic gymnasts look clumsy.  

Click here to go the retailer’s web site … https://www.waudwines.com/wine/rathfinny-blanc-de-blancs-brut-2019/

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24 Responses

  1. Hi Brian
    I love English wine and I have visited some fantastic wineries and tasted some lovely examples of how good we now produce wine in this country, It’s not all about fizz either, although we make bubbles to rival anything Champagne can throw at us and sometimes even better. My problem with some English still and Sparkling wine is the acidity, I know it’s necessary to help with aging and to stop the wine from tasting flat and flabby, giving it vibrancy and freshness and it’s great when balanced but some I’ve tasted I’d only be happy putting on my chips.
    Saying this, I fully endorse the wines you’ve highlighted Balfour (Hush Heath) make fantastic wines, so do Simpsons, and that Waitrose Blueprint English white (think it’s mainly Bacchus) is a great relatively inexpensive introduction to what we do best.
    My absolute favourite wines though are from the guys at ‘Furlieigh Estate’ on the Dorset ‘Jurrasic coast’ all their wines are terrific getting that acidity balance spot on.
    Keep up the good work, website has much better feel about it, nice one!

    1. Thanks Dave. I accept that excessive acidity has been a problem with English wine – and still is in some cases. One positive of Climate Change though is that as temperatures rise so does ripeness and, simultaneously, acidity reduces. So, perhaps, time will help – always assuming that the said Climate Change does not increase rainfall to the point where rot becomes a problem.

  2. Some interesting options Brian, will search some of them out. I’ve been enjoying Danbury Ridge recently – Pinot and Chardonnay. Special occasion wines from a price perspective but well worth enjoying.

  3. If you get a chance Brian, then I highly recommend the fizz from Woodchester Valley Vineyard. Around £30 for the standard, with a little more for the rose and blanc de blanc versions. I was blown away by how good it was. I’ve also really enjoyed their Bacchus which I’ve not had as much success with previously.

  4. We can only speak as we find Brian and I for one who has rarely tried English wine it’s for one reason alone that is under usual circumstances I can’t afford it! Please note when I say ”I can’t afford it”, I am not saying ”it is too expensive”. All I offer is a subjective call on my own behalf about price point to me. I’m not applying objectivity or criticism here on the value of the product.

    Except to mention that on recommendation by others for some Chapel Down a few years ago on the one occasion I did push the boat out and get a case direct from the winery at the reduced money being asked. But I sent 5 out of 6 bottles back for a refund because it was not what I hoped it would be. Others rated it but I didn’t.

    Nothing in today’s recommendation approaches affordability to me except perhaps the Blueprint at Waitrose at £9.99. Everything else listed is way more money than that. I did the Denbies tour experience many years ago, quite entertaining, and what they offered then with their myriad of varietals grown was interesting and the wine tried was OK, but there has never been a return visit to their wine or vineyard!

    Further of course is general availability and Waitrose here is the only British high street supermarket represented. I wouldn’t shop there regularly if I had one near to me, except perhaps for cheaper bottles on offer, or an otherwise treat, because everything there is comparatively too expensive to me, as a preferred grocer. That’s why I also don’t shop at M&S very often even though quality seems to exude.

    Little in the way of English wine is stocked by the main high street retailers and I’d suggest that that is indicative of their usual customer bases choosing not to afford it, Asda, Tesco, Lidl or even Sainsbury’s.

    I buy my white or rosé fizz in the way of Crémant, Cava or Prosecco at well under £10 that covers my needs more than adequately even though some English wine is very likely of top quality.

    Just out of interest to yourself and the MWW fanbase if it interests them re Prosecco, in Decanter (online) this month is an article about your top recommendation of DOCG quality bottles from Asolo.

    1. Some very valid points here Eddie – and an area that I think about a lot. Is it right to maintain the website as a “broad church” (to borrow a phrase) with something for as many budgets as possible? Or is that unwise since that will irritate those who expect to spend more or less than many of the wines featured. It is a theme to which I will return in next Thursday’s post – but a hard one to get right.

  5. Nearly all of it is too pricy for me.. Pierre Mansour at the Wine Society described Britain as a “boutique wine country” and said much more in terms of quantity production would be needed to achieve better value for money. Also I drink very little sparkling wine so fit now I will stick with my beloved Languedoc.

    1. As I said to Eddie., I understand the point and certainly agree that Languedoc is a treasure trove of great, inexpensive wines – including (for fizz fans) of course, Blanquette de Limoux

  6. My favourite English sparkling wine is from a little vineyard in my native Devon called Ten Acres, the wine is called Wild Goose, it uses an Hungarian grape and it is wonderful.

  7. Very interesting post Brian.Thanks.
    I do like what Russell Cooke ,the owner of Kerry Vale vineyard on the Shropshire/Powys border said about his latest and best white wine blend of Phoenix and Solaris grapes,when he said the winery was “ dedicated to accessible luxury”. I.e he meant affordable.The wine is called Ridgeway and has a very small run of 1,000 bottles, but sells at £16.I hope to try it soon ,but there is a lesson there for all English/ Welsh wine makers.

    1. Sorry Paul, I can’t let this assertion pass that you make about Russell Cooke ,the owner of Kerry Vale vineyard, that what he said about his winery being “ dedicated to accessible luxury”…. and therefore meant ”affordable”!!! Affordability is a long way from accessible luxury

      At £16 a pop he is allowed to say he thinks that’s that’s as close to an objective opinion as we might expect from a producer and I’ll not contest that bit.

      But whatever he truly meant and never actually said it was …. it WAS affordable! Using the word affordable begd the question … to whom? Not the punter who chooses a £5 Pinot Grigio at Aldi or Asda because that is all they can afford now just now.

      Not a bottle three times the price of what usually goes in their trolly.

      As if we needed any corroborating evidence , jerryw says reminds us …
      …” all of it is too pricey for me.. Pierre Mansour at the Wine Society described Britain as a “boutique wine country” and said much more in terms of quantity production would be needed to achieve better value for money”. Right … better value … I like that. That’s objectivity working. And bulling-up English wine is no crime if it’s great stuff that a lot of it seems to be, whatever the prce.

      If some producer wants to price themself into the market at whatever price they feels they can work with the punters will test the assertion about affordability, and buy or not. I hope Kerry Vale do well. I hope those with more money than me enjoy what they buy.

      But a lot of people in Britain these days, even if they should like to give it try, will not be in the position of splashing the cash for something that is not affordable to them. Cheers …

  8. Very much enjoyed tonight’s Co-op online wine tasting with Jean Claude Mas and Sarah Benson, the Co-op wine buyer. What a character -with his ancient motorbike,ancient goggles and a blonde haired horse he calls Brigette Bardot.
    There was an outstanding white wine -Co-op Irresistible Viognier 2023 .Poor Viognier can be a bit fat and soapy, this is the exact opposite.He described it as an everyday Viognier , but it is much more than that.15% left in oak barrels for 3 months and 20% subject to malolactic fermentation to add creaminess.Peach in abundance and will develop into a more apricot taste in the next two or three years.A lick of salinity as one of the vineyards is flooded.
    MidWeek Wine contributor, Richard ,was oxygenated!
    But Eddie will be pleased that the Viognier is on offer at my local store at 50p off and a bargain £8.High quality at a very kind price.
    The next event is about Chilean wines in early July.Recommended.

    1. Yes J-C is a great character and an even greater winemaker. Taking all that trouble to create an “everyday” wine is testament indeed to his dedication and priorities.

  9. Interesting discussion on affordability. My view (for what it is worth!) is that English wine, like those in, say, Washington or Canada, are “Artisan” wines – often very good and with great back stories, but pretty expensive. And frankly, more than I am comfortable paying. Spending £20 or £30 on a bottle is not going to bankrupt me, but is generally outside my “comfort zone” – If I want to splurge that money I would rather buy a Cote Rotie.
    Having said that, I think Bacchus has real merit, and the Waitrose English wine, recommended by Brian is a good way to try it.
    I don’t “get” really expensive Champagnes, finding them too mean and green, but I observe that wine professionals have a higher tolerance for highly acidic wines! I am perfectly happy with a really good cava for a celebration. But, I have tasted, on a couple of occasions, the Wine Society’s Exhibition fizz that Brian featured here. To me, this was a joyous wine, vibrant and with some complexity that was just lovely. If I wanted to splurge for a celebration this would be my choice!

    1. That may be exactly the point about champagne recommendations. Possibly those that drink it regularly are less sensitive to the acidity as a consequence. Perhaps someone should study that.

  10. Would anyone commenting above on affordability / high price of English wine be tempted to revise opinions by picking up a bottle of the Simpsons’ Chardonnay Brian recommends now it’s 25% off at £12.74 in Waitrose until 2nd July? Strikes me this IS good value!

    1. I’m with you Keith, that Simpsons Chardonnay is lovely, and at £12 it’s reasonable for an English wine, although still a little on the expensive side

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