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(Not so) Sour Grapes – A Beginner’s Guide to English & Welsh Wine

Sour Grapes – to dismiss or criticise something, because you are hacked off that you didn’t actually get it. So, imagine you apply for a job, and you don’t get it. You might then declare that the job is rubbish, but it would really only be because they chose someone else. Or…you might insist that a country (let’s say…England?) is terrible at making wine because you are secretly jealous that England produces very good wine indeed.  (You know who you are) 


Not so long ago, if you suggested having a ‘good bottle of English wine’ to go with your meal,  people would have laughed at you, loudly. And no doubt they would have thought you had gone a bit doolally¹. We are famous for dreadfully mediocre and changeable weather, and for our lack of decent taste buds and our love of binge-drinking. HOW could a nation such as us then produce decent wine?

The French and Italians scoffed² (but we are used to this); the Spanish and Americans thought us a little soft in the head³. The Australians were a little quieter, but they probably still remember being chastised by Monty Python all too well. 

However, for a good number of years, the English & Welsh wine producers have quietly been turning their hands to making some increasingly high quality stuff. Our sparkling wines, in particular, are now rightly heralded as some of the finest in the world. 

Sparkling white wine accounts for 66% of the wine produced in the UK. Chardonnay is the most grown grape variety in England and Wales, followed closely by Pinot Noir, which all makes perfect sense. Tattinger have recently started planting in Kent for their own wines, and Vranken-Pommery-Monopole are in cahoots with4 Hattingley Valley, even talking about setting up their own vineyard here. Even the Queen herself has her own award-winning sparkling wine

But there is so much more to English & Welsh wine* than white fizz. The rosés are delicious, either fizzy or still, and even red wines (which, initially we didn’t get good reviews for) are now extremely good. (If you check out our spring menu there are some great wine matches)

This week an English wine from Norfolk has won the category for “Best Value White Wine for a Single Grape Variety” at the Decanter World Wine Awards. At £13 a bottle,  Winbirri Vineyards’ Bacchus wine was described as “especially inspiring” and so I do hope some of our less-than-complementary Italian friends are reading this – we may be enforcing an English Wine evening on them soon. 

Afterthought: the fact that my autocorrect changed ‘white’ to ‘shite‘ makes me suspect, not for the first time,  that my autocorrect is French, or possibly Italian.

English Wine

But don’t just take our word for it. We are lucky enough to know an insider in the industry, and these are their Top Tips for getting into English wine.

Best & most easily available fizz: Nyetimber.  This one has been at the top of most people’s lists for a long time, and is still winning taste tests. (the classic cuvée is even on offer at Waitrose at the moment. Get in there while you can)
Best less easily available fizz: Gusbourne (They do specific bottlings for Selfridges and Berry Bros & Rudd. That means it is jolly good)
Best value fizz: Court Garden.  These lovely people are about a mile down the road from the very well known Ridgeview, & originally grew for them, so they know their stuff.  
Best Champagne-a-like for convincing people the English can do it: Ridgeview’s Cavendish
Best still wine Producer: Stopham Vineyard.  Pick between the Pinots Blanc & Gris by year & preference.
Best still wine on release: Bolney Estates Bacchus ’15, Just won gold at the Sommeliers’ Awards.  We clearly do Good Bacchus in the UK. It is also very similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, so it is easy to get to like, and an evocative and easy name to remember. 
Best up’n’coming winemaker: Liam Idzikowski.  Currently at Lyme Bay Vineyards in Devon.  (And I don’t blame him, because it’s bloody lovely down there) 
Best “Good lord, I wasn’t expecting that”: Exton Park‘s 100% Pinot Meunier.  We know many people dislike Meunier in a blend or even as a 100%, but this is fab.
Best “How do they do it for that price”: Three Choirs, available via The Wine Society & others.
Classiest tie-in: Bolney Wine Estate do this very well, having a good tie in with Kew Gardens and the Wimbledon Championships. Chapel Down are now at Henley Royal Regatta too.
Most surprising but pleasing producer: Her Maj.  Yep, her.  They’ve got a site near us, too, which is makes it even more pleasing.  The first release sold out in a heartbeat, unsurprisingly.  Lots of interest backing up for the next. If you want some, get in quick. 
Wine style often overlooked in favour of the white fizz: Rose,  both still & sparkling.  We have a lot of Pinot Noir based pinks (usually only seen from Germany or parts of the Loire), and our acidity is fantastic for the style.  Proper, pleasing, good for fun in the sun or drinking seriously with a meal.  Again, the Bolney Estate come up trumps for rosé: their 2014 pink fizz is on release, and Bluebell’s Hindleap pink fizz is good too.

* English & Welsh. Don’t make the mistake of saying ‘British Wine’. You will get loudly lambasted. 

Those of you for whom English is not their first language may find the following helpful. 

  1. doolally – a bit mad. Doolally was probably originally derived from Deolali, the site of a British Army transit camp in India.  Apparently, soldiers were so bored by waiting there, they felt themselves going mad.
  2. to scoff – to laugh at someone in a mocking way.
  3. soft in the head – mad, daft.
  4. in cahoots with – secretly working with someone, in a bad or criminal way.

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