It is something of a struggle to persuade the world that England is a place which produces fine wine. The reputation of the weather does not help, even though with the warming of the climate Southern England has had a good number of years in a row when it has been possible to ripen grapes fully. The peculiar nature of the home market – er, England – is another. As the English enjoy the wines of the world in a very competitive market place, there is a little demand for the home product. In fact, we associate wine with warm, sunny places beyond these shores. And we have colluded with the supermarkets to buy our wine basically by price – preferably on ‘three for two’ offers, favouring hot places that can create drinkable wines at very low prices. Finally, there is a substantial oversupply of wine in the world and so any new, niche product is going to have to have something very distinctive about it to succeed. But having said all that, the June tasting of Andover Wine Friends showed that there are two things that English wine does very well: light and aromatic whites/rosé and sparkling wines.
The general quality of these bottles was good: light, crisp, aromatic wines which would make a good aperitif or accompany lighter dishes. The most distinctive was Bacchus (the modern grape variety named after the ancient god of wine), Chapel Down, Kent, 2011, which does a fair impression of a restrained Sauvignon Blanc. Annum, Three Choirs, Gloucestershire, 2011 was full of hedgerow and floral notes, quite full in the mouth, light and good. The two wines made wholly from Madeleine Angevine were less successful. Both were from very local estates: Estate White, Somborne Valley, Hampshire, 2011 had rather curious butterscotch and toffee apple notes, while Madeleine Angevin, Danebury, Hampshire, 2009, majored on citrus, even grapefruit aromas. All these wines are from grapes which are the products of German research into varieties which can withstand winter cold, ripen in cooler climates and can remain healthy in a relatively damp climate. The same is true of Schönburger, Danebury, Hampshire, 2007, which also showed the ability to develop in the bottle over five years, with a rounded buttery quality and of course good acidity to contribute to the lemon finish. Rather surprisingly, the most straightforwardly attractive wine of the evening was English Rose, Chapel Down, Kent, 2010 where a pale Alaskan Salmon pink colour combines with pleasant strawberry fruit, making for a fragrant and balanced wine. Here Schönburger is joined by four red grape varieties, three crosses (Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder) and Pinot Noir.
The evening finished with the style for which England is achieving some well-earned attention: sparkling wines made with the traditional method, on the model of Champagne. Again the wines were from our own county: Jenkyn Place, Hampshire, Brut 2008 and Rosé 2008, made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes. It was probably a mistake to taste them last (quality after weight!) as they are quintessentially aperitif wines. The Brut 2008 was just that – extremely dry, with good biscuit and brioche notes from ageing on the lees in the bottle, green apples, floral and decidedly sharp. The Rosé was again more attractive: described as ‘pale Financial Times pink’, it presented some toothsome strawberry fruit and was slightly creamy on the palate. The fruit provided a better balance for the trademark acidity. Finally, the lone red still wine, Denbies, Redland, Surrey, 2009, did not really shine in this company: good cherry red colour, some fruit again predominantly cherry, but only fair, lacking body and sufficient fruit.
These wines can be bought either at Grape Expectations or Waitrose. If you are looking for a light, aromatic wine for lunch or an aperitif – with or without bubbles – you should consider England.