It was once the practice to deride wines made in England as ‘beyond the pale’. How could a country with such a northern latitude and with such cold and damp weather ever be able to ripen grapes enough to make drinkable wine? The experts stated that 30-50° of latitude were the limits in both hemispheres (London lies at 51.5° N). Beyond this the angle of altitude of the sun is lower than that required to generate intensity of heat to warm the vines; also spring frost damage to new vine shoots becomes a significant risk and rain can upset sugar levels at harvesting. No wonder that 53% of alcoholic drinks made in the UK are made from the more easily produced spirit - gin! Enter the ‘New Latitude’ Wines. Slowly in dingy laboratories and scruffy farm buildings, 'mad scientists' have been secretly crossing vine species and hybrids in an attempt to define the future of English wine. Genetically modified food has nothing on Vitis vinifera; the vine forms a separate species every time it is fertilised they tell me – a fact that increases my admiration for this plant nearly as much as my other half likes her roses!
The changing parameter is of course climate change and with the development of these hardy grape varieties, the vignerons of Olde England have changed the ball game and are now taken seriously by many well-seasoned drinkers. The English grape varieties such as Bacchus, Seyval, Dornfelder, Rondo and Madeleine Angevine, in their clonally adapted personas, are all suited to the UK environment and yield quite acceptable to excellent still wines, and more excitingly, sparkling versions too when added to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and sometimes on their own. This is to my mind the epitome of English international wine-making. A ‘new and old’ combo, twenty-first century English specialized grape variety combined with the sparkling wine process (devised in the Jacobean age of discovery in 1662 by Christopher Merret which promoted the process of secondary fermentation thereby pioneering the traditional Champagne Method) - something authentically English! So my choice for the month, is new generic English (and Welsh) wines (not the sparkling type which I covered in a previous article but English still wine).
There were plenty of high points at a recent visit to the GB Wine Trade Tasting in London, and one of the most popular was Chapel Down Kit's Coty Estate, the Chardonnay being a fine example of skilful wine-making. On offer is ‘creamy melon aroma with almost a note of honey but not actually sweet, very high lemony acid but clean and pure in fruit with enough weight and creaminess in the mouth to balance that acidity’. Julia Harding MW’s finely scripted tasting note ends with ‘Still tastes very fresh and lively, persistent, too’. If you can lay your hands on a bottle it’s on-line in a six-case minimum buy but pricey at £38 per bottle. However, there is always dependable Waitrose Cellars; three wines I recommend from them are Chapel Down's Flint Dry, a heady blend of Chardonnay, Huxelrube, Pinot Blanc, and Bacchus, at £11.99, Bolney Estate's Foxhole English Rosé, with blending varieties Rondo and Dornfelder, at £12.99, and probably the most mouth-watering of the lot, Chapel Down's Bacchus, elderflower, grassy and box-tree aromas setting off tantalizing freshness in the mouth. possibly England’s signature grape, at only £13.99. Taste them and see for yourself if English Wine has come anywhere near to atonement.
Chapel Down Winery, UK
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.