MANY Scots will be bracing themselves for the World Cup – with hours of media coverage dedicated to the “Auld Enemy” in Brazil – but there’s a more pleasurable Anglo-Saxon event to come first: English Wine Week.
Starting next Saturday, the festival is designed to build interest and support for wines from this side of the English Channel with vineyard open days and tastings aplenty in supermarkets, wine merchants, restaurants and bars.
English wines used to be oddities in unvisited corners of supermarket shelves. Now, though, producers are focused on quality, while climate change seems to have helped the classic champagne grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) to prosper on chalky parts of southern England. Despite the UK’s unpredictable weather, these efforts have given us some magnificent sparkling wines in recent years. Here are three examples all using the traditional Champagne method – with a second fermentation in the bottle, carefully trapping the bubbles inside.
First up is 2011 Bloomsbury Merret Brut (£19.99 – down from £24.99 until Tuesday at Waitrose), made by Ridgeview in Sussex. Traditional method wines are normally left to age on their “lees” (the dead yeast cells temporarily left in the bottle) and thereby develop all those alluring, complex bread flavours. You can smell the resultant gentle biscuit aromas this often creates on the Bloomsbury, which then switches to sharp and fresh lemon fruit on the palate, and a touch of lime, before returning to embellish the lingering, mellow finish with clear hints of brioche.
Ridgeview makes the more austere 2010 Marksman Blanc de Blancs Brut (£26 at Marks & Spencer). While the Bloomsbury uses that holy trinity of classic champagne grapes already listed, the “blanc de blancs” designation means the Marksman uses only chardonnay – the sole white grape in the trio. As a result, soft apple flavours take centre stage, making the wine’s underlying lemon fruit flavours seem subdued, while the acidity fits around a savoury toasty backdrop. Small but active bubbles, a gentle texture and long finish complete the picture.
Mild, toasty influences are also evident in – for me – the pick of the bunch, 2010 Furleigh Estate Rose Brut (£25.50 from the growers in Dorset – www.furleighestate.co.uk) with its delicate pink colours. This is subtle yet complex and elegant wine, with suggestions of savoury, or even mineral, notes. On the palate, its acidity pushes the raspberry flavours to the fore and keeps them there courtesy of tasty and pleasingly persistent bubbles.
In the pursuit of quality, English winemakers have learned lessons from other emergent sparkling wine areas in the world. Tasmania, for example, is acknowledged as making Australia’s best sparkling wines and, if you doubt me, look at Josef Chromy Non-Vintage (£20 at Marks & Spencer). This is lighter in texture, but livelier and more vibrant than those English wines. Enjoy too its lively mousse, delicate body, fresh acidity, zippy lemon and lime flavours, and long, green apple finish.
Finally, back to Brazil – another emergent sparkling wine region – and a switch from “brut” styles to something off-dry. I Heart Brasil (£9.99 at Tesco) delivers attractive peach flavours with suggestions of apple that are joined on the palate by coconut and a hint of banana. Here, then, is undemanding “garden” – or, possibly, fruit salad – wine with gentle effervescence and a mere 8.5 per cent alcohol level, although I would have liked to see a tad more acidity.
2012 De Bortoli Family Reserve Pinot Noir
South Eastern Australia, 13 per cent
Tasty, well-made pinot with the clarity of its strawberry fruit balanced by earthy notes and hints of cinnamon and black pepper, and a lovely soft, rounded feel in the mouth.
£8.49 – instead of £9.99 – at Majestic, where minimum purchase rules apply
2013 The Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc
Saumur, France, 12 per cent
On the nose, this gives all the fresh grassy aromas expected from a Loire white, with lemon and lime on the palate, a hint of tropical fruit and a pleasant, forceful acidity. Although it is less full than, say, Pouilly Fumé or Sancerre, that is offset by a riper and juicier vibrancy.