English Wine Discussion Thread

Anything but Port, this includes all wines other than fortified wines (which have their own section) even if they call themselves Port. There is a search facility for this part of the forum.
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Anything but Port, this includes all non-Port fortified wines even if they call themselves Port. There is a search facility for this part of the forum.
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JacobH
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English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by JacobH »

I thought it might be nice to have a place to have a discussion about the changing English wine industry.

Having moved to Kent 6½ years ago, I am amazed at how many new vineyards are popping up: there are at least 7 which welcome visitors within ½ hour of us and many more a bit further away.

Along with volumes, I think quality is generally getting better too. It is quite rare to find something that is undrinkable. Climate change is, no doubt, helping.

The biggest problem, though, seems to be costs. I visited Mereworth recently, for example. These guys used to make an excellent hopped mead. They have now moved into wine. Their sparkling rosé is a méthode champenoise blanc de noir and it is perfectly acceptable. But it’s £65 a bottle and I just don’t think it can compete at that price range with imports even if, like me, you are happy to pay a decent premium for a local wine. Similarly, I visit the Mount Vineyard in Shoreham quite regularly but can’t really imagine paying £45 for a bottle of their wine to drink at home, although I am more than happy to have a glass with lunch there.

I also worry about regulation. This seems to be talked about endlessly but without much progress. It also seems to be dominated by people pushing their own interests. For example, the Sussex PDO makes no sense to me: there is no sensible break in geography between Sussex and Kent and they have allowed such a wide range of styles of wine to be made that it provides little benefit to the consumer. It seems obvious to me that the regulation that is required is to give a special certification to méthode champenoise sparkling wines made from the traditional 3 grapes with an additional mark if the grapes are grown on the chalky soils of the North and South Downs. But I can’t see that happening since some of the largest players, like Chapel Down, like to use non-traditional grapes (pinot blanc in Chapel Down’s case).

But none of this really affects me because what I like the most is trying to find wines which express a more distinctive voice. We went to Godstone last weekend where they make a sparkling wine from seyval blanc: a hybrid which Wikipedia suggests is banned in the EU. It had a wonderful flavour of lemon and lime peel which was generated aromatically rather than by an excess of acid.

I also like the red wines where they are still made. I used to give people the Mount Vineyard’s Cellar Key (which I think is mostly Pinot Noir) because it was surprising just how robust and complex a red could be made in England. I’ve also recently discovered Redhill Farm Estate where they use Rondo, Pinot Noir and Cabinet Noir (a Swiss variety that I hadn’t come across before) and get decent fruit, even if they have to wait until November to harvest!

Alex suggested Biddenden’s Ortega to me which is obscenely good for how little it costs. It makes me want to try some more: Redhill Farm had some but I’d already loaded up my car with their reds so I’m saving that for another visit.
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akzy
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by akzy »

JacobH wrote: 09:26 Tue 13 Sep 2022 The biggest problem, though, seems to be costs.
I've had the pleasure to try several in the South Downs region at the vineyards and whilst I thoroughly enjoy the sparkling it certainly isn't "good-value". Cellar door prices are sometimes available but not always. At £30 for most entry sparkling, it has stiff competition from Champagne. I still always end up with bottles coming home with me.
JacobH wrote: 09:26 Tue 13 Sep 2022 For example, the Sussex PDO makes no sense to me: there is no sensible break in geography between Sussex and Kent and they have allowed such a wide range of styles of wine to be made that it provides little benefit to the consumer.
I haven't heard of this actually. Might be tricky for a few like Nyetimber which AFAIK extends well into Kent for some of their vineyards.
JacobH wrote: 09:26 Tue 13 Sep 2022 I also like the red wines where they are still made.
For me this is a firm "nope". I have yet to try a English red that I have enjoyed enough to think I'd get a bottle. Then again, there's a reason I'm on The Port Forum. Mount Vineyard isn't far from me - would you say it is worth the trip?

In terms of tours I have done so far, Ridgeview was excellent although they've added a tourism centre (or whatever) which might ruin what was quite a nice, intimate setting. Additionally, great wines which fall on a much fresher note to many I have tried in the area.
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Alex Bridgeman
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

A great thread Jacob!

After Port and other fortified wines, I think English (and Welsh) wines are my main interest. This was started by a visit many years ago to a vineyard about 3 miles from where we live — Stanlake. At the time they made a couple of sparkling wines, a pure Bacchus and a few blends based on Muller Thurgau, Seyval Blanc and Reichsteiner. The Bacchus was particularly good. The others were OK. The Pinot Noir table wine was uninspiring.

Today our favourite vineyards are Camel Valley in Cornwall, Coates & Seely in Hampshire and Hundred Hills in Oxfordshire. But that’s not to say that there are other vineyards whose wine we enjoy, just that these are the three which feature most strongly in our wine cellar.

And we have yet to find an English red wine we like! It’s not yet warm enough in England to fully ripen Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sousão and Touriga Franca. One day…
Top Ports in 2021: Niepoort Garrafeira 1931; Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Cockburn 1969 Single Harvest Tawny

Top Port in 2022 so far: the most stunning bottle of Quinta do Noval Nacional 1931. I have never drunk such a wonderful bottle of Port.
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JacobH
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by JacobH »

Alex Bridgeman wrote: 22:27 Tue 13 Sep 2022 After Port and other fortified wines, I think English (and Welsh) wines are my main interest. This was started by a visit many years ago to a vineyard about 3 miles from where we live — Stanlake. At the time they made a couple of sparkling wines, a pure Bacchus and a few blends based on Muller Thurgau, Seyval Blanc and Reichsteiner. The Bacchus was particularly good. The others were OK. The Pinot Noir table wine was uninspiring.

Today our favourite vineyards are Camel Valley in Cornwall, Coates & Seely in Hampshire and Hundred Hills in Oxfordshire. But that’s not to say that there are other vineyards whose wine we enjoy, just that these are the three which feature most strongly in our wine cellar.
This has made me realise just how “local” the English wines I drink tend to be. I’ve tried one of the Coates & Seely wines but not any of the others. Whilst some of my family lives in the West Country, I’ve been put off exploring their wines as a result of some rather bad reports!

Bacchus is an interesting one: I used to think it was “the” English grape variety but I see less and less of it these days. I presume it would make more sense for more German & Swiss varieties to be grown, considering the climate, but they are relatively unpopular compared to the more noble French varieties.
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JacobH
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by JacobH »

akzy wrote: 19:29 Tue 13 Sep 2022
JacobH wrote: 09:26 Tue 13 Sep 2022 For example, the Sussex PDO makes no sense to me: there is no sensible break in geography between Sussex and Kent and they have allowed such a wide range of styles of wine to be made that it provides little benefit to the consumer.
I haven't heard of this actually. Might be tricky for a few like Nyetimber which AFAIK extends well into Kent for some of their vineyards.
It’s quite a recent development. There’s a helpful article here in Decanter. The tolerances seem quite high, to me, too: a blanc de blanc could contain 5% pinot noir and 5% pinot meunier for example. Although maybe that is standard in the wine industry? I dare say most people will ignore it since so few of the bigger and more famous producers are in Sussex.
akzy wrote: 19:29 Tue 13 Sep 2022
JacobH wrote: 09:26 Tue 13 Sep 2022 I also like the red wines where they are still made.
For me this is a firm "nope". I have yet to try a English red that I have enjoyed enough to think I'd get a bottle. Then again, there's a reason I'm on The Port Forum.
I thought this might be the response! But it probably represents the fact that I would generally have a bad red wine than an ok-ish white. Until recently, I’d rarely have more than one or two bottles of white wine at home!
akzy wrote: 19:29 Tue 13 Sep 2022Mount Vineyard isn't far from me - would you say it is worth the trip?
Yes: very much. We first went when there was just a tasting room where you could buy some glasses or bottles of wine and olives. It has now massively expanded. They have a courtyard restaurant with a wood-fired pizza oven. It’s got a retractable roof for the winter. There are also a couple of--quite small--outdoor bars for the Summer and a shop. It tends to get fully booked at the weekend. Combined with the fact that Shoreham is very pretty (as are the other Darenth Valley villages) and there are lots of other things in the area (e.g. Lullingstone Castle, the Roman Villa or the Lavender Farm), it can make a very nice day out.
akzy wrote: 19:29 Tue 13 Sep 2022In terms of tours I have done so far, Ridgeview was excellent although they've added a tourism centre (or whatever) which might ruin what was quite a nice, intimate setting. Additionally, great wines which fall on a much fresher note to many I have tried in the area.
That’s interesting. Thank you. I haven’t visited them but will add them to my “to do” list now that I think I have exhausted everywhere locally.

I also think many of these businesses are going to expand enormously. We went to Balfour last year and I couldn’t believe how much money they had spent on their buildings.
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winesecretary
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by winesecretary »

English whites...

Suffolk used to have lots of little vineyards mainly growing Bacchus and Muller Thurgau which in the mini ice age of 1991-1994 were pretty much all that would grow. I used to enjoy visiting them in the mid-late 1990s but the wines were never more than quaffers at best (mind you, they almost never cost more than about five quid) and usually the previous year's vintage was bin-ended at 2/3 the price of the current one which tells you what the owners thought of it...

English reds...

I had a bottle many years ago (circa 1992) of possibly the best English red wine ever made, Biddenden's 1990 Gamay. Idly checking suggests the 2020 has already sold out...

English sparklers...

Some of the sparklers have been really good - I put the Ridgeview Grosvenor (now the Blanc de Blancs) 2000 into a blind champagne tasting about 15 years ago and it came third after Salon 1996 and a Pol Roger BdB (can't recall the vintage- 96? 98?). Going back further I remember the excitement when Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1996 came out. It was absolutely marvellous. I had a magnum about four years ago that was still completely together.

The UK has a number of ongoing challenges however (i) poor wine making - an undiscriminating 'leisure audience' means 'vineyard experiences' too often trump the need for good wine making. Doing a tour at say Chapel Down is interesting but the wines are mainly shocking, the still ones especially showing a lack of finesse (ii) wildly varying yields of ripe grapes - too many of the fizzes still suffer from the green notes - more under-ripe pear than crisp red apple- a quality you also get in champagne made from underripe or overcropped grapes. A heavy hand with the dosage, or over-oaking, do not cure this although they mask it to a certain extent (see (i)). (iii) expensive land. So the wines cost too much (iv) a dreadful tax regime. Ditto.

I do buy them sometimes, though, even if poor value. I bought a bottle of Sugrue Cuvee Boz 2015 in Lewes a couple of days ago. (Dermot Sugrue is possibly the best wine maker in the UK. He used to make the wine at Wiston (his 2011 pink is the best English pink fizz I have had by a country mile).) I have some Breaky Bottom Cuvee David Pearson 2015 maturing, which I have hopes for, but it needs lots of time. The Cuvee Reynolds Stone 2010 was truly excellent when i had it a couple of years back.

The big shakeup is going to start in 2024 is when Domaine Evremond, Taittinger's UK operation, will start to release. The first 400,000 vines went in about 2016, and I think they are up to about 1,500,000 now, so that's going to be a multi-million bottle operation by 2030. I predict that standards elsewhere will then perforce have to rise...

Maybe the secret weapon for the UK is Pinot Meunier. If I owned a farm in the Sussex Downs I'd maybe be planting that.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by winesecretary »

And to follow up on this - the Sugrue Cuvee Boz 2015 was consumed this evening (with poached salmon fishcakes made with wedding party leftovers) and suffered from no green meanies. It will be better in three years when the lemony snap has faded but every drop was a pleasure even now as the mid palate is so broad and laden with good things. I may buy some more to stash.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

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winesecretary wrote: 17:32 Fri 16 Sep 2022 The UK has a number of ongoing challenges however (i) poor wine making - an undiscriminating 'leisure audience' means 'vineyard experiences' too often trump the need for good wine making. Doing a tour at say Chapel Down is interesting but the wines are mainly shocking, the still ones especially showing a lack of finesse (ii) wildly varying yields of ripe grapes - too many of the fizzes still suffer from the green notes - more under-ripe pear than crisp red apple- a quality you also get in champagne made from underripe or overcropped grapes. A heavy hand with the dosage, or over-oaking, do not cure this although they mask it to a certain extent (see (i)). (iii) expensive land. So the wines cost too much (iv) a dreadful tax regime. Ditto.
I don’t completely blame them for this. It is simply impossible for them to be competitive on a £ for £ basis with European wines and so the one thing they can offer is a nice experience without so much traveling. Chapel Down is a good example. I haven’t really enjoyed their wines below their “Three Graces” (which is made from the trad. champagne mixture without the pinot blanc they use elsewhere) but wouldn’t pay £40 for it. However, their restaurant is really very good and extremely affordable and it seems perfectly reasonable to pay those sorts of prices there for it.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

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winesecretary wrote: 17:32 Fri 16 Sep 2022 English whites...

Suffolk used to have lots of little vineyards mainly growing Bacchus and Muller Thurgau which in the mini ice age of 1991-1994 were pretty much all that would grow. I used to enjoy visiting them in the mid-late 1990s but the wines were never more than quaffers at best (mind you, they almost never cost more than about five quid) and usually the previous year's vintage was bin-ended at 2/3 the price of the current one which tells you what the owners thought of it...
This post encouraged me to buy some of this old-fashioned English white when I saw it at a farmers’ market over the weekend. Nice chap with 3 hectares of mostly German vines where the A23 becomes the M23 just inside London. He offered 4-year-old bottles of “dry”, “medium” and “fumé”. Made off-site. About £6 each. I bought a dry and fumé. Quite nice fruit aromas but aggressively green: like eating a under-ripe Granny Smith. As you say, not bad for quaffing with some oily snacks but not a patch on some of the more serious whites that are being made these days.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by winesecretary »

They sound charmingly old school. Does he have a website?

There is a lively discussion on wine pages at the moment about English fizz. I have read it with interest but it is very much YMMV
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

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Unfortunately not. This is probably the best page about it. I like the name: the Surrey Iron Railway is one of the most substantial pre-steam-engine railways (with the “trains” being pulled by horses!).
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

For anyone interested, Farming Today on Radio 4 at 05.45 is doing a week-long special on English wine. Each programe will include at least one feature on an aspect of English wine-growing.

For anyone not around and listening to the Radio at 05.45, the program is also available on demand via the BBC website or the BBC Sounds app.
Top Ports in 2021: Niepoort Garrafeira 1931; Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Cockburn 1969 Single Harvest Tawny

Top Port in 2022 so far: the most stunning bottle of Quinta do Noval Nacional 1931. I have never drunk such a wonderful bottle of Port.
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nac
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by nac »

As an aside on this conversation, I get a shareholder discount of 33% at Chapel Down, which makes the wines much better value.
For example, six bottles of the 2021 Bacchus are £80.40 (£13.40 per bottle), Three Graces 2017 £160.80 (£26.80), etc.

If there's a demand I'm happy to place a bulk TPF order.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by Bertie3000 »

After port, English wine is what I am most interested in right now. Living in Kent, I am naturally biased towards the Kent vineyards. There are certainly plenty of very boring, poorly produced, over priced cookie cutter wines out there but some really interesting ones too. The ones I really like for different reasons at the moment are:

Chartham - nice 2020 Pinot Noir and Rose de Noir. If you want to visit here, they are next to Chartham train station and only 3 or 4 miles from Canterbury
Westwell - They major in Ortega but try to produce this in innovative ways (barrel, steel, amphora). They are also always experimenting. For sure some don’t work (I really did not like their red field blend) but at other times the results are either excellent or at least interesting.
Simpson’s - A big, high end operator. High quality whites and sparkling.

It will be fun to watch the industry grow and change over the next few years. I do worry with energy cost increases that some of the smaller operators will really struggle to survive, especially if we have a poor season in the next 2 or 3 years, but lets hope that is not the case.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by JacobH »

Bertie3000 wrote: 17:26 Fri 30 Sep 2022Chartham - nice 2020 Pinot Noir and Rose de Noir. If you want to visit here, they are next to Chartham train station and only 3 or 4 miles from Canterbury
Westwell - They major in Ortega but try to produce this in innovative ways (barrel, steel, amphora). They are also always experimenting. For sure some don’t work (I really did not like their red field blend) but at other times the results are either excellent or at least interesting.
Simpson’s - A big, high end operator. High quality whites and sparkling.

It will be fun to watch the industry grow and change over the next few years. I do worry with energy cost increases that some of the smaller operators will really struggle to survive, especially if we have a poor season in the next 2 or 3 years, but lets hope that is not the case.
That’s all really interesting: I don’t know the West Kent vineyards very well at all. Really interested to hear about the Westwell one: would probably have bought amphora-aged Ortega unsighted but unfortunately it is sold out. And, with apologies for sounding like a broken record, the prices are quite aggressive: up to £48 for a bottle of sparkling wine.

I‘ve heard good reports about this year’s harvest despite the drought, which I hope it a good sign!
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by winesecretary »

My half dozen of Sugrue Cuvee Boz 2015 has arrived and been racked in the cellar to sleep for a few years.
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

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From the BBC this morning:

Will a new name give Wales' sparkling wine cheers?
Champagne, prosecco, cava and now... pefriog?

That's the Welsh word for sparkling and it has been mooted by some in the industry as a blanket name for sparkling wine produced in Wales.
I am sympathetic to the problem that Welsh winemakers have that English Sparking Wine has a bit of market penetration as a phrase which they can't use. But I'm not convinced that calling it "pefriog" is the answer...

I also don't know very much about Welsh wine. I'm surprised it isn't too cold and too rainy in much of the country to make decent ones, especially since there isn't as much chalk in the soil as in the main English locations. Will have to investigate where the vineyards are!
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Re: English Wine Discussion Thread

Post by Alex Bridgeman »

Don't overlook the fact that Camel Valley make a very decent traditional blend sparkling wine from grapes grown on south facing slate slopes. Parts of Wales might have similar geology.
Top Ports in 2021: Niepoort Garrafeira 1931; Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Cockburn 1969 Single Harvest Tawny

Top Port in 2022 so far: the most stunning bottle of Quinta do Noval Nacional 1931. I have never drunk such a wonderful bottle of Port.
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