English Wine Week: Still waters run deep

While it may be best known for its bubbles, don’t write off England’s still wines, writes Peter Ranscombe, in the latest installment of his English Wine Week series.

ENGLISH wine production is dominated by sparklers, with bubbles accounting for 69% of the country’s total output.

Yet that remaining 31% is producing some truly exciting still wines.

There’s crossover between the two; the same chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir that makes traditional method sparkling wines is also harnessed for table wines too.

Then there’s the wider selection of vines growing south of the Border, from flagship white grape bacchus through to more exotic examples like solaris, phoenix and siegerrebe…

2018 Gusbourne Boot Hill Pinot Noir (£35, gusbourne.com)
I’ve become obsessed with this wine while preparing this week’s series of articles – it’s really Burgundian on the nose, with lots of forest floor aromas, but then much sweeter and rounder on the palate thanks to concentrated red plum and raspberry jam flavours, plus a lick of sweet vanilla. I can’t wait to see how this wine from the ripe 2018 vintage is going to age.

2017 Gusbourne Guinevere Chardonnay (£28.45, The Whisky Exchange)
Opening with two wines from the same producer is unusual for me, but Guinevere is enough to make any Burgundy fan fall in love with English chardonnay. That’s not something I’d have been able to say every year; I’ve struggled with the wine’s acidity in other vintages, but the 2017 is an absolutely stonking wine, with vanilla, wood smoke and butter on the nose and then lemon curd and apricot joining the oaky and creamy flavours on the palate. The stylistic opposite to the 2019 Simpsons Gravel Castle Chardonnay we encountered in Saturday’s article.

2018 Simpsons Pinot Meunier (£19, Roberson Wine)
Stinking with Simpsons but switching to one of the Kent producer’s other traditional sparkling wine components. Pinot meunier is best known as one of the blending grapes in Champagne, but Charles and Ruth Simpson have allowed it to shine on its own in this still white wine, which has a really intense nose, full of tinned peach, dried apricot, and juicy red apple. Fresh acidity on the palate is balanced by tonnes of red apple and apricot. The 2019 version has also just been released.

2015 Chapel Down Chardonnay (£14.99, Majestic Wine)
As we’ve seen with Gusbourne and Simpsons, there’s a real diversity of chardonnays appearing in England, and Chapel Down’s example offers another take on the versatile grape. Tropical notes on the nose carry through to the palate, with pineapple sitting alongside the red apple and peach. There’s a lick of butter and a touch of cream too, but it’s the Languedoc-like fruit that’s the star of the show.

2018 Botham & Balfour English Rosé (£12,Tesco)
Aye, it is “that” Botham; former England cricket captain Sir Ian Botham has been making wine down under in Australia and has now teamed up with Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn at Hush Heath in Kent to create this rather respectable rosé. Savoury and stalky on the nose, with redcurrant, cranberry and that Provence-esque classic metallic note, but much fruitier and expressive on the palate, with raspberry, strawberry and red plum to balance its refreshing acidity.

2019 Forty Hall Bacchus (£17, Feel Good Grapes)
Bacchus has been hailed as England’s answer to sauvignon blanc and it’s easy to see why, with its Loire-like asparagus, nettle and elderflower characteristics. The example sold by my mate Mike Turner at Feel Good Grapes comes from Forty Hall, a social enterprise in London, and has enough concentrated elderberry cordial and green pepper flavours to balance its fresh acidity. The fact that Mike plants a tree for each bottle he sells to offset the carbon dioxide emissions involved in production and delivery is just the icing on the environmentally-friendly cake.

2018 English Dry White (£14, Morrisons)
Bacchus is joined by a blend of friends in Morrisons’ dry white, which is made for the supermarket chain by Lyme Bay Winery in Devon, which is also responsible for Aldi’s white. Subtle nettle, cut grass and lemon on the nose, with more-intense lemon and green pepper on the palate to balance its crisp acidity.

2019 English White Lily (£10, Marks & Spencer)
The Hugh Grant of the English wine world – very polite lemon notes on he nose, then squeaky-clean acidity balanced by fresh lemon juice. Simple, straightforward, a bit one-dimensional, but an excellent introduction to accessible English white wines.

2018 Chapel Down Flint Dry (£12.99, Majestic Wine)
If you enjoy sauvignon blanc’s freshness then this is a good place to start your English wine journey, with sauvignon-like bacchus joined by Huxelrebe and Schönburger in the blend. Lemon, apricot and attractive floral aromas lead into really crisp and dry acidity, alongside a kick of fresh lemon juice.

Tomorrow – Find out why Plumpton College is at the heart of the English wine industry. 

Don’t forget to check-out Peter Ranscombe reviews of English wines available from independent bottle shops and from supermarkets.

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