For the third article in his series to coincide with English Wine Week, Peter Ranscombe scans the supermarket shelves to find bottles available in Scotland.
I LOVE bottle shops; few activities are more fun than browsing their shelves and coming away with a wine I’ve never tried.
It’s almost – almost – as good as browsing round a decent bookshop.
Yet, I’m realistic about the opportunities that readers have to indulge in such browsing; not everyone lives within striking distance of an independent bottle shop and, during this coronavirus lockdown, it’s not possible to travel further afield.
That means that, for most of us, our supermarket shelves could well produce our first encounter with English wine.
Don’t despair though – many of the multiple grocers have put real effort into expanding their range in recent years and are working with some great producers…
I rarely single out supermarkets for praise, but Waitrose has made the running when it comes to English wine, and even owns a vineyard now on its Leckford estate in Hampshire.
Among its vast array of sparkling wines sits the Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut (£28.99, Waitrose) sporting its new art deco livery.
Ridgeview is really reliable label, having been around since 1995, and produces benchmark fizz, with The Bloomsbury boasting bright lemon, apricot and redcurrant notes on the nose, along with a whiff of charcuterie.
On the palate, it’s full of refreshing sour lemon and green apple, with a decent balance between the crisp acidity and the concentrated fruit flavours.
Marks & Spencer
M&S is another retailer with an extensive selection of English wines, both with and without bubbles.
Again, lots to choose from – and we’ll revisit some Markies still and sparkling wines later in the week – but the Balfour Hush Heath Chardonnay Ortega is worthy of particular note.
Lots of attractive fruit on the nose, with red apple, a touch of peach and a floral lift.
On the palate, those ripe apple notes mingle with fresher lemon, all wrap up with a bit of texture too.
Hush Heath was also the brains behind the Finest English Sparkling Brut Rosé (£20, Tesco).
An absolute steal at this price, with attractive fruity strawberry, raspberry and lemon aromas.
On the palate, those strawberry notes are joined by more savoury redcurrant flavours, with a twist refreshing lemon on the finish.
Plenty of telltale English teeth-squeaking acidity, but lots of flavour for balance.
Finishing off Hush Heath’s trio of appearances in our supermarket sweep is the Irresistible Eight Acres Sparking Rosé (£18, The Co-operative).
For me, it came across in a much drier style than Hush Heath’s own-brand incarnation for Tesco.
Stalky, almost smoky notes on the nose, with redcurrant, raspberry and strawberry leaf.
The acidity felt higher and drier, but there was still enough red fruit body to provide balance.
It’s been a while since I was able to sit down and study Morrisons’ English wine offering and I was impressed with the choices on offer.
Aside from the very confused flags on the label – not really sure why anyone would stick two union flags on a bottle of “English” wine – the 2010 English Sparkling Grand Vintage (£25, Morrisons) was bang on the money and great value for a 10-year-old wine.
A complex nose rammed full of baked apple, wholemeal toast and brown sugar led into a palate that’s still got fresh acidity, balanced by rich apple compote and then fresher lemon juice on the finish.
Look out for more from Morrisons later in the week, as we take a deeper dive into still and sparkling wines.
Lots of choice at Majestic too these days when it comes to English wine, including big brands like Chapel Down.
I was really impressed with the Provence-like Simpson’s Wine Estate Rose (£11.99. Majestic Wine) – maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Ruth and Charles Simpson should be good at making this style of rosé because their Domaine Sainte Rose in the Languedoc is further along the Southern French coast from Provence.
It’s got that classic pale salmon colour, with attractive aromas of strawberry and redcurrant.
Lots of lemon freshness on the tongue, plus a slight touch of strawberries-and-cream roundness – an ideal super sip.
Sainsbury’s has stocked some impressive own label English sparkling wines over the years, courtesy of Denbies, but this time round I was quite taken with its Ellercombe English Quality Sparkling Wine (£24, Sainsbury’s).
Made for the grocer by Rolling Green Hills – which is also Morrisons’ supplier – its blended from chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir grown throughout the south of England.
Red apple, baked apple and brown bread on the nose are joined by sweeter brown sugar notes on the palate.
There’s lots of crisp acidity, but it’s nicely balanced by those fruity flavours.
Both Aldi and Lidl have been very good at stocking Scottish produce – hovering around the 25-30% mark – showing the longer-established supermarkets how it should be done.
When it comes to English wine, Aldi definitely has the edge, with a white, rosé and fizz in its range.
Its Exquisite Lyme Block English Wine 2018 (£9.99, Aldi) brings together bacchus – dubbed as England’s answer to sauvignon blanc – and pinot blanc.
Attractive floral notes of elderflower burst out from among the asparagus and lemon on the nose, with grapefruit and lemon on the palate walking a fine line to balance the teeth-tingling acidity.
Grab it while you can – I’ve had Asda’s Extra Special English Sparkling Brut 2014 (£21, Asda) a couple of times at tastings in recent years and it always had a sweet freshness on the nose, which had disappeared in last week’s sample bottle.
I reckon that means the 2014 is reaching the end of its life, although I note the 2015 is now listed on its website.
Enjoy its dry acidity and savoury lemon rind flavours as an aperitif to whet your appetite or as a foil to cut through cream sauces with fish.
Tomorrow – we take an in-depth look at England’s sparkling wines.
Plus, don’t forget to check-out yesterday’s focus on English wines available from Scottish independent bottle shops.