English Wine Week: The Welsh side of the story

In the penultimate installment in his series of articles for English Wine Week, Peter Ranscombe casts an eye over Welsh wines.

IT MAY be called “English Wine Week” but this month’s celebration of all things vinous also includes vineyards and wineries in Wales.

National identity is a minefield at the best of times within the UK’s quirky constitution, but things get even more confusing when it comes to wine – the body that organises this week’s whole caboodle is called “Wines of Great Britain”, or “Wine GB” to its social media friends.

And it is indeed made up of members from throughout Great Britain; from England, from Wales and even from Scotland.

So, why not call it “British Wine Week”?

There’s a problem there too – because “British wine” isn’t “English wine” or “Welsh wine”.

Instead, “British wine” is made from dehydrated grape juice – often imported from places like Cyprus – that’s then topped up with water when it arrives in the UK and is fermented to turn it into wine.

Bend your knees and crane your neck and you’ll probably find some bottles hidden away on the bottom shelf in your local supermarket or corner store.

It’s a relic of a bygone era; before tables wines were imported widely into the UK, post-war Brits’ tastes tended to centre on reds and whites that satisfied our sweet tooth and more closely resembled cream sherry than the fresh and exciting bottled wines from around the world that grace our shelves nowadays.

Down in the valleys – and up on the hillsides

So, semantics aside, let’s celebrate the Welsh side of “English Wine Week”.

Arguably the best-known Welsh winery is Ancre Hill in Monmouthshire, which farms organically and biodynamically.

It’s not just that concern for the environment that makes Ancre Hill exciting – it’s also the styles of wine it makes, including an orange albarino and a gently-sparkling pétillant naturel.

The Ancre Hill Triomph Pet Nat (£17.95, Cork & Cask) is a multi-vintage blend, with some of the previous year’s vintage mixed into the current year while it’s fermenting, with the fermentation finishing in the bottle to add a light fizz to its mix of bramble, blackcurrant jam and subtly smoky flavours.

If you’re looking for something a wee bit more mainstream then the Ancre Hill Estates Chardonnay (£24.99, Fine Wines Direct) is equally exciting, with pear and green apple flavours, plus a rounded creamy element to its mouthfeel.

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Sampling the wines from Montgomery Vineyard was one of the highlights of wine merchant Daniel Lambert’s portfolio tasting down in London during those heady pre-lockdown days back at the start of March.

If you enjoy sauvignon blanc then the 2018 Montgomery Vineyard Solaris (£18.75, St Andrews Wine Company) is definitely worth a look, with its high acidity and asparagus and green bean flavours.

The 2017 Montgomery Sparkling White Seyval Blanc (£45, montysbrewery.co.uk) is a great example of what can be done with hybrid variety seyval blanc, producing savoury lemon rind and apricot on the nose and then riper red apple and cinnamon on the palate, with 10 grams per litre of residual sugar to help balance its crisp acidity.

Wines of Great Britain lists about a dozen members in Wales; sadly, during these coronavirus lockdowns, none responded to my call for samples to review.

But that’s a good enough excuse to return to Welsh wines and examine them in more depth once the pandemic eases.

Tomorrow – a special surprise in the final article to round off this English Wine Week series.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out previous articles in this series, including sparkling wines, still wines and English wines made by Scots.

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