Monday, 3 November 2014

English Wine: Essex 2, Suffolk 2 (and Sussex 1)

East Anglian wineries are quite spread out, so there is hardly a 'Weinstrasse' as such. Nonetheless, this is one of the best places to grow grapes in the country, being the driest and subject to benevolent winds. From London, a good day out among the vines might include New Hall and Dedham Vale in Essex and Giffords Hall and Wyken in Suffolk.

New Hall Vineyards were founded in the 60s and probably have the widest range of grape varieties of any UK winery;


Muller Thurgau

Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir



Their equipment is extensive. They make wine for other vineyards as well as their own. They even have an OYOV scheme (Own Your Own Vineyard)! 

There are 194 acres under vine with Bacchus as the most planted and Triomphe as by far the least (wouldn't you know!). They produce all kinds of wine some of which are available at The Wine Pantry, Borough Market, London.

This is a pioneering and old-style operation of great interest from a historical and research point of view.

Next was Wyken Vineyards in Suffolk - a complete contrast. Created by Carla Carlisle in the 80s, it is an avowed re-creation of a Napa estate complete with Michelin Bib - Gourmand listed restaurant and lavish shopping opportunities. The perfect place for lunch on our trip.

Carla Carlisle was our inspiration for planting a few vines ourselves back in the 90s and she has developed her Leaping Hare brand of wines steadily since then. 

She produces a most interesting 100% Kernling, a Bacchus, a Madeleine Angevine, a Pink and a Sparkler which are all highly regarded.

Her touch can be seen everywhere; there is even a Women's Room in the retail area in the barn which also houses the Leaping Hare Restaurant and Cafe.

We had a delicious snack outside. The bill came with a stone attached - neat, as everything at Wyken Hall.

On to Gifford Hall. We hadn't heard of this one before but it turned out to be well worth the journey. Owned by another American lady and her English husband, it is also nicely presented with a pleasant tasting room and cafe.

This elegant couple are very much hands on with him on his tractor in the extensive vineyard and her receiving in the tasting room. 

The vineyard is unique with extensive windbreaks of mature trees. It was planted about 25 years ago.

For us, the big news here was the delicious Pinot Noir which is available in local branches of Waitrose, not surprisingly. They also make a Rose from Madeleine Angevine and Rondo, a Bacchus and a zero-dosage sparkler from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They make various Fruit Liqueurs too. Giffords Hall has recently planted 2,000 vines of Pinot Blanc.

On our way back through Essex, we saw a sign to Dedham Vale Vineyard so along we went. This is a more recently planted vineyard, begun in 1990. Now 40 acres are under vine and the operation is decidedly more corporate than the others visited on this trip. 

Their inevitable sparklers are made from Orion and Chardonnay with a bit of Pinot Noir in the case of the Rose. There is a red blend from Rondo, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder and Pinot Noir and a Rose from Phoenix and Pinot Noir.

The new tasting room and shop are nicely done. People were sitting out on the deck enjoying themselves hugely.

A footnote since we're on the subject of English wine: 

We picked up this Sparkling Red by Ridgeview (Sussex) at the Wine Pantry's other outlet in Borough Market (just a few paces further on: open when the Wine Pantry is not. We were assured it was the last bottle and they weren't expecting any replacements soon. We like sparkling reds from Lambuscos through Bonardas to sparkling Shiraz, not caring what anyone thinks. This was different of course. We hope producers of English Sparkling wine will not give up on this category.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Great new shop 'Park and Bridge,' Acton (London)

A tip-off from a local resident took us to Acton, West London and there was a surprise in store to be sure.

A wonderful selection despite being on the small side. Where else in London or anywhere else for that matter could you hope to find a Rossese, an Italian Bonarda (Croatina), an Ortrugo, a Chilean Cinsault made in a light vin naturel style,

a Cos wine we had never come across before called 'Rami'; a white fermented on the skins to produce a golden if not orange wine from 50% Grecanico and Inzolia grapes. We also bought a Vino Verde.

 The lovely idea of the tissue paper with the seal is something we had only ever seen previously at the Wine Pantry - the English wine specialists also in London - and at Nigel Tollerman's showroom in Buenos Aires. It's a lovely touch.

We were astounded to find this particular Rossese here; precisely the one we had chosen above all others at Vinitaly this year.

The Ortrugo was a bit lacking in character - as if the characteristic and wonderful Ortrugo-ness had been toned-down for export but the Bonarda was excellent.

The greatest find was unexpectedly the Chilean Cinsault: for our taste quite the best wine ever to come out of Chile that we had tasted. It was also quite unlike any other Chilean wine of our experience. perhaps the two statements are not un-related? In any case, if you are not a particular fan of Chilean wine and you want something really excellent and interesting irrespective of provenance, this wine is for you. It is modestly priced too.

The founder/owner is Paola Tich who has been involved in wine for a number of years and certainly knows her onions. She concentrates on "organic, biodynamic and minimal intervention wines" Her website puts her aims most eloquently;

We pride ourselves on offering a neatly-curated collection of interesting and different wines that are all great examples of their style or type. From everyday, good value drinkers you can enjoy on their own to some grown up finer wines that can bring a meal to life.
These are the wines you’re unlikely to find alongside the pet food and washing powder at any supermarket. Artisan wines that are made with care by people who love what they do. Remarkable wines that come from interesting producers and have a bit of story to them…

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Inappropriate labels

We read it in the Daily Mail. 80% of wine sold in the UK is bought by women and women buy according to how attractive the label is.

Now first of all, we can't visualize all those blokes leaving it to the ladies to buy their booze. Every time we have entered a wine shop we were mostly alone or in the company of others of our sort and 'we' are a pudgy middle-aged bloke. Whenever a lady has been present and has sought directions (meaning advice) from the sales person (usually a chap) we love listening in, but we have never observed a Shiela actually selecting a wine with an obviously cuetsy label. Such labels do exist but they are abominations and we suspect no one is fooled.

Having said that, there are lots of inappropriate labels. These often involve dogs. why anyone would think that wine has any affinity to dogs? We know almost ever vigneron has a dog but we assume that is because they lead a lonely life or that they need the dog to keep pests away. They should keep the dogs in the background. No city-dweller wants to buy a wine that might have been fertilized by dog-poo or otherwise come into contact with animals of any kind  - unless they are from Hampstead where dog ownership is obligatory.

There is another type clearly directed at men (assuming men like Heavy Metal). Here are a few inappropriate labels we have collected. We don't think any of then would have appealed to any woman and probably not to any man although the bum is quite extraordinary, we thing you will have to admit. Extraordinary enough to buy the wine?