English wine. As I’ve said before, I’m not usually a big fan. Given the choice between an English bottle or a French, I’m afraid my patriotism goes out of the window and I’d pick the French every time. In most areas of the UK, our climate simply isn’t conducive to producing the grapes suitable for making lovely, high quality wine.
But there are a number of vineyards dotting the south coast of England, trying valiantly to convert sceptical people like me.
Hush Heath Estate is one such vineyard. When we moved into our new flat recently, a pack of 3 bottles from here had been left for us. One was a tasty cider which disappeared very quickly indeed! I needed more convincing about the other two though – an English chardonnay and an English pinot noir.
The pinot, as you can see, was a very light ruby red, and at only 11% alcohol content, tasted pretty light too. On their website, Hush Heath suggest this wine is a good accompaniment to game – I’d disagree. There wan’t really much to it at all – no fruity flavours to roll around your tastebuds, nor oaky depth to savour as you drink. You could almost say it was more like ribena than red wine.
Although Pinot Noir is typically a lighter red, good bottles have complex flavours and depth to them that I’m afraid this English offering was lacking. On the positive side, if you wanted a red to go with meaty fish like swordfish, or salmon and not overpower it, this could work well.
I’m still to be convinced that us Brits can produce good wine that can truly rival more traditional producers. Sorry Hush Heath, at £22 a bottle this Pinot Noir just didn’t do enough.
With a glorious 4-day break just around the corner at Easter, what better time to suggest a big, bold and tasty red to go with your seasonal roast lamb.
I was treated to this Australian shiraz at the weekend, and boy does it pack a punch. It costs a bit more than your usual bottle that you would grab off the shelf, but if you’re looking for a tasty treat or a bottle to impress friends, this is definitely it.
So, the basics. 2008 Tim Adams, Aberfeldy, Clare Valley (£27.99, Tesco, other years vary in price). This is a typical Australian shiraz in its flavours – bold, high tannins (you can really feel it at the back of your mouth), oak flavours along with blackcurrant and a peppery hint in there too. It is a gorgeous dark colour, but if you get red wine headaches after too much of a good thing, this probably isn’t the one for you due to the heavy tannins and high alcohol content.
The grapes are fermented on their skins for 4 weeks, then spend 24 months in new American oak barrels before being blended and bottled. The wine then spent 5 years maturing in the bottle before we unceremoniously cracked it open and devoured the whole lot. But what does this actually mean? Well, the oak barrels give a lovely flavour to the wine, and the time spent in the bottle certainly helped mellow those tannins a bit and give a lovely smooth flavour.
Certainly a winner for the Easter dinner table, I’d say.
As you can see here, I had a lovely Christmas enjoying some very nice wine. Here are the reds that I was lucky enough to kick back and enjoy by the fire.
This 2013 Wine Society Cotes du Rhone was opened on Christmas Day evening, but to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. It seemed a bit flat and unflavoursome. But after being decanted the next day and left to breathe, it really improved and those big, bold flavours that I was expecting were much more prevalent. I’d still probably pick something different next time, but it was an easy-drinking red (in the end). For a hopefully more reliable option, this bottle from Sainsbury’s would be a good option.
In contrast, big, full-bodied flavours practically punched you in the face from this really special Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Naked Wines. It was bold, tasty with big tannins and lovely smoky flavours. 2010 was a particularly good vintage – this bottle would easily have kept for another 5+ years and matured nicely, but the temptation to enjoy it was just too much! It worked brilliantly with a lovely baked ham with cloves, and the 15.5% alcohol content speaks for itself. High street offerings include this bottle from Ocado, or this from Majestic.
And finally a really special wine, courtesy of my Dad. This 1962 Pauillac was bought for the significance of the year it was made (ahem, same age as Dad). Now it was a touch-and-go experience. The cork had disintegrated quite a lot, and the amount of sediment in the bottle was unbelievable. But after being strained, decanted, strained again and left to breathe, this 52-year-old wine was ready. And boy was it worth the wait. The colour had transformed to a really pale red, and it was one of the smoothest red wines I have ever drunk. The flavour was very different to anything I would normally drink, but the balance between oak and fruit flavours was perfect. No high street equivalent I’m afraid, but hey, you could always choose a good quality, full-bodied red from a supermarket and lay it down for 50 years yourself!
I never used to get the idea of wine tasting. Although I’d been brought up by parents who appreciate wine, I essentially just thought that red was red, white was white, and rose somewhere in between. I assumed these people who stood around swilling the wine in the glass, making a show of sniffing it, drinking it noisily and then declaring it to “have flavours of gooseberry and vanilla but with some toasty undertones” were, to be honest, pretentious gits who had no idea what they were talking about.
That was until I was lucky enough to go to a wine-tasting evening at Berry Bros & Rudd in London. My Dad had been invited to a corporate evening of wine-tasting, and decided it was high time I stopped teasing him for thinking there was a difference in the wines he drunk.
Berry Bros opened in 1698, and the tasting was held in the impressive cellars, which just ooze history.
The wines to taste were set out on different tables according to whether they were ‘New World’ or ‘Old World’ (separate post on this to follow). Then, with the help of the professionals, you tasted comparable wines but from different places, to understand how they differed. And boy, did they differ.
For the first time I realised that actually, saying one red wine is like another is pretty much like saying every car is the same, regardless of whether it is a Mini, a Skoda or a Ferrari.
There is a whole world of wine out there, and believe me, it is well-worth taking a bit of time to explore how wines differ from each other, and which ones you like.