Roger is the owner of the Coach House Vineyard in West Wellow, so very much “one of us” as a New Forest winemaker. He is a past chairman of the English Vineyard Association and makes his own wine under the Beaulieu label at the Setley Ridge winery. At this time when English sparkling wine is widely recognised as world-class, and investment is burgeoning, Roger was keen to show, very much warts and all, how much English still wine is gaining a deserved reputation. Thus tonight’s tasting only featured one bottle of fizz, but it lacked nothing in drama and surprise at the sheer quality and delightfulness of some of these home-grown wines, taken with some light summer canapes!
2013 Beaulieu Dry White: A field blend made by Roger from Bacchus and Reichensteiner grapes grown in the Beaulieu vineyard, this lovely light (11%) white was a favourite on the night, with that characteristic touch of elderflower from the Bacchus on the nose, citrus and light minerality on the palate. A great partner to a summer lunch. (£8.60 from Roger and some local outlets)
2016 A’Beckett’s Lynchets: A very unusual white made in Wiltshire from the Pinot Auxerrois grape that is more often seen in Alsace. Slightly fuller and a tad more yellow in colour than the Beaulieu, aromatic on the nose with just a touch of earthiness, quite rounded and rich on the palate despite the light (11%) alcohol, could almost have been a light chardonnay; a well-balanced wine that needs food to really shine. (£10.50 via Wadworths; £12.95 Novel Wines, Somerset)
NV Denbies Surrey Gold: Arguably where English wine has been rather than where it is going, but nevertheless still very popular and excellent value, this just off-dry offering has the fragrant Germanic Muller-Thurgau grape in the blend. Made at Surrey’s, and one of England’s largest vineyards, it is widely stocked. For me, rather too flowery on the nose but very easy summer quaffing. (Waitrose and others £9.99, or around £7 on offer)
2015 Chapel Down Bacchus: From the largest Kent winery, a rather less subtle take on the Bacchus grape that grows so well in the UK. The grapes were mainly sourced from Essex, not the Kent vineyards, resulting in a touch of Sauvignon Blanc-like “cat’s pee” on the fruity gooseberry nose, with melon and grapefruit notes on the palate. A well-made wine but not to everyone’s taste. At 12% abv, personally I think that Bacchus is better in a more floral and lighter style. (£11.50 from Wine Society)
2016 Albury Vineyard Silent Pool Rose: Made in the Surrey Hills near Newlands Corner at this organic and biodynamic vineyard. Their Rose could be considered almost as a by-product of making white fizz, where the coloured juice is not required. Delightful nose of strawberries and cherries, followed through on the palate with such a light touch, a lovely light (10.5%) summery wine reminiscent of a light Provence rose, well liked on the night, but not cheap at £17.50 (Vintage Roots Ltd., Hampshire and others, ca. £16 at the vineyard)
2015 Bolney Estate Pinot Noir: This vineyard has been growing Pinot Noir for several years and, notwithstanding the difficulties of getting it ripe enough for red wine as opposed to white fizz, they have a prize-winning red in 2015. With a sappy and gentle cranberry/strawberry nose, this is light and fresh on the palate with a touch of oak and a mineral finish, almost reminiscent of a very young Loire Cabernet Franc. On the night, some thought it a little thin. English red wine is moving on from earlier failed experiments with various hybrid grapes and, although Pinot Noir reds are a work in progress, this wine shows great promise. Better a good English PN than an all-too-familiar poor Burgundy at twice the price! (£15.99 Waitrose Cellar)
2014 Eglantine Vineyard North Star From a Leicestershire vineyard, Madeleine Angevine grapes are picked at full ripeness (and a touch of Botrytis) and frozen so as to reproduce the natural process of making ice-wine from the very sweet juice left after the water-ice crystals are filtered off. Is this a “cheat” – who cares? The wine was an absolute revelation, a clear winner on the night. With a fantastic nose of ripe pineapple and tropical fruit, the palate is rich, honeyed but with lovely balancing citrus acidity that completely overcame any cloying tendency compared with other ice-wines that I have tasted. It was never going to be cheap but, at around £26 a bottle, still fantastic value. A unique “sticky” and it’s English! From the Midlands! Amazing.
2013 Greyfriars Rose Reserve Brut: Last but not least, a prize-winning English pink fizz from a vineyard on the Hog’s Back in Surrey. A lively mousse with a touch of creamy nuttiness from the oak fermentation, this was a bone-dry rich and pretty serious take on Blanc de Noirs (i.e. 100% Pinot Noir). Loads of plumy fruit and minerality and not really a easy-drinking pinkie, so not favoured by everyone on the night. The quality of the wine was very evident though, and at £25.99 the value compared with equivalent vintage champagne is exceptional. (Waitrose Cellar £18.50/bottle currently if you buy 3)
Overall, a fascinating evening – and since then there have been a lot of orders for Roger’s lovely white and the spectacular North Star.
Notes by John Harris