Monday, 28 February 2011

M&S Autumn Press Tasting 2010

From Tim Atkin's blog - he didnt seem to like the M&S own-label English Sparkler!!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

M&S Autumn Press Tasting 2010

Myself and Random Aussie Bloke spent yesterday morning at the Marks and Spencer Autumn Press Tasting at their head office near Paddington, London. It was a great chance for us to try out their range, especially as M&S wines are a bit difficult for me to buy. Their Simply Food store on my local high street has shut in the wake of the credit crunch, and since I've moved offices from Liverpool St. to Fetter Lane, that cut out another 3 M&S outlets that I used to frequent.

All in all, there were 127 wines to sample. Since I only had a couple of hours to get through them (I had to go to work after!), I had to leave some out. I only tried one wine from the Wine Direct (internet shop) table, and I skipped a lot of the Italian, Spanish and lower-end French whites.

To summarize, I was impressed with the South American and South African wines, as well as the Burgundies (both white and red). Most of the Pinot Noir in general was impressive, no matter where it was from. I started to struggle during the reds (both with my palate and the clock) so I didn't spend as much time on the them as I would have liked, so there may not be many mentions there. I've also left out most of the more expensive wines, as they were mostly very good so no surprises there.
  • Ridgeview Marksman Brut 2008, Sussex, England. £22.00. Made exclusively for M&S by Ridgeview, who just collected a Decanter trophy for best sparkling wine at the 2010 Decanter World Wine awards. I thought the Marksman was kind of odd though - it tasted like a dry Chardonnay with bubbles in it, making it distinctively un-Champagne-like.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Best of English Meet the Winemaker dinner: Brightwell Vineyard

Best of English Meet the Winemaker dinner: Brightwell Vineyard

Wednesday gone was the first in a series of seven Best of English Meet the Winemaker dinners that is being hosted by Artisan & Vine in conjunction with DrinkBritain.
The event had sold out weeks before and was a fantastic night enjoyed by all.  Attendees savoured Brightwell’s Sparkling Chardonnay as an aperitif, followed by the delightfully off-dry Crispin, paired with golden beetroot and goats curd salad.  Controversially, we then served the drier Oxford Flint white wine, which we felt would be a strong pairing with the squid, fregola and blood orange salad.  The third course was my personal favourite, Suffolk salt marsh lamb with spiny artichoke and sorrel; an absolute treat with Brightwell’s Oxford Regatta.  To round out the evening we served Brightwell’s dry yet fruity Oxford Rose with white chocolate fennel seed panacotta and poached rhubarb; incredible!
My thanks go out to Carol Nielsen, the winemaker from Brightwell Vineyards who we all had the pleasure of learning so much from on Wednesday night; the exceptional DrinkBritain and its energetic leader Susanna Forbes; as well as all those who came along to support local wine.
The next Best of English Meet the Winemaker dinner is with inspiring Sam Linter from Bolney Wine Estate on 23 March, though this event is also already sold out. I strongly advise buying your ticket for the following event, 20 April, with industry leader, Frazer Thompson, of Chapel Down Wine Estate, which is already starting to fill up.  Click here for information and tickets for all of the upcoming Best of English Meet the Winemaker dinners.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

God saved the Queen!

With global warming a hot hopic, British vineyard owners are hoping that in future they will be able to produce more quality wines from a greater variety of grapes.

The weather has long been a source of complaint and bemusement in Britain, and over the past decade we’ve had another meteorological phenomenon to obsess about: the ‘greenhouse effect’. The warming up of the Earth’s atmosphere owing to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, has become a cause for concern. But could it be that, as Britain grows warmer, viticulture will become increasingly viable in our marginal climate? Some experts are predicting that the main areas for viticulture may shift latitude from warmer to cooler regions as soon as the mid- to late-21st century. In the northern hemisphere, that means Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, Germany, northern France and England could become the main sources of quality wine. In the southern hemisphere, the focus could shift to southern Chile and Argentina, southern New Zealand and Tasmania.

At present, however, ‘might’ and ‘could’ are important terms when discussing climate change. According to a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, climate change is ‘extremely unpredictable’, because of what may or may not happen with the Gulf Stream. Without the Gulf Stream, Britain’s climate would be considerably cooler, similar to that of Canada’s Labrador Peninsula, which is at about the same latitude (50–60°N). Some climate-change models predict that the warming of the atmosphere could cause the Gulf Stream to be ‘shut off’ as occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. However, Dr Mike Hulme, a climate researcher with The Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, believes that, for the next 100 years at least, it is unlikely that the Gulf Stream will cease to function, although its strength may be somewhat diminished. What’s more, Hulme says, even if a diminished Gulf Stream does bring less warmth to the UK, ‘increased greenhouse gas heating would greatly exceed this cooling effect’. Hulme believes all possible scenarios ‘indicate a warming of the UK climate, not a cooling’.

David Carr Taylor, managing director of Carr Taylor Vineyards in Hastings, has been in the winemaking business for 30 years. During the 1990s, he has noticed that ripening times have been slowly creeping up to earlier in the season. Reichensteiner grapes, which used to ripen around 20 October, are now ripening around 30 September. ‘It’s a time factor more than a quality issue,’ he says. But he believes that those changes are the result of natural cyclical weather patterns, rather than global warming.Would global warming necessarily be good news for English winemakers? Most believe it would. Taylor believes that global warming would be of enormous benefit to this country: ‘Many more areas would become arable. And in the more northerly latitudes I think the quality of wine would improve enormously.’

Mark Sharman, head winemaker at Beenleigh Manor Vineyard, the only English vineyard to specialise in red wines, says: ‘I would greet warmer temperatures, although it might undermine our competitive advantage a little bit. We make the only Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend in England. On the other hand, it means that we wouldn’t have to grow the grapes under poly-tunnels.’ Sandra Moss, director of sparkling wine specialist Nyetimber Vineyard in West Sussex, is not certain it would be an advantage for her wines: ‘At some stage, warmer temperatures might make it more difficult for sparkling wine production.’

So, are English winemakers banking on a warmer climate in future? According to Julia Trustram Eve, director of English Wine Producers, the generic promotional body for English wine, no contingency plans have been made as yet. If weather patterns are to change, viticulturalists will have plenty of time to adapt. At least one English vineyard is looking at the possibility that red varieties may start to play a more important role in English vineyards, however. At Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey, assistant vineyard manager Sue Osgood says that, ‘with increased global warming, we are looking into the possibility of planting more red vines, specifically Dornfelder and Pinot Noir’. No one knows for certain quite how, if, or to what extent climate change will affect viticulture in England, but it just may be that, in England anyway, the future is red.

The Magnificent Seven

Seven of the UK’s leading winemakers are coming to town to share with consumers their visions in a new series of mid-week tasting dinners. In a UK first, the award-winning Artisan & Vine wine bar is teaming up with to launch a Best of English Meet the Winemaker series of events. Taking over Artisan & Vine’s popular Wednesday evening slot, the winemakers will guide guests through five of their wines alongside a three course meal specially created by resident chef James Robson.
Kathryn_at_Camel_ValleySpecialising in “natural” and English wines, Artisan & Vine founder Kathryn O’Mara – seen here visiting Sam Lindo at Camel Valley in Cornwall – firmly believes that English wines are at a very exciting stage. “It is rare that we get the opportunity to be involved with something as it goes huge… winemakers in England are unencumbered by tradition or commercialisation, they have the pleasure of artisanal choices – for now.
"Another exciting element of the series is the opportunity to hear first hand why each winemaker makes the choices they do and how those choices manifest in each bottle of wine;those insights absolutely enhance the experience of drinking a wine."
So what about the food? "English wines are characterised by delicate flavours,” says chef James, who joined Artisan & Vine in the Autumn from one of Paris’ leading natural wine bars, Restaurant L’Office. “It's an exciting challenge for a chef to match that subtlety.” To do that, he’s  going to use “subtle English cheeses, like goats curd”, as well as his trademark Mediterranean style of cooking – lemon juice and olive oil rather than butter and cream for example. “Those fresh Mediterranean ingredients, interestingly, make an ideal complement to the freshness of English wines,” he says. "And we're going to play with traditional wine tasting sequences. I feel that in some cases, those lovely rich English sparkling wines will match as well with a pudding as they would an aperitif."
Robson will be serving seasonal fare, with dishes such as Welsh Queen scallops with black cabbage and blood orange; and Tamworth pork loin with pink fir apple potatoes and Puglian olive tapenade
This is your chance to hear Sam Linter on how she makes Burgundy beating reds at Bolney Estate, to find out from former winemaker of the year Sam Lindo why Camel Valley is such a good spot for vines, and to discover what's next for industry leader Chapel Down when CEO Frazer Thompson heads the table. Find out how Julian Barnes has such success with Ortega at Biddenden Vineyard, hear about the growth curve of the youngest winery on our roster from a’Beckett’s Paul Langham, and taste through RidgeView’s peerless selection of sparkling wines.
Best of English ticketEvents kick off in February with Artisan & Vine favourite, Brightwell Vineyards. Owner and winemaker Carol Nielsen will showcase her red and white wines, and offer a preview of her 2010 rosé and sparkling.
Best of English Meet the Winemaker
With 35 places available, tickets are available to book online from Artisan & Vine.
Artisan & Vine, 126 St John's Hill, Battersea, London  SW11 1SL, 0207 228 4997

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

2006 Balfour Hush Heath Brut Rosé

English wine - especially sparkling English wine - has long since finished playing its role as a pretender and surely now wears a crown, of some sort at least. And in part this has been achieved through wine competitions, particularly the two mentioned above. Only this year Ridgeview Estate - featured many times on these pages before now - triumphed in the Decanter Awards, proprietor Mike Roberts walking away with the trophy for best sparkling wine over £10 for his 2006 Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs, something of a landmark victory especially when we acknowledge that the wine was pitted against other well-known names including Taittinger and Charles Heidsieck. Sure, not Taittinger's Cuvée Blanc de Blancs, and not Heidsieck's Blanc des Millénaires, and not Salon nor Krug, but - as I have stated above - to diminish the results by stating these obvious criticisms is to miss the point. What the result says is that - if you haven't already - it is time to look at English sparkling wine.
Balfour Hush Heath Estate is also no stranger to such accolades, with a gold medal for the 2004 Brut Rosé in the 2008 IWC, and a trophy (for the best UK sparkling wine over £10) in the 2009 DWWA for its 2005 Brut Rosé, about which I wrote very recently on the Winedr blog. The next vintage along is the 2006 of course, and this wine is the focus of my attention this week. A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2006 Balfour Hush Heath Brut Rosé has a fabulous colour in the glass, a pale but vibrant onion skin hue, and a vibrant, vigorous and fairly fine central bead. The nose is fruit-rich, just bursting out from behind the cork, with the characteristics of strawberry and raspberry, together with an open, vivacious, sherbetty minerality. Very well composed on entry, quite broad although cut through with a steely acidity, the fruit behind it a blend of crunchy red berries with the bright flesh of Cox's Pippins. Very attractive, with a fresh, sour-sappy finish, and a chalky end to it all. This is very good indeed; perhaps not quite the same level as the delectable 2005, but still a fine effort, showing once again that English sparkling wine is certainly here to stay. 16+/20 (27/9/10)