I hate to pick a fight with a fellow Speccie scribe but, as this august organ’s drinks editor, I must take issue with Dr Andrew Cunningham and his recent dismissal of English wine. Andrew lives in West Sussex and I live in East Sussex. He explains that he’s near Nyetimber, Nutbourne and Kinsbrook (not to mention Ambriel, Roebuck and Tinwood); I’m near Breaky Bottom, Court Garden and Ridgeview (not to mention Artelium, Black Dog Hill and Bolney). There’s no question that we both live in bona fide wine regions.
There are 950 vineyards in the UK and over 200 wineries, from Kent to Cornwall and from Devon to Denbighshire. There are a dozen alone in Yorkshire. And, as Dr C points out, sales of English wine are booming. This is for good reason: the best are blooming delicious. I admit that there are some also-rans – dreary, acidic, over-priced examples produced by folk belatedly clambering on the English wine bandwagon, intent simply on having a fancy wine label to their name. The best English wines, though, are world-class.
A few weeks ago we welcomed Frédéric Faye, head winemaker of the mighty Château Figeac, to our boardroom for one of our fabled Spectator winemaker lunches. With four different vintages of his glorious St Emilion ahead of us (each bottle retailing for around £250+ a pop) we needed a decent sparkling aperitif and I had no compunction whatsoever in serving the 2014 Hattingley Valley Blanc de Blancs. ‘What is this amazing wine?’ Frédéric asked after just one sip. ‘It’s wonderful.’ On being told that it was English fizz from Hampshire, he exclaimed, ‘Mon Dieu, I had no idea… But, wow, it has every right to stand alongside Figeac.’ The readers, too, lapped it up.
I also recently held a blind tasting of still chardonnays for 40 or so guests.