Huxelrebe, Siegerrebe, Regner, Schönburger. The ill-fated cast of characters from an little known Wagnerian opera?
“Reichensteiner and Würzer are dead” -The original title?
Rondo, Ortega, and Phoenix. The Mexican villains from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western?
Madeleine Angevine. Latest X-Factor winner? Triomphe. A sports car?
Orion – oh, I know that, that’s a constellation, right?
Well, yes and no. Orion is a constellation but it’s also a cool climate hybrid varietal used in England to produce wine.
In fact, all of the above are just some of the rather esoterically named varietals that have been put into use to produce English still and sparkling wine. Along with the more familiar müller thurgau, dornfelder, and bacchus, and the downright prosaic chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
I just love the monikers of this cast of characters but what have the English been doing with their wackily named varietals? There are two opinions about English wine. One, the still wines are a work in progress. Two, the sparklings, though, are winners.
I had the chance to put the wines to the test at the recent English wine producers Annual Trade Tasting. The show was an opportunity for us to see what those English have been up to and the launch of English Wine Week 2009. English Wine week will be held at the end of May (23rd-31st) and encompasses a variety of activities including tours, tastings, and special events in vineyards around the country. There are also plans for a Welsh Wine Week and a Devon Wine Week alongside the English events. All events can be found on their website, www.englishwineweek.co.uk
I found that the whites were not quite ready for prime time. They were competently made and drinkable but nothing really shouted out to me except the one varietal that I discovered and actually liked, the Madeleine Angevine, a white grape that produced some lovely dry and fresh wines, aromas of orange blossoms and white flowers with nice acidity and rounded body but no flabbiness. It reminded me of French pinot blanc and funnily enough, that’s where it comes from – the Loire Valley specifically,and it’s a cool climate hybrid of Madeleine Royale and Précoce de Malingre. Quoins Organic Madeleine Angevine 2006 definitely left an impression as well as the Wraxall Vineyard Madeleine Angevine 07, made from 40 year old vines.
As for the reds, the less said the better. I know that they’re trying and I think with 1 more degree of global warming, they’re going to get there but again I was disappointed. Either watery and weak or too acidic and unbalanced. But again, there was an exception, the Tyrannosaurus Red from Furleigh Vineyards located in the Wessex region on the Jurassic Coast in Devon. This little number was comprised of rondo, triomphe and pinot noir and had a deep dark crimson colour that I just wasn’t expecting. Barrel fermented, jammy fruit and soft tannins, this was a wine you could take home to your mother and she’d drink it. Just don’t tell her it’s English.
Now, let’s get down to why I was really at the show. The sparklings. The south of England, where most sparkling wine production is located, is a continuation of the same soils that are found in the Champagne region in northern France. The whole area is a shallow sea that has been pushed up and cut in half by the English Channel. It’s called the Kimmeridgian marls or ridge, and it’s the soils that gives Dover it’s white cliffs and Champagne it’s distinctive soils – natural limestone and chalk which are the result of an ancient sea that once covered the area and the remains of tiny sea creatures that help it to produce world class champagne.
All the big boys were there, Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Denbies, Chapel Down, Camel Valley, Bookers Vineyard and Three Choirs Vineyard and my favourite sparkling rose, Balfour Brut Sparkling Rose, among others. Looking at my notes for English sparkling and comparing them with my notes from a recent champagne tasting, they are remarkably similar – crisp, dry,nutty, apple, toffe, brioche, yeasty, so similar but different. Could it be the terroir? Well, maybe, since the soil is the practically the same. The climate? Again similar to Champagne. Is it the winemaking? Possibly. In general, the calibre of sparkling wines really are up to par and beyond. In a blind tasting, it would be hard to differenciate between the two, at least on the non-vintage and rosé side. The big difference – the price. Although, English sparkling is not as cheap as other sparkling wines, due to small production, it’s not as dear as Champagne. Definitely worth seeking out.
And what about all those varietals at the beginning, what’s what? The Wagnerian cast are white varietals, ditto reichensteiner and würzer and the banditos, ortega and phoenix. Rondo is red and the triomphe sports car as well. Maddy A. I already talked about. I love any varietal that has a proper person’s name. If any one wants to name a varietal after me, you have my permission. And orion, well, it’s as white as the stars that make up it’s constellation.
An informative afternoon and I will be watching the English wine industry with interest, there’s still plenty to discover. Along the way, I made a little video of the afternoon, check it out.