Leave any preconceived ideas you may have about English wine outside the door and enter in. Be prepared to be re-educated, or educated, in English Wine.
That’s exactly what happened to me when I took a group of friends to an entertaining evening at The Exceptional English Wine Company in Midhurst in West Sussex (www.theexceptionalenglishwineco.com).
I had no idea just how popular this industry has become in the South of England. Vineyards appear to be popping up throughout the English countryside. Once perceived by myself as sheer English fancy and slight madness appears to be gathering strength in followers and not as mad as they may have first appeared.
There are 1,129 hectares under cultivation in England and a small amount in Wales, 470 commercial vineyards and 135 commercial wine producers producing on average of 5 million bottles per annum. Last year was a perfect and record year with 6.8 million bottles being produced.
It transpires that our landscape and climate show remarkable similarities to the Champagne region of France, so it’s no surprise then that the English sparkling wines are making a name for themselves on the international stage. The enthusiasm and passion that James and Ian have for English wine is contagious. They are both knowledgeable and entertaining and a true authority on this English tipple. They even have 14 acres of their own vines under way and hope to make their first harvest this October, for that’s the time of year when English grapes are picked and first pressed into grape juice and then go onto fermentation. It can take 6 years to produce the finished wine and 4 years for sparkling wine unlike its foreign competitors.
For me personally a Champagne is rather over rated. Yes there are some that are exceptional and I’ve been lucky enough to drink them but if I had to choose over a mass produced French Champagne or a carefully selected and produced English Sparkling Wine, the English would win every time. After this evening I feel I’ve broadened my horizons mentally, but physically those horizons were much closer than I realised.
Here are my top 3 that I would recommend.
Astley late harvest
Wiston , cuvée brut
Bluebell Hindleap blanc de blanc 2010. Awarded the Gold Medal International Wine Challenge