Monday, 3 November 2014

English Wine: Essex 2, Suffolk 2 (and Sussex 1)

East Anglian wineries are quite spread out, so there is hardly a 'Weinstrasse' as such. Nonetheless, this is one of the best places to grow grapes in the country, being the driest and subject to benevolent winds. From London, a good day out among the vines might include New Hall and Dedham Vale in Essex and Giffords Hall and Wyken in Suffolk.

New Hall Vineyards were founded in the 60s and probably have the widest range of grape varieties of any UK winery;


Muller Thurgau

Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir



Their equipment is extensive. They make wine for other vineyards as well as their own. They even have an OYOV scheme (Own Your Own Vineyard)! 

There are 194 acres under vine with Bacchus as the most planted and Triomphe as by far the least (wouldn't you know!). They produce all kinds of wine some of which are available at The Wine Pantry, Borough Market, London.

This is a pioneering and old-style operation of great interest from a historical and research point of view.

Next was Wyken Vineyards in Suffolk - a complete contrast. Created by Carla Carlisle in the 80s, it is an avowed re-creation of a Napa estate complete with Michelin Bib - Gourmand listed restaurant and lavish shopping opportunities. The perfect place for lunch on our trip.

Carla Carlisle was our inspiration for planting a few vines ourselves back in the 90s and she has developed her Leaping Hare brand of wines steadily since then. 

She produces a most interesting 100% Kernling, a Bacchus, a Madeleine Angevine, a Pink and a Sparkler which are all highly regarded.

Her touch can be seen everywhere; there is even a Women's Room in the retail area in the barn which also houses the Leaping Hare Restaurant and Cafe.

We had a delicious snack outside. The bill came with a stone attached - neat, as everything at Wyken Hall.

On to Gifford Hall. We hadn't heard of this one before but it turned out to be well worth the journey. Owned by another American lady and her English husband, it is also nicely presented with a pleasant tasting room and cafe.

This elegant couple are very much hands on with him on his tractor in the extensive vineyard and her receiving in the tasting room. 

The vineyard is unique with extensive windbreaks of mature trees. It was planted about 25 years ago.

For us, the big news here was the delicious Pinot Noir which is available in local branches of Waitrose, not surprisingly. They also make a Rose from Madeleine Angevine and Rondo, a Bacchus and a zero-dosage sparkler from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They make various Fruit Liqueurs too. Giffords Hall has recently planted 2,000 vines of Pinot Blanc.

On our way back through Essex, we saw a sign to Dedham Vale Vineyard so along we went. This is a more recently planted vineyard, begun in 1990. Now 40 acres are under vine and the operation is decidedly more corporate than the others visited on this trip. 

Their inevitable sparklers are made from Orion and Chardonnay with a bit of Pinot Noir in the case of the Rose. There is a red blend from Rondo, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder and Pinot Noir and a Rose from Phoenix and Pinot Noir.

The new tasting room and shop are nicely done. People were sitting out on the deck enjoying themselves hugely.

A footnote since we're on the subject of English wine: 

We picked up this Sparkling Red by Ridgeview (Sussex) at the Wine Pantry's other outlet in Borough Market (just a few paces further on: open when the Wine Pantry is not. We were assured it was the last bottle and they weren't expecting any replacements soon. We like sparkling reds from Lambuscos through Bonardas to sparkling Shiraz, not caring what anyone thinks. This was different of course. We hope producers of English Sparkling wine will not give up on this category.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Great new shop 'Park and Bridge,' Acton (London)

A tip-off from a local resident took us to Acton, West London and there was a surprise in store to be sure.

A wonderful selection despite being on the small side. Where else in London or anywhere else for that matter could you hope to find a Rossese, an Italian Bonarda (Croatina), an Ortrugo, a Chilean Cinsault made in a light vin naturel style,

a Cos wine we had never come across before called 'Rami'; a white fermented on the skins to produce a golden if not orange wine from 50% Grecanico and Inzolia grapes. We also bought a Vino Verde.

 The lovely idea of the tissue paper with the seal is something we had only ever seen previously at the Wine Pantry - the English wine specialists also in London - and at Nigel Tollerman's showroom in Buenos Aires. It's a lovely touch.

We were astounded to find this particular Rossese here; precisely the one we had chosen above all others at Vinitaly this year.

The Ortrugo was a bit lacking in character - as if the characteristic and wonderful Ortrugo-ness had been toned-down for export but the Bonarda was excellent.

The greatest find was unexpectedly the Chilean Cinsault: for our taste quite the best wine ever to come out of Chile that we had tasted. It was also quite unlike any other Chilean wine of our experience. perhaps the two statements are not un-related? In any case, if you are not a particular fan of Chilean wine and you want something really excellent and interesting irrespective of provenance, this wine is for you. It is modestly priced too.

The founder/owner is Paola Tich who has been involved in wine for a number of years and certainly knows her onions. She concentrates on "organic, biodynamic and minimal intervention wines" Her website puts her aims most eloquently;

We pride ourselves on offering a neatly-curated collection of interesting and different wines that are all great examples of their style or type. From everyday, good value drinkers you can enjoy on their own to some grown up finer wines that can bring a meal to life.
These are the wines you’re unlikely to find alongside the pet food and washing powder at any supermarket. Artisan wines that are made with care by people who love what they do. Remarkable wines that come from interesting producers and have a bit of story to them…

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Inappropriate labels

We read it in the Daily Mail. 80% of wine sold in the UK is bought by women and women buy according to how attractive the label is.

Now first of all, we can't visualize all those blokes leaving it to the ladies to buy their booze. Every time we have entered a wine shop we were mostly alone or in the company of others of our sort and 'we' are a pudgy middle-aged bloke. Whenever a lady has been present and has sought directions (meaning advice) from the sales person (usually a chap) we love listening in, but we have never observed a Shiela actually selecting a wine with an obviously cuetsy label. Such labels do exist but they are abominations and we suspect no one is fooled.

Having said that, there are lots of inappropriate labels. These often involve dogs. why anyone would think that wine has any affinity to dogs? We know almost ever vigneron has a dog but we assume that is because they lead a lonely life or that they need the dog to keep pests away. They should keep the dogs in the background. No city-dweller wants to buy a wine that might have been fertilized by dog-poo or otherwise come into contact with animals of any kind  - unless they are from Hampstead where dog ownership is obligatory.

There is another type clearly directed at men (assuming men like Heavy Metal). Here are a few inappropriate labels we have collected. We don't think any of then would have appealed to any woman and probably not to any man although the bum is quite extraordinary, we thing you will have to admit. Extraordinary enough to buy the wine?

ABT (anything but Tempranillo)

A fascinating piece by Jancis Robinson a couple of weeks ago went a long way to explain why Spain is 'Tempranillo crazy'. Reasons include the ease of growing this grape, its now iconic position as the national variety (although this was not the case until comparatively recent times) and so forth. Even though Tempranillo is now grown all over the world, Spain still counts for 95% of it. Figures might be a bit skewed by the fact that plantings in drought-prone areas see the vines spaced further apart and because figures are calculated on the area planted, this would suggest a greater number of vines than may be the case but you get the picture.

The Spanish can't get enough of it or so it would seem; a desire shared by Germans for Riesling and Argentinians for Malbec. It will not come as a surprise to know that we at Slotovino think this is a pity, especially when interesting indigenous varieties near to extinction don't get a chance.

We have dug deep on previous visits to Spain to find these neglected gems and have been rewarded by some great finds such as (Whites) Albarin, Diego Seco, Dona Blanca, Doradilla, Eva de los Santos, Hondarrabi Beltza, Loueiro, Mantua, Merseguera, Subirat Parent (aka Malvasia Riojana), Tempranillo Blanco, Treixaduro, Verdil, Vermell, Xarel-lo.

And in Red, Brancellao, Caillet, Caino Tinto, Espadeiro, Forcallat, Juan Garcia, Lledoner Pelut, Moravia Agria, Prieto Picudo, Rojal, Royal, Sumoll, Tinta Rome, Trepat and Vigiriega.

Recent visits have led us to three merchants new to us and new tout court. The most recently opened is also the closest to hand for us: the Carnceria Gallega in Nueva Andalucia:

a beautifully-appointed butcher and wine and olive oil shop

Perhaps Galician Butchers are famous throughout Spain like Norcinerie in Italy but even so it seems unusual to open such an establishment in the diametrically opposite corner of the country and then specialize in the wines of Galicia too. Not being great meat eaters for the time beaing we concentrated on these and the olive oils on show and were delighted with the quality and variety especially of the Galician reds - not something you often find.

After some disputation we arrived at this highly recommended item - a blend of Brancellao, Caino Longo, Caino Redondo Souson and Ferron! 

 the father and son team took us through the repertoire with increasing enthusiasm. Papa said he was going back to Galicia for Christmas and would bring anything we wanted on his return! Adrian, the son claimed only to have been involved in wine for 4 years but was already extremely knowledgeable.

 He recommended a E.4.50 white called AS No. 1, a blend of about 4 Galician varieties including Loureiro and Treixadura if memory serves together with perhaps Torrontes and maybe Albarino - sorry, we're making this up really as we didn't make a note of Adrian's list at the time and amazingly, neither this wine nor its maker Coferma of Ourense has any internet footprint that we can find.

Interesting was this blend containing Torrontes - the Spanish one. Torrontes is better known as an Argentinian speciality and it is assumed that it came from Spain but it seems to have mutated on the way.

Adrian's Dad wouldn't let us leave before opening a bottle of Mencia from the Ribeira Sacra. We protested that we knew Mencia very well indeed and didn't need to taste it again but he would not be swayed and he was right: this Mencia was unlike any other in its almost unbelievable softness. We bought the bottle immediately on catching sight of the Abv: 12.5%. Now that's a corrective to the way things Mencia have been going...

In Malaga, we found 'El Templo del Vino'.

Lovely name, lovely shop. Here we encountered initial reticence to look for unusual grape varieties but there was no need: there were plenty of examples.

A Tinto Velasco

a Vigiriega

and a Listan Blanco
Also in Malaga, a very traditional Bodega tucked away just around the corner from a large square sporting a big 'Corte Ingles' store was 'Los Dominios de Baco'.

Here we found a Trepat, no mean feat in this corner of Spain;

and a Tintilla de Rota/Garnache blend;

Back home, while fiddling around on the Laithwaites site in the hope of finding something other than a cut price fruit bomb, we came across this:

a Rioja from a grape called Vididello. Vididello we ask you! Don't dismiss Laithwaites; the company that brought us a 100% St. Macaire (the almost extinct Bordeaux grape which is still hanging on by the fingertips in Australia) and Margan's 2004 Hunter Valley Semillon under £15 a bottle, surely the bargain of the century? Don't rush to order it. Slotovino bought the last bottle.

We've said it before. Spain gives up her secrets less willingly than Italy but secrets there are. A friend invited us to share a bottle of Parraleta only this morning.