If you haven't heard about the rapidly growing prowess of English Sparkling wine, then you've must have either woken up from a coma or been undercover in North Korea. Tastings and competitions all over the world are consistently affirming the world-beating reputation of our traditional method sparklers. Particularly examples from South East chalky sites where producers have accomplished winemakers at the helm.
However, this feature is aimed at sharing some of the more quirky discoveries to be found in these lands. There are forward-thinking producers all over the country striving to achieve great wines from little-known varieties. As the below graphic from @winestats shows, after discounting Chardonnay and the Pinot's (main sparkling varieties) we have an eclectic selection of varieties planted.
So read on to find out about Orange Bacchus, Pinot Precoce, Mad Ange (who is a lot more pleasant than she sounds) and other distinctly different misfits.
So Bacchus isn't a rarity in England, many believe it has the potential to be the leading still white variety. It's a Germanic variety which is a cross of Silvaner, Riesling and Muller-Thurgai. It's quite often (lazily) compared to Sauvignon Blanc due to its citrus hit and high acidity. I find it to have more elderflower and a different minerality to Sauvignon Blanc. What makes this bottle a rarity is the fact it's an Orange wine. So it's has been fermented and matured with skin contact.
I'm not an avid Orange lover, but when I saw Kent giant Chapel Down were releasing England's first orange wine, I had to try it. I admire what Josh Donaghay-Spire does in the winery there; I spoke to him about this wine and he told me he was "trying to push the style of the wine to see what is was capable of". And the result is certainly abstract. It's wonderfully textured and really challenges the palate. Complex flavour notes including wet hay and spiced nuts, but it does manage to hold on to a touch of citrus freshness. It's well worth trying, especially if you're into natural wines.
Wine: Orange Bacchus
Winery: Chapel Down
Buy Now: https://www.chapeldown.com/news/introducing-englands-first-orange-wine-chapel-down-orange-bacchus-2014/
Pinot Noir also isn't a rarity in England. However, there are a handful of producers who are vinifying Pinot Noir as a white wine by slow pressing and avoiding any skin maceration. I believe it's a compelling and unique variety that England could lay a claim to.
The Mount, Albourne, Kingscote and Martin's Lane all produce great examples, but it's Litmus that excites me the most. I've tried the last three vintages and found them all to be slightly different expressions. For me, the 2012 was at it's blinding best and probably the finest English still wine I've drunk. I couldn't get over how much it tasted like a (white) Burgundy. Big, rich wine full of melon, pear, orange blossom and roasted almonds. The generous oaking envelops everything in smoke and brings a lean, chiselled body.
Wine: White Pinot
Buy Now: http://www.marksandspencer.com/litmus-white-pinot-case-of-6/p/p60070338
Madeleine Angevine is a curious but altogether beautiful variety. It has parentage tying it to the Loire Valley. Originally planted in England in the 50's, today there's a concentration in the South West all the way down to the tip of Cornwall.
Shout out to my wine buddy John Mobbs over at @GreatBritWine for introducing me to 10 Mad Ange's recently. I found Danebury to be the most satisfying and multi-dimensional. Danebury are situated in the exciting wine hotbed of Hampshire and they're passionate about Mad Ange. To drink, it's as refreshing as rolling in a meadow, with charming floral qualities, a suggestion of kiwi fruit tropicality and a crunchy mineral-rich finish. They also produce a sparkling version worth looking out for.
Wine: Madeleine Angevine
Buy Now: http://www.danebury.com/wine-sale.shtml
Pinot Noir Precoce
It's Pinot, but not as you know it. Pinot Noir Precoce (french word, translation; early) is a mutation of it's world-renown Burgundian parent. It's an early ripening variety which is ordinarily known for its nimble and fresh qualities. It grows really well in the cooler counties of England where normal Pinot Noir may struggle.
This Sharpham Black Label is a beast of a wine. Deeper and more complex than typical Precoce, and as good as any English Pinot I've tasted. It brings a bold hit of black fruit with vanilla, herbal notes, dock leaf and desert dust. There's a distinct woody note in the finish that I liken to oaky vintage cider. It's charismatic, quirky and masculine. There's not many English Red's I would pay more than £20 for, but this is one for sure.
Wine: Pinot Noir & Precoce
Buy Now: https://www.theexceptionalenglishwineco.com/wine/product/sharpham-pinot-noir-precoce-2013/
This curiosity is pronounced see-ger-ray-ba. A hybrid crossing of Madeleine Angevine (see above) and Gewurztraminer. It's another variety that performs well. It's got a wonderful dried floral quality and, when handled well, it can deliver great acidity. It performs at it's best when paired with right food. Ben Hawker (Assistant Winemaker at Three Choirs) ensures me it's brilliant with Sushi.
Three Choirs in Gloucestershire pride themselves on the quality and uniqueness of their Siegerrebe. It's the first to be harvested each year, then goes on to be used in this single varietal wine, as a component of their white blends and also as a dessert wine. The nose is awesome. Light violet perfume with grapefruit and nice waxy scents. I could sniff it all day. The attack retains intrigue and interest. The layered palate unfolds bringing a combination of floral, citrus and herbal. The finish has a nice lift and zing.
Wine: Siegerrebe Cellar Door Release
Winery: Three Choirs
Buy Now: https://www.three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk/shop/wine-list/english-white-wines/siegerrebe-2014/