English Wine Week 2019
What we tasted
Forty Hall Sparkling
Forty Hall Bacchus
Flint Vineyard Bacchus
Forty Hall Ortega
Tillingham Vineyard Pét Nat
Davenport Vineyard Pét Nat
Why we tasted them
2018 is set to go down in winemaking history in the UK as the year that every producer pretty much worked at capacity and beyond, some even selling grapes to those with bigger sets up as they simply COULD’NT MAKE ENOUGH WINE. It was a fantastic spring, no major weather disasters, it was a warm, even a hot summer and that lasted right up to harvest. So hello to you the 2018’s we’ve been waiting for you…
Forty Hall Sparkling 2016
“Thought you said it was the glorious 2018’s”
Well yes I did, but traditional (champagne method) sparkling wines need a bit more time to develop all those lovely bready, yeasty flavours so here we tasted the 2016 as the 18’s are still working on their flavours. This is JOY, this fizz…it’s fresh and rhubarby, quite complex, tart without feeling too acidic and quite frankly a lovely way to start!
A bit of background on Forty Hall.
It’s a beautiful old country house and farm up in Enfield. Yep. Enfield. They are an urban food project and the first commercial scale vineyard in London whilst also being a social enterprise project where money from sales goes back into their health (particularly mental health) work. It’s a flipping good idea. There’s more info on Forty Hall in my last set of notes but I wanted to include them again as we are so impressed with their work.
BATTLE OF THE BACCHUS…
Let’s quickly talk about Bacchus. You know how Sauvignon Blanc was New Zealand’s grape, it just liked it there. And how Malbec LOVED Argentina? That’s how Bacchus feels about the UK. It likes it here. It shows itself well; grassy, mineral, a bit elderflower (a bit like a sauvignon Blanc from the Loire). It’s a German crossing that prefers the UK and, in the media at least, it’s the grape that we will become famous for. So far. So good.
The exciting thing in the English wine industry now is that we have a range of styles of Bacchus. So we compared two
Forty Hall Bacchus 2018
I met Sarah from Forty Hall to taste through their new stills that literally just been bottled. Stills are harder to hide behind, less forgiving, less, well, fizzy. This Bacchus is a proper classic, if you lined it up in a blind tasting you could guess it all the way. It’s got the grassiness, the elderflower and lime, the really high refreshing acidity but it also has concentration that probably comes from a bit more sun on those 2018 grapes! Its super crispy. One of our staff said “it’s like biting into a crunchy apple” and he’s not wrong. It’s that lovely sharp, juicy crunch. This wine will soften over time but just now it feels so BRIGHT.
Flint Vineyard, Bacchus
Flint vineyards are up in Norfolk, south of Norwich and inland from Southwold. They are a husband and wife team who have impressive wine credentials. Ben graduated from Plumpton with a first class degree and best research project. He’s techy for sure. They couple then moved to Beaujolais where he learnt how to break the rules he’d learnt. Moving back to the UK, he has been researching Bacchus (thank you EU funding) and has discovered that in terms of aroma profile, Bacchus shares some similarities with muscat. In his treatment of his grapes, he wants a softer approach. The wine is vinified in a similar way to Forty Hall’s but he then puts it in really old oak barrels. This doesn’t add flavour but does kind of knock the edges off. Its rounder, plumper, softer and more floral than Forty Halls. Perhaps better for food, perhaps will just appeal to people who like a softer drink.
Who won the battle?
It was pretty even and seemed to split the group on style rather than quality.
Forty Hall Ortega 2018
Ortega! A clever grape to know about. Light, floral, delicate. Perfect with summery salads and also perfect with a wee tiny bit of spice – think Vietnamese salad sort of vibe. It can also make lovely sweet wines because of its floral notes, ability to ripen easily and it’s a grape than is susceptible to noble rot (more on sweet Ortega at our next pudding and wine night in August.)
This one from Forty Hall is really accomplished. A proper contender for you money when you are looking for a great summery white.
THE FUNKY STUFF
One of my favourite things having run an English wine tasting each year since we opened is that each year I now have more and more to choose from. Not only are there more vineyards but also more styles readily available from the classic to the more unusual, So here we go…
I wanted to talk about Pét Nat. We see it a lot in restaurants at the moment, particularly those with natural wine lists. For me, although its absolutely a wine, this style doesn’t quite belong on a traditional wine list, more a ‘Refreshing alcoholic drinks list’ the reason being that it doesn’t taste hugely like wine as we have got used to. It’s cloudy, frizzante (semi sparkling) has yeasty flavours, sometimes tropical flavours, peachy notes. If you think of wine, it’s confusing on your palate. If you keep your mind open and just think ‘drink’ I think it takes less of a run up.
Pét Nat is great – a winemaker gets to bottle it and drink it before anything else is ready. It’s fun, it feels like a celebration of the harvest and a calling card for the winemakers adventurous, creative spirit.
Tillingham Vineyards, Pet Nat 18, Rye, Sussex
Pét Nat or Pétilliant Naturel is the oldest way to make fizzy wine. Made famous by Limoux down in South West France and made famous again now by the leftie winemakers of the Loire. To understand how it’s made you need to know the basics of fermentation which are
SUGAR (in grapes) + YEAST *Fermentation* = ALCOHOL (wine) + CO2
In most cases, by the time the yeast have eaten all the sugar, you have a still, dry alcoholic beverage and the CO2 has disappeared off into the air.
BUT if you trap the CO2 by bottling whilst you are fermenting you end up with sparkle (the ‘Pét’ bit) without having to put it through any other processes (the ‘Naturel’ bit). You also end up with some yeast sediment from that fermentation trapped in the bottle too. This is different to the Champagne method used in most English sparkling where you make a normal still wine, then start a secondary fermentation and aging in bottle before disgorging the yeast ending up with clear, complex tasting fizz you’ve had to wait for. (A la Forty Hall at the beginning of the tasting)
For the beer drinkers amongst you, this Tillingham pet nat is a bit like a sour beer. They use natural yeasts, open to oxygen. Think the flavours of fruity sour beers, sourdough bread. Same process, different ingredients.
Davenport, Limney Farm, Pet Nat 18, Kent
Will Davenport is one of our best winemakers in my opinion. He makes straight Limney Estate sparkling which is beautiful and complex, he makes soft still chardonnays and pinot noirs AND he is the dude who has been helping advise on organic production and is now making the wines at Forty Hall. BOOM. He is still one of the few vineyards working organically (because it’s well hard, especially in the UK with our weather and climate) and he works cleanly and cleverly. This Pét Nat is amazing. It’s almost got a cream soda vibe, sort of vanilla cream, a bit peach crumble, its soft gentle and bubbly and finished the tasting well. For those who didn’t enjoy the sour brightness of the Tillingham, this one felt easier.
These wines were there to split a crowd. Not everyone will love them because they are really something. It’s not like tasting simple dry whites or reds or lining up fizz as we know it. These wines challenge and have personality and differ from batch to batch. And in a world where supermarkets rule, these will never be commercial enough because its all too unpredictable. So as much as we love the wines that these guys make that are closer to our notion of wine and what it should taste like, you’ve got to celebrate the adventure wines too because that’s what innovates and invigorates a growing industry.
So they were our glorious 18’s. Cheers and here’s to 2019. It wants to be a goodun…Brexit’s next (next tasting June 12th – ‘Wines we hope we can still get after Brexit; A lament/celebration of Europe’)