It’s English Wine Week this week – a time to rejoice and savour the lovely wines that are now being produced in good old blighty.
However, it took around 2000 years before the world finally woke up to the fact that England can produce fabulous wines and celebrated when in 1993 West Sussex winery, Nyetimber won an award for the best sparkling wine in the world at the International Wine & Spirit Competition!
Vines were grown in England as early as the Norman Conquest, made in substantial amounts in a number of monasteries, especially in the South of England. By the time King Henry VIII ascended the throne there were 139 sizeable vineyards in England and Wales – 11 of them owned by the Crown. So why the decline? There are several schools of thought, an adverse change in the weather and the dissolution of the monasteries seem two feasible theories.
In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century there is evidence of various noblemen experimenting with growing grapes and making wine – such as the Hon. Charles Hamilton who grew vines at Painshill in Surrey. I was therefore pleased to hear that the vineyards have been restored and wine production is now in full swing, so I popped in to buy a bottle!
The Painshill Vineyard set in the beautiful Painshill Park just outside of Cobham, Surrey produces Sparkling Rosé (a blend of classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes) and Sparkling White (100% Seyval Blanc grapes). The vines were restored in 1992/3 on the south facing slopes with two and a half acres being replanted with the Pinot Noir cultivar (first planted by Charles Hamilton), plus Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc hybrids – to reproduce Hamilton’s sparkling wine. The first full crop was harvested in 1998. I tried their new release sparkling wine which was very quaffable and surprisingly fresh with citrus notes – somewhere between the subtlety of French Champagne and intensity of a New World sparkling.
I was saddened to learn from the English Wine Producers that a large proportion of English people have never ever even tasted a home grown English wine! There’s really no excuse this week as there lots of offers on at your local supermarket. Waitrose for instance have 20% off all English wines and have a large selection. Or, if you live in the Cobham area, pop along to the Painshill Park shop and pick up a bottle of sparkling for £19.50!