It appears some Brits suffer from the same affliction many Canadians do: they don't know anything about their own country's wines.
Hubby and I were in London, England, last week for a wedding (a spectacular, romantic, Hollywood-esque, when-is-Hugh-Grant-coming-in-the-door affair, complete with fanciful hats.) We also had a few days for sightseeing, so we managed to cram in a double-decker bus tour, Gunther von Hagen's Body Worlds exhibit , a spectacular lunch at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (Oh. My. Gawd. More on that later) and a visit to Vinopolis.
Built into a restored Victorian railway viaduct, this sprawling space is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Definitely geared towards novices in the swish-n-spit crowd, but still an indulgent way to spend an afternoon, nonetheless.
It was here that I got a chance to try English wines. A flight of six, featuring two sparklers and four still whites. You know me, I go into these things pretty open-minded; I was, after all, a journalist on assignment (look for my "postcard" on Vinopolis in Brix Magazine later this year ... keep ya posted!) and had to stay fairly objective. But I was still floored by the quality. Racy, zesty, refreshing, with complex noses and plenty of character. I couldn't wait to buy a few bottles to bring home and share with all my skeptic classmates at Algonquin.
Except that I couldn't actually buy any.
Because it was just a limited-time tasting opportunity at Vinopolis--and not part of the museum's permanent selection--the wines could only be ordered by the case. So I jotted down the names of the ones I loved and started making the rounds of wine shops in London. It went something like this:
"'Ello, luv. You awright?"
"I'm well, thank you. I was wondering if you carried Chapel Down?"
"Chapehw Down? Neveh 'eard of it. Where's it from then, luv?"
"Uh, it's English."
"English! Bloody 'ell. We down't carry any o' that."
The sneers and dumbfounded stares were all too familiar; I've been met with the same here at home when I try to recommend anything Canadian at Guild meetings or to hard-core Bordeaux-philes. So I returned home empty-handed. Not even the Duty Free at Heathrow carried English wines. (But I still found myself a "Mind the Gap" Underground T-shirt and a miniature double-decker bus for the Doodle.)
I probably shouldn't have been surprised. England's been pretty serious about wine for centuries. Fortified wines from Spain and Portugal gained much of their popularity due to the British fancy for ports and sherries of the Iberian Peninsula. And the UK remains one of the chief importers of French wines. Very few people could imagine that a country known for its chilly, wet climate could possibly produce anything worth drinking.
But take a look at Canada: our winters start in October and can linger till the end of April. Yet our wines win international awards every year. English winemakers, if they are the same stubborn, slightly mad but incredibly passionate types as their Canadian counterparts, will surely follow on the path to success, if given the chance.
Chapel Down 2007 Bacchus (Kent) - Clear and colourless, with aromas of flint, citrus and melon. Well balanced, medium body, with a meyer lemon sweetness that lingers.
Brightwell Vineyard 2007 Oxford Flint (Oxfordshire) - Brilliant pale gold, followed by sharp minerality on the nose befitting its name. Subtle tartness, dry on the palate, with a medium length finish. Huxelrube/Chardonnay blend.
Denbies 2006 Surrey Gold (Surrey) - Blend of Muller Thurgau/Ortega/Bacchus. Shows a silvery, pinkish tinge reminiscent of pinot gris. Loads of floral aromas - orange blossom and lily of the valley - with well-balanced citrus flavours, firm acidity and a bit of effervescence. Sweet, mid-length finish.