The Great British Wine founder talks passionately about what is an exciting time for English wine
First things first, what are you drinking?
Albury Organic Vineyard Silent Pool Rose – their newest release, the 2019 vintage. What I really like about this is that people often compare English rosé to Provence rosé, and while there are similarities there with the crispness and delicacy of the colour, I find English rosé tends to have more concentrated, pure red berry flavours and more intensity. I like a rosé with a bit of character (without going down the sweeter, overly fruity style you get in areas like Spain) and Albury’s Silent Pool definitely has that.
Tell us about your wine journey…
I developed an interest in wine about 10 years ago. I’m really into my food and I really wanted to see what all the fuss was about with wine. My initial interest was developed through the app Vivino, which is really popular among wine enthusiasts and that’s how I started to gain the confidence to not only drink different wines but also to write about wines, because Vivino encourages you to review and interact with others and talk about wine.
My first experience of English wine was a Nyetimber sparkling about six years ago, the Classic Cuvée 2003. I was then invited to an English Wine Producers (now WineGB) trade event and my interest really developed from there. There wasn’t as much English wine about then and not many people were talking about it, so it felt like an excellent opportunity to create a platform where I could explore the industry and build more knowledge.
How has the English wine industry changed since your GBW launched?
It’s incredible how much it’s grown as an industry over the last five years. There are so many new producers appearing, and the quality of the wine is getting better year on year, so it’s been an exciting adventure. Both for me to develop my interest in wine and also for the industry to see how far it’s progressed.
There’s always been a general perception that English wines, especially outside of sparkling, are a bit sub-standard. But our still wines are now really starting to get a lot of recognition. That category really excites me, especially in terms of how increasingly diverse it is. We’ve got quite an interesting range of still wines – Bacchus and Chardonnay are doing really well in particular, and then some fascinating examples of still Blanc de Noirs; white wines made from red grapes. The rosés are fantastic, and now even some of the English reds are now starting to gain people’s attention and are winning medals.
Anything new that readers should watch out for?
Our sparkling wines are consistently stunning, but it’s exciting to see different styles beginning to emerge. People are used to their Classic Brut styles and their rosés. Blanc de Blancs has been very successful in England and to counter that there are some fantastic Blanc de Noirs (sparkling made from just red grapes). Greyfriars here in Surrey have done a particularly compelling one and Gusbourne has just released their first commercially released Blanc de Noirs this year. It’s a very food-friendly wine as it tends to be a bit fuller and richer with some of those red berry flavours coming through. It’s a style to watch.
Do you have a favourite wine region in England?
It’s a difficult one. I try to be impartial and not have favourites, but it’s hard not to be proud of what Sussex has done with Nyetimber kicking off the renaissance of English wine, so I’m still hugely passionate about the wines they produce.
Sussex is such an exciting region, but Kent has really come on so far as well – Chapel Down have done a fantastic job of broadening the appeal of English wine and making it accessible people, and then also extending the category with their higher-end wines.
So, I would say Kent and Sussex have absolutely been flying the flag for English wines. However, another region that excites me is Surrey, which is on my doorstep. It’s a smaller group of producers, but they’re making some fantastic wines and they’re getting more recognition.
Which vineyards in the South East are really getting it right?
The thing I think we need right now as an industry is producers that are making great wine but also producing good-looking bottles, great labels and branding – something that can really stand out on the shelf and that moves away from the old-school, traditional Champagne bottle style.
Nyetimber have done a great job of creating an elegant, recognisable brand, Gusbourne have created something that’s quite modern and bold. I like what Albury have done with their bottles too.
I’d say Surrey as a region – it’s not talked about as much as the others in the South East but has proven that its wines are fantastic. I think we need a few more vineyards to appear for people to really start taking it seriously, but then there is, of course, Denbies, which is one of the English wine hubs and does a lot of contract winemaking for other producers.
Where’s your favourite place to drink wine?
Presently, it’s where I am right now, in my garden with a glass of English wine. However, outside of lockdown it would be on an English vineyard, preferably on a warm summer’s evening. There’s something about drinking the wines where they’re made and just taking in the views – we have some stunning landscape in England.
Favourite person/people to drink wine with?
I share most of the wine I drink with my wife. She doesn’t share quite the same passion as me but we’ve got a lot of memories of particular wines and bottles. Otherwise, it’s the ‘wine friends’ I have met through Vivino or social media. We all share a passion for wine, but our individual interests are very different, and that has the potential to bring so much to the table.
What’s your favourite wine memory?
Drinking a glass of Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne on my wedding day in July 2013 just having jumped in the car heading from the church to the reception. This was prior to my discovery of English sparkling wine otherwise we’d have had English sparkling wine at our wedding, obviously.
What wine has surprised you the most?
English reds over the past couple of years. The English Pinot Noir, in particular, has produced some fantastic results, particularly from producers in Kent, such as Simpsons Wine Estate and Gusbourne. It’s really exciting to see that quality of red wine come out of this country.
What’s your favourite wine and food combo?
Seafood is my primary food love, especially sushi. I’ve always been interested in Asian food, but after visiting Japan last year I came back with a want to learn more about sushi. Most weeks at least once we’ll prepare sushi and, rather appropriately, it pairs well with a glass of young, crisp, English sparkling wine. Sushi needs quite pure and clean flavours and sparkling wine – particularly English – works really well.
Finally, if you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would that be?
There’s probably one wine that I’ve enjoyed more than any other wine over the years, and it’s Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs. It was one of the first Blanc de Blancs that I had tried, which kicked off my love of the style. It always impresses and it has terrific ageing potential.
If you’re only going to drink one wine, you’re going to want something that’s not going to always taste the same, has a story behind it and takes you on an adventure. A couple of years ago, I tried the very first vintage they made, which was the 1992, and it still tasted amazing. It’s a wine that has got decades in it – so a good one to spend a lot of time with.