I love the old ‘The Frost Report’ sketch, ‘I know my place’. If you are familiar with it, then this month’s article will make perfect sense. If you are not, I urge you to search for it and marvel at the minimalist script and the perfect delivery of their lines from John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. It is unnervingly similar, in an equally light-hearted manner, to the state of play in the English wine world.
As you know, the outside world thinks that the English class system is still a real and tangible concept. We know, living in the midst of our national soup of diversity, that our social stratification has been put in a blender and the edges are not so much blurred as largely irrelevant. The original, clearly delineated, hierarchical social categories are gone, thankfully, never to return.
The English wine business retains some of the remnants of the old upper, middle and lower class traits and yet our business is also a fascinating, hybrid industry with design, flair, taste, branding and price points telling more stories than the birth rights of those in charge. It is not the poshness of our rare and often pricey wines which will endear them to an international clientele, nor is it their ownership. It is the fact that they are English – this is cachet enough.
What we ought not to do is lose this national signature in the flavours, packaging and overall feel of our creations, as this will give us an authenticity and uniqueness in an overcrowded world of wine.
As John Cleese (upper class) says, “I have got innate breeding, but I have not got any money”, while Ronnie Corbett (lower class) adds, “While I am poor, I am industrious, honest and trustworthy”.
While the wine business is adept at glugging money while you establish your vineyards and set up your wineries, if you manage to position your wines carefully on the market, and sell them through with gusto, you can create enviable profits. Ronnie Corbett’s bons mots are all you need to achieve this aim.
2017 Pinot Noir Early
Sixteen Ridges Vineyard, Worcestershire £16.00
While the other wines are made in the south of England I am going to pretend that Worcestershire is ‘Oop North’ for artistic purposes only. Tenuous to say the least, but taking on the ravishing Pinot noir grape (this time the Précoce mutation) in still wine form is a brave move and I would suggest that this wine has the grandest feel of the trio this week.
I saw a very early sample (a month after bottling) and so I imagine that when this column is published this wine would have mellowed further. It is a shimmering diva with haunting cherry stone fruit and an unmistakable emerald green spine which gives it epic freshness and verve. It is effortlessly classy and I am sure that it ought to be seen at the garden parties of Lords and Ladies up and down the land this summer.
In reality, at £16, we can all have a go, but I venture that in our haste to slake our thirst on this delicately balanced creation we might miss some nuance and poise, for which this grape is so renowned, so please give this delightful wine the respect it deserves.
Oxney ticks every single box there is and a few more that I am probably unaware of too. The entire portfolio of new releases this summer, is amazing and these wines are made with unmistakable care and attention. They are, prepare yourself for a much-maligned expression, definitive crowd-pleasers, in flavour terms, but there is serious detail here, too.
The use of the word Classic on the label hints at the blend – 45% Pinot noir, 47% Pinot meunier and 8% Chardonnay. This is a silky-smooth wine with obvious Blanc de Noirs tendencies. The nose alone is worth the entry price, but the creaminess on the palate would not only entrance a connoisseur, but it would also convert a wine novice to its cause in just one sip.
This warm welcome is seldom experienced in young English sparkling wine. Only the forensically detailed will spot the ‘left-hand’ wound muselet. I have never seen this in my three decades in the wine business and it clearly points to a hand-made product! Middle class, aspirational, stunningly designed and appealing to all, this wine could be so bland and centrist, but instead it is utterly thrilling.
NV English Sparkling Wine
NV English Sparkling WineBerry Bros. & Rudd, made by Hambledon, Hampshire £25.95 www.bbr.com
There is a high hurdle here, and this is that you have to walk into or speak to the poshest wine merchant in the land to be able to buy this wine. Of course, you could hide behind your laptop and order online but this would mean missing out on all of the fun!
The remnants of the class system are still in evidence at BBR and so they should be. This is not a warehouse on a trading estate (although they have one of those too) but the most historic wine merchants in the world, so brave up and get on with it.
You will find hundreds of affordable wines at Berry’s and the own label range is one of the strongest in the land, utilising the goodwill anda expertise of hosts of elite wineries. So, this wine is a veritable dichotomy in that it is sold by wine royalty but it is the easiest and most deliciously undemanding sparkler I can think of on the shelves today and I include all of the High Street in this statement. This is the benchmark, ‘everyman’ English fizz and it is perfectly priced and stunningly well-made. Even Berry Bros. & Rudd knows that John Cleese is right.