The French connection has a profound effect on our nation’s wines, and it is something to be celebrated says Matthew Jukes.

A great many of us have a French connection. Mine is familial – a couple of grandparents, ages ago, make me a small percentage Gallic. 

Whether our connection is in our blood or not, we in the wine business probably know more about the classic wines, regions and great French estates than we do about wines from any other country. This knowledge seeps into our DNA and informs us about style, technique, terroir and patience. 

Sergio Verrillo, winemaker and co-owner of Blackbook Winery, learned his craft at Plumpton College, but it was his stints in France that shaped the kinds of wines he makes today from his urban winery in Battersea, London. 

Having worked at the stellar Burgundian estate Domaine de Montille in 2014, it is no surprise that he favours the kinds of barrels he used in this posting. “All of my barrels are Burgundian – the second-hand ones come from Sylvain Dussort and De Montille, among others, and the new oak casks come from four different Burgundian and Beaujolais coopers”. He continued: “All Blackbook wines use reduction as a positive character, particularly in Chardonnay, and all of our core wines are made using Burgundian clones”.

It is safe to say that Burgundy and the Jura form strong themes in defining Blackbook’s style, whether the wines are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or indeed any other grape variety. The texture, definition, shape and style of wines are themed around a winemaker’s palate, and this inspiration fashions the harvest into the finished wine. Therefore, it is inevitable that the French connection, whether on the surface or buried deep down, has a profound effect on our nation’s wines, and it is something to be celebrated. 

We cannot make French wines in England and Wales, nor do we want to, but we can borrow from this country’s rich history to improve our lot. 

This month, I have selected three wines (and a couple of bonus bottles) that draw on direct and indirect inspiration from over La Manche, and all are first-class. 

2014 Cottonworth, Blanc de Blancs

Cottonworth owner Hugh Liddell has nailed the Blanc de Blancs model with this exquisite, chalky, bone dry Chardonnay taken from his best plots of land. 

This is a wine that rearranges your senses with its dramatic stance on the palate and is truly reminiscent of the finest wines from over the Channel. 

Hugh knows the French scene well, making a couple of white wines in Burgundy. He has a ‘mini-Domaine’, farming four parcels (2/3ha) in Chassagne-Montrachet Les Lombardes and Saint-Aubin Les Perrières. 

Specialising in Chardonnay, he is also sniffing around for some Pinot to make more wines in a micro-winery next to his house in Saint-Aubin. With organic certification under his belt, this exciting venture is one to watch; if only he’d shove a few more cases in the boot of his car and bring them back to Blighty for us all to share!

2021 Simpsons, Gravel Castle Chardonnay, Kent, England
Approx. £18.00 

The Simpsons travelled down to the Languedoc two decades ago to take the reins at Domaine de Sainte Rose. Their dream was to layer ‘new world’ winemaking techniques over ‘old world’ terroir, and I am sure you will have tasted their successes. 

I have certainly been impressed with the wines, having written them up over the years, so when they brought their skills back to the UK, theirs was an estate to follow. Sure enough, the quality came quickly, and as every year passes, the bar is raised ever higher. 

I am a huge fan of Gravel Castle, the lees aged, stainless steel fermented, ‘English Chablis’ and so it doesn’t matter where this inspirational couple travels; the French Connection is strong. Your challenge is to find an unoaked French Chardy with as much flair as this one at £18. Best of British!

2021 Blackbook, The Mix-Up Vol 4, Mersea Island Vineyard

This perfectly blended white wine is sheer heaven. 

Made from Müller-Thurgau and Reichensteiner, Sergio has brought the precision and delicacy of an elite Alto Adige number here but with less overt weight and more freshness on the finish. 

Interestingly, the florals and hints of stone fruit here point my senses to the Rhône or Languedoc, such is the elegance and restraint coupled with the long, dry, controlled finish. 

Two other wines captured my attention, with 2019 Blackbook, GMF Seyval Blanc (£24.50) managing to summon up scintillating, frothy, silky-smooth fruit, again hinting at tropical notes but still bone dry. The English scene is crying out for this style of sparkler because it is ‘drink on release’. 

Also, 2021 Blackbook, Sea of Love Pinot Blanc (£19.50) is a stunningly perfumed, languid white with pear skin and oyster shell notes over a green apple core. Lovely, dreamy, layered and diaphanous, this is another example of couture winemaking.