Welcoming an emerging trend in English wines.

This is the very first time in my life that I have recommended three wines that I don’t love. I really like them, but love is not yet in the air. This is because these wines are all, officially, too young to drink and this is, most definitely, a good thing. 

I am starting to spot a welcome and emerging trend in top-level English wines. Years ago, and I mean heading back to the dawn of time, English wines were all too young to drink for their entire lifetimes. They died with a massive, unripe, acid thunderbolt skewered through their spines. Then, in the ‘middle ages’, English wines started to soften. While yearning for some semblance of genuine ripeness and doing everything in their power to soften their searingly acid stances, wines often ended up sloppy and pulpy around the midriff, lacking refreshing tension and dynamism. 

Thank goodness the age of these jellyfish wines was brief, and so I am pleased to declare that we are now entering a balanced phase – one which I dearly hope continues forevermore. Acid is a wine’s friend, whether it’s sparkling, white, rosé, red or sweet. Firm acid is riveting when offset by ripe, layered fruit and we have no shortage of acidity in our great land, so we need to use it stylishly in our wines. 

While the greater wine world is warming up alarmingly, we are benefitting from riper grapes, while others are having to acid adjust like it is going out of style, so we must count our lucky stars. This acid trip that we have been on has seen a gradual softening of our wines and then a careful tightening up of those ambitious creations at the top of the ladder. 

I think that we should focus more on this vital ingredient in our wines, as it is their key to greatness. This is why I have chosen three wines which I guarantee you will soften and blossom over time as they relax their shoulders and feel more comfortable in their shoes. Every wine opposite is a star in the making, but right now they seem somewhat occluded, a touch conflicted or ever so slightly introverted.  

This is completely normal. It’s not like Raveneau’s new releases are mellow and relaxed in their youth. 2012 La Grande Dame looks like it needs several years in a mountaintop spa before it’s ready to meet its adoring fans. And Tollot-Beaut’s entire suite of 2018s will be reclining in their caves for a few years before they are prepared to grace the catwalk. These are all wines which celebrate their acid makeup. Acid is our friend, too, and we are learning how to use it like scintillating quicksilver as opposed to high voltage reflux.

2018 Litmus, Red Pinot 

This is winemaker John Worontschak’s most accomplished red work to date. 

Coming from the splendid 2018 vintage, this is a seriously plush Pinot and it benefits from 21 months of maturation in older French oak barriques. Not that this marks the wine at all, because the fruit is firm, assured and also acutely aware that there is plenty of time for it to do its thing when the moment arrives for the cork to be pulled (although I have to say I would love to see a screwcap here!). Tasting this wine in September, just four months after bottling, it seemed somewhat self-aware and reticent. This is to be expected, because the glorious acidity underpinning the flavour gives this wine an enviably dramatic stance. I cannot wait for this wine to gradually blossom because there is so much more to see. Perhaps this will take a year or so, and I hope that customers realise this because it would be a shame for thirsty buyers to chomp through 2018 Red Pinot this Christmas, with their turkey, when it deserves to meet 2022’s glorious grouse.

2019 Hoffmann & Rathbone, Bacchus

Goodness me, I nearly fell off my chair when I tasted this fabulously ostentatious wine. 

I wrote ‘Oliver Reed-style Bacchus’ in my notes, which is a first. H&R has the volume turned up to eleven here and I applaud the endeavour in this swaggering wine. Only 3,650 bottles were made of this single-vineyard beauty and it was fermented in, wait for it, large-format German oak barrels, Spanish chestnut barrels and an Italian terracotta egg with a 124-year-old yeast called Sleeping Beauty. I hear that a handful of pantomimes will be going ahead this year and I guarantee that this wine is more theatrical than any performance you will see in the theatres. The acid is spectacular and without it, this wine would be Jabba the Hutt, but with it, this is a prancing prince like no other. Given a year or two, this might be one of the most remarkable wines we have seen on our shores. Either way, I am confident that it will amaze all who fall under its spell.

2019 Simpsons,
Gravel Castle Chardonnay


There are two wines from the 2019 Simpsons line-up which took my breath away. 

Gravel Castle and Derrringstone Pinot Meunier are both seemingly assembled from a blend of 50% acidity and 50% grapes, and this gives them sensational tension and also jaw-dropping poise on the palate.  By all accounts, Gravel Castle is supposed to be a relatively forward-drinking wine, but please be careful because the Simpsons chalk terroir blesses their wines with extraordinary rigidity and keenness and there is no oak here to soften the crystalline edges. I often use the Chablis analogy when talking about low or no-oak Chardonnays and this wine is a dead ringer for the real thing. But I taste a lot of Chablis and much of it disappoints because the fruit is sub-standard, cheesy and lacklustre. Gravel Castle is pristine and the acidity here will drive this wine forwards for a good few years. I just hope someone has some stock left in 2022 or 2023 when I imagine this wine will eventually realise equilibrium.