Rathfinny Wine Estate

English Sparkling Wine

I think Peter Hall of our neighboring vineyard Breaky Bottom summed it up very nicely in Decanter magazine:

“What’s wrong (with the name) English Sparkling Wine?” as he goes on to say. “Lets call it what it is. In English. They are beautiful words. ‘Wine’ may be a common noun, but it has a long, reverberate historical trajectory: the polyvalent adjective ‘English’ has been yoked to it, with increasing success, for half a century of more; and ‘Sparkling’ is an exuberant and lustrous adjective in its own right, evoking not just celebratory wines but much else, including gemstones, witty conversation and the fine weather which follows rain.  To regard them as plain merely because they are not French is what the Australians call a ‘cultural cringe’.  We don’t need it.”

As Andrew Jefford the author of the piece also notes “the better English Sparkling Wine gets the more authoritative ‘English Sparkling Wine’ will begin to sound.”

My problem with “Britagne” as proposed by Coates and Seely is that it is a French name and as one of my friends said “it sounds like Brittany”, and the only good thing to come out Brittany are cauliflowers!

If we are to replace the name English Sparkling Wine, we need to find a name, which is better and English. Sadly the Australians have been trying to find a new name for their Sparkling wine for over twenty years and still not managed it.

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Albarino

We have the spent the last two weeks in Spain, sailing between Ibiza and Menorca. The weather has been wonderful and so has the wine and Sarah and I are convincing ourselves as we open yet another bottle, that we’re doing so in the interests of research.

We have been drinking a lot of mainly Spanish Rosé, which I must admit I rather like. But some of the wines are too sweet and they are also very high in alcohol. The Spanish have clearly identified a market as they seem very popular but the wine makers are adding too much sugar. It is not that they taste flabby, but they lack a crispness that a Grenache rosé from Provence would have. Taste them next to Aix, a very popular wine in the chiringuitos (beach bars) in Ibiza, this relative newcomer from Provence which has been taking the wine world by storm since winning it’s Gold medal in Paris in 2009, and many of the Spanish wines just taste too sweet. However, I would recommend Clan by Charcoal Las Animas, which is a great Spanish Rosé.

I’m sure most people have tasted Rioja, many of which I find too alcoholic and have over powering oaky flavours from spending too long in the barrel. If you are going to drink Rioja try the Crianza’s which are aged for a little less time than the Reserva and Grand Reserva and spend less time in oak.

One thing that many people don’t realise is that the Spanish make very good white wine. Verdejo is a very underrated grape used in the Rueda region just north of Madrid. They produce a wonderful crisp dry white wine with bags of apricot fruit flavours. I particularly liked the Pie Franco a Blanco Nieva, which is a great example of a Verdejo. The other wine I have fallen for is Albarino.

The history of this Albarino grape is rather uncertain. It is now grown extensively in Galicia, north west Spain, the bit above Portugal. Alba-Rinõ, which supposedly means white grapes from the Rhine (although none of my Spanish friends knew this(!), perhaps it’s a Galician word?), would indicate that the grape is possibly a derivative of a Riesling, and it certainly has the fruit to match a Riesling. It is believed that the grapes where brought to the area by monks from the Alsace region of now France.

Albarino is a wonderful wine. It is dry and crisp, with lovely apricot fruit flavours and great stone fruit aromas. It is subtle, not overpowering and I have found two that I highly recommend.Terras Gauda – is lots of apricots and subtle apple, it is crisp and dry and has great length, perfect with fish. The other Albarino I’d recommend is Grånbazån – this is my personal favourite, it has just has the most wonderful length. It goes on and on.

Both of these wines are relatively inexpensive costing less than €10 a bottle.

Now don’t let me put you off the Martin Codaz Albarino that you will find in Majestic or even Waitrose, but I get the feeling that the Spanish are leaving some of their best wines at home.

I’m off to supper now and I am looking forward to the “boquerones”, tiny fresh anchovies in oil and vinegar, just great with a glass of Albarino!

At Rathfinny, we are busy with planning applications for the new facilities needed to run the vineyard. We have submitted plans for an office as we are currently using Liz’s breakfast/dining room. We have also submitted plans to remodel one of the estate houses to accommodate Cameron and his family. We are finalising our plans for the winery and workers accommodation and later this year will submit plans for a house for us.

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What’s in a name?

Why can Cheddar cheese be made anywhere in the world but yet the name originated from Cheddar in Somerset where they stored their cheese in the caves in the famous Cheddar Gorge? Why is a pasty a Cornish pasty when it comes from Cornwall? Why does Stilton cheese have to come from three counties in the Midlands but can’t come from Stilton in Cambridgeshire? Why is sparkling wine from Champagne called Champagne but from the Loire a Crement? Because they have a PDO: Stilton and Champagne are products of a Protected Designated Origin. They are unique to that region and that has been established under EU law. So the Duchess of Cornwall can rightly comment that English Sparkling should be called Champagne “because it is as good as Champagne”, but we can’t call it Champagne, nor should we want to.

English Sparkling wine is a unique product, it has far more fruity characteristics than Champagne, it doesn’t rely on autolysis (the biscuity / yeasty characteristics given to the wine by aging it on the yeast lees in the bottle) to bring flavours into the wine, and English Sparkling Wine has those as well. It is not flabby like an Asti or sweet like much Sekt, it is not Cava, it’s English Sparkling Wine. However, recently a healthy debate has begun in both the trade and national press to do with a new name for English Sparkling Wine. As you can read in the news section on our website,http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/englishwine.htm

Producers’ opinions are split on a new name. We have spent the last few weeks meeting various English wine producers and I would say that opinions range from “English Sparkling Wine, says what it is so why change it”, to “we need a new name, let’s get on with it”. However, my own feeling is that neither of the names, Merret or Britagne, really cuts the mustard.

When you think of other classic wine regions they all conjure up images of what you are likely to get. Think of Bordeaux and you think of rich, oak aged, tannic red wine, Claret. If you think of Burgundy you think of thinner red wine made from Pinot Noir. In the New World if you offered someone a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc they would know what to expect, much like if I offered you a glass of Chianti from Tuscany.

So any new name has to relate to the region that the wine is coming from. It has to reflect what the French call Terroir, the unique characteristics of the area the wine comes from; it’s not just the soil but the climate, the way the wine is made, the grapes used.

The majority of English Sparkling Wine comes from the Downs, both North and South and some from the lower greensand bit in the middle. It is easy to define and describe the Downs. They are dominated by the rolling chalk hills to the north and south, and as Denbies pointed out they will be a major feature of the Olympics in 2012, as a cycle race will ride up and down Box Hill on the North Downs. Most of the top English Sparkling Wine comes from this area, the vines benefit from the same free draining chalky soils found in Champagne, and anyone who has visited the region will recall the lovely long summer days when the sun sets late into the evening.

With that image in mind it may be easy to come up with a name, which could represent the unique characteristics of our Terroir. It would be easy to define as a geographic region, it is boarded by the Thames to the north and the English Channel to the south and the chalk ridge runs into Hampshire to the west. It encompasses Kent, Sussex (West and East), Surrey and most of Hampshire. Let’s not make the same mistakes as Cheddar, or for that matter and more appropriately Coonawarra in southern Australia, and not define the region our wine comes from.

I would suggest we find a name and establish it as the new name that sets the sparkling wine from South East England apart from the rest of the England and the World. Is it the “Downs” or “Downlands”? All we need to do then is produce a set of guidelines, which will ensure that anyone who uses the name produces sparkling wine of a quality that justifies the name.

Answers on a postcard please…?

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