English Wine and Food Pairings
When I first started working in restaurants twelve years ago, English wine was more of a punchline than a wine list staple. There may have been a few great producers back then, but without the quantity and a competitive price the word struggled to get out. However, in the last decade there has been a significant growth in vineyards and the number of producers. In the last decade alone there has been a 50% increase in hectarage under vine, which is expected to double by 2020. The production of English sparkling and still wine is considered small at around five million bottles annually. However, it is set to double in the next five years. To put the size of the English wine production into perspective, Möet & Chandon's Dom Pérignon exceeds five million bottles alone each year, which is miniscule in comparison to the 300 million bottles the Champagne region as a whole produces on top of that.
The quality of English fizz has never been better. In the last 16 years, English sparkling wines have won nine trophies for Best International Sparkling Wine, and six trophies for Best Sparkling Rosé in global competitions. This has never been achieved by any other country. A lot of good restaurants are serving English fizz by the glass, as its natural high acidity and ripe fruit complexity make for the perfect aperitif. The light aromatic whites really come into their own when put up against tricky to pair foods such as English asparagus & artichokes.
Our cuisine far outdates our history of quality wine production, so for a lot of classic British dishes - Roast Beef & Yorkshire Puddings, Steak and Ale Pie and so on - our wines don't quite hold up. Being a cool climate, trying get enough ripeness in red grapes to produce a suitable amount of tannin has proven to be tricky. However, we have great local dishes that go hand in hand with some of the best still and sparkling wines from some of the most passionate winemakers in the word. For anything that seems too heavy for our reds, or excessively rich for our whites, there is always a vast choice of local ales and lagers to please any palate.
I have listed a few of my favourite food and wine pairings for you to experiment with during English wine month.
Wye Valley asparagus with soft poached hen's egg - Bacchus Fume, Furleigh Estate
This chlorophyll-driven green stick is a nightmare to pair wine with. Being very vegetal it can easily overpower and even alter the taste of many wines. Bacchus is an aromatic grape with fantastic ripe grapefruit on the palate that works in harmony with asparagus along with the barrel fermentation keeping it just rich enough to balance with the hen's egg.
Warm beetroot & goat's cheese salad - Three Choirs Ravens Hill 2015 (served slightly chilled)
This red is a blend of cool climate early ripening grapes that produce spiced fruit flavour which brings out the earthiness of the beetroot with high acid to cut through the goat's cheese. The chilled red is a great contrast with the warm beetroot especially if the dish is served with toasted nuts.
Braised Beef Shin & mash with light rosemary jus - Gusbourne Estate Pinot Noir
One of the best English still reds I have tasted, rich with raspberry and vanilla notes on the nose, with a just enough tannin to hold up to the tender braised beef, then spicy pepper with a rich round body carries the sauce with a refreshing palate cleansing finish.
Beer battered fish & Chips - Most English sparkling wine
There is nothing classier than a bag of fish and chips with a glass of bubbles. The natural high acidity in English sparkling wines cuts through the batter and the greasy chips wonderfully, and the fresh zesty notes balance the dish nicely. With the bubbles lifting the flavour of the delicate fish, this is a great combination and one we should be proud of.
Eton mess with English strawberries - Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV
This Demi sec has around 40g of residual sugar to balance with the sweet meringue. It has lovely lime and lemon zest on the nose, and refreshing acidity to battle all that creamy goodness. This wine is perfectly balanced and a very underrated style.