I really love the English wine industry. I find it both intriguing and charming and I never tire of hearing, normally with a note of surprise, how someone or other had a bottle of English fizz the other day and how delicious they thought it was. Because it is Sparkling Wine on which we are solidly building our reputation as a country that is able to produce a high quality product, capable of competing with the best that Champagne has to offer. One such producer is Nyetimber who have been making fizz for over 20 years. They are based in West Sussex near Pulborough, about 15 minutes away from where I grew up.
The reason that English fizz can be compared directly with Champagne is because it is made in exactly the same way; the same grapes are used – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – as are the same vinification techniques. Perhaps most importantly the exact same strain of chalk that runs through the soils of Champagne continues under the channel and through the vineyards of Kent and Sussex meaning the terroir can be almost replicated. You will no doubt have heard rumours of blind tastings where an English Sparkling Wine has beaten the best of what Champagne has to offer and fooled all the experts into thinking it was the real deal! Well it’s all true!
Nyetimber produces a Classic Cuvee, Blanc de Blancs, Rose and more recently a Demi-Sec. Interestingly each Classic Cuvee is made as a vintage wine rather than the more common non-vintage (NV) in Champagne. This is a brave move as although it means you can end up with an outstanding wine in a good year, it means there is nowhere to hide in a bad one. And there are plenty of bad years in the UK! In fact last year Nyetimber (and I believe they were alone in doing this) scrapped the entire vintage and publicly announced that they would not produce any wine from 2012. As I said, a brave move.
What sets Nyetimber apart is that they have pitched themselves at the luxury end of market. Having gone through a recent rebranding their products certainly look the part and have price tags to match. They, perhaps wisely, have chosen to compete with high end, well recognisable Champagne brands rather than trying to slip in as the cheaper offering. I will be very interested to see how this works out for them as sadly the vast number of Englishmen and women would rather spend their hard earned money on a Champagne they have heard of (which therefore must be good) rather than an arguably better quality English Sparkling Wine.
We had the pleasure of trying the Classic Cuvee 2005 and 2004, the Blanc de Blancs 2003 and 2007, the Rose 2009 and the Demi-Sec. As suspected the difference in vintage really shows – for me the Classic Cuvee 2005 was the best; it had a creamy nose with a lovely round body and without the overwhelming acidity you can sometimes find with English wine. The 2004 was much more citrusy and just not quite as good. Similarly the 2003 Blanc de Blancs was way better than the 2007 and had great fruit concentration and a very good length. Apparently it won ‘best Sparkling Wine in the world’ in 2009 which is quite an achievement. The Rose was pleasant enough with a nice body but lacked any real depth of flavour which was a shame as I have really liked this wine in the past. The Demi-Sec was popular with everyone; a nose of passion fruit and a lovely nutty sweetness that balanced well with the acidity.
Overall I though Nyetimber were very impressive and they are obviously running a very slick operation. I wish them well against the big guns in Champagne and look forward to many more years to come of an English Winery winning the best Sparkling Wine in the world.
I can’t seem to go to my local market in Herne Hill without spending about 50 million pounds. It really is just TOO GOOD. The fish man is always what gets me as it’s the only place I can get fresh fish locally that hasn’t been flown in from God knows where. Last weekend there were some particularly delicious looking hand-dived scallops which I couldn’t resist and by the time our conversation was over I’d walked away with a couple of lemon sole as well.
The best thing about the fish man (formally known as the Portland Scallop Company) is that he always suggests new ways to cook whatever it is you’re buying which is normally incredibly simple and incredibly delicious. So the below is all thanks to the fish man and his fantastic fishes.
This recipe only really works for scallops if you can find them in their shells as that’s what they cook in. Detach the scallops from their shells using a teaspoon. Add a small dollop of garlic butter to the shell and a mere sprinkling of cayenne pepper on top of the scallop. Grate some parmesan on top. Place under a hot grill and let them cook in their shells until the Parmesan bubbles – a matter of a few minutes. Serve the scallops in their shells.
The lemon sole was just as simple. Make several diagonal slices on the skin side of the sole. Season well and then place under a hot grill, tummy side first. Cook until golden brown (approx 4/5mins) and then remove from the grill and turn over. Smear a generous amount of garlic butter onto the skin side of the fish, making sure you work it well into the incisions. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish before returning it to the grill for another 4/5mins. This would work just as well on the barbecue and is just brilliantly easy. Serve with a salad or summer greens.
I popped into Vagabond this week and tried a couple of delicious whites – the Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver white Rioja and the Awatere River Pinot Gris from New Zealand.
The Rioja region in Spain is of course better known for its reds. Indeed the production of whites is pretty minimal in comparison. The grape variety is Viura (known as Macabeo elsewhere in Spain) and the traditional style of white Riojas would often be extremely heavily oaked with an almost oxidised aroma to it. The Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver has none of this; it is relatively restrained and paired back for a Rioja allowing its fresh fruit characteristics to shine through. The nose is lovely and creamy due to the 6 months spent in American oak; a very well-balanced wine. The suggested food match would be a crab lasagne or paella.
The Rioja was good but the Awatere River Pinot Gris was fantastic. Hailing from Marlborough in New Zealand it had a luscious, apricot nose with a hint of spice. The body was full, off dry with a wonderful intensity of flavour and a very good length. It also came with the most brilliant food match suggestion – pork fillet stuffed with apricot and spinach – which I have to say, sounds like it would go perfectly. So much so that I bought a bottle (not cheap at £13.95 but worth the money I thought) and will have to imagine up said dish some time soon.
Vagabond – I’ll let you know how it goes!!
I’ve been meaning to attempt this dish for quite a long time now and was really pleased by how well it turned out. This was inspired by one of the many delicious things we ate at The Shed a few months ago so I hope they won’t mind me pinching their idea. I actually used dry flageolet beans when I cooked this as that’s all I had but have put canned here as the dried ones took an AGE to cook.
I’m writing this 3 sets into the Wimbledon final so please forgive any spelling mistakes!
- hake – 2 good sized fillet slices
- 1 can of flageolet beans
- a couple of spicy Italian sausages or just good quality normal ones
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- juice of 1 lemon
- double cream
- 2 tbsp capers
- curly kale
Begin by cooking the crispy kale. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Toss the kale in some olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake it in the oven until crispy and just beginning to brown at the edges. This will only take 5-8mins.
Crush the fennel seeds using a pestle and mortar. Next take the sausage meat out of the skins. Heat a heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat and add a bit of olive oil; fry the sausage meat, breaking the meat down all the time with the back of a wooden spoon. As it begins to brown add the fennel seeds and stir in well. Continue to cook until the fat has rendered and the meat is like a coarse mince and has a lovely golden colour. Set aside.
Strain the flageolet beans in a sieve, empty into a saucepan and heat gently for a couple of minutes. Add enough double cream just to give it a bit of a sauce and then add a tbsp of capers and the lemon juice. Season to taste.
For the fish season well on each side of the fillet. Heat a generous knob of butter in a frying pan over a relatively high heat – I did this in the same pan I had just cooked the sausages in. Cook the hake skin side down, holding it down firmly for the first few seconds, for about 4 mins until the skin is golden brown and the fish starting to cook through. Turn it over and cook the other side – it will only need another minute or 2 on this side. Remove from the heat to rest for a minute.
To serve add the sausage meat to the beans and spoon onto warm plates. Place the fish on top and then arrange the kale around the outside.
I’m not normally one for surf and turf but this works brilliantly. There is a wonderful richness to this dish and the sausage meat and fennel seeds adds a bit of warmth and spice. As such you would need a wine with body and a bit of spice that can support these flavours. I would recommend an oaked Chardonnay for this. A decent Burgundy would be delicious but a southern French Chardonnay would do the job admirably well. If you go for a New World Chardonnay try to make sure there’s not too much tropical fruit on the palate as this will override the subtleness of the fish.
COME ON MURRAY!!