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Andrew Campbell: We may never be Grape Britain, but the UK does produce some excellent tipples

Britain's climate is ill-suited to grow many of the world's great wine-making grapes - but that hasn't stopped us excelling in sparkling wine

Andrew Campbell
Andrew Campbell

Britain's northerly location means it's ill-suited to growing many of the world's great wine-making grapes.

Our climate is at the far boundary of wine production but so are many parts of Germany which explains why with typical efficiency, German scientists have for many decades been experimenting with hybrid species that ripen more readily in cooler regions.

We're unlikely to ever become Grape Britain but southern England has so far excelled in sparkling wine with our better fizzes giving champagne a lesson at some of the world's top competitions. Many are made using the classic French varieties of chardonnay and pinot noir which, weather-wise, is made possible by the southern counties' relatively close proximity to champagne.

But in English Wine Week, which runs until June 2, I've decided to sample a few of our still wines – to see whether they too can cut the mustard like their sparkling trailblazers.

First I head to one of Britain's larger vineyards – Three Choirs, near Newent in Gloucestershire. The award-winning 75-acre estate, close to the Herefordshire border, was first planted 40 years ago and mainly produces white wines from hybrid grape varieties. It also has a top class restaurant on site and takes vineyard visits.

The Three Choirs Regalia 2011 is produced from a mix of “cold weather” hybrid grapes: Madeleine Angevine, Phoenix, Schonberger, Siegerrebe and Seyval Blanc. The result is well-balanced and enjoyable, with a floral elderflower and citrus nose and similar flavours.

It was produced through a collaboration between Three Choirs winemaker Martin Fowke, Asda wine selector Katie Thompson and the supermarket’s resident Master of Wine Phillippa Carr and first went on sale last summer.

While much less intense than high quality sauvignon blanc, torrontes or gewurztraminer, it does exhibit similar qualities and at £6.25 a bottle would make a credible and interesting alternative.

The Three Choirs Coleridge Hill 2011 is one of the estate's longer established blends – produced from a mix of Phoenix and Madeleine Angevine grapes. Phoenix was created by a German scientist in 1964 by crossing the already-crossed Bacchus variety with another hybrid in 1964.

Madeleine Angevine is a hybrid variety from France's Loire Valley and is well known as a cool climate grape. The result is a lemon and lime nose with similar crisp, dry flavours and some floral notes. It would stand comparison with some better known but less-flavoursome Italian whites. It is available from Waitrose online at £8.79 and from various independent vintners.

Chapel Down vineyard in Tenterden, Kent, is one of the UK's biggest producers and recently won a prestigious Decanter gold for its Blanc de Blancs 2007 fizz. They also make still wine including the Bacchus 2011 – made from a white grape variety created in Germany in 1933 and which at its best is often compared to sauvignon blanc.

Chapel Down's effort is very good - refined and well-made with an exuberant nose of citrus, nettles and fragrant tropical fruit. The refreshing taste includes flavours of grapefruit, lime, gooseberry, tropical fruit and a hint of minerals.

 This would hold its own against many sauvignons and is available at £10.50 a bottle from the Wine Society.

Finally to the award-winning Bolney Estate in Sussex who I praised lavishly recently for their sparkling rosé. They also produce an interesting and enjoyable sparkling red, made from 100% dornfelder grapes.

 Bolney Estate is one of the few English producers expanding its red grape vineyards and it's easy to see why with their Dark Harvest 2009 – available at Waitrose online for £9.49 a bottle.

 Made from the German-invented hybrid Dornfelder (20%) and the Czechoslovakian cross Rondo (80%), it has aromas of bramble and dark fruits with a touch of cream and spice. The dry flavour is dominated by plum, with a sprinkling of pepper, oak and bramble. Dornfelder has become Germany's second most planted red grape since they invented it in 1955.


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