Stephen Barrett Wine Review

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@BistrotWineMan, Stephen Barrett, takes a look at the history of UK wines

Being based firmly in the Westcountry I have had the privilege of reviewing the rise and rise of modern Westcountry Wines from the inset. ‘From small beginnings’, one might say which is probably right as the pioneers of English Wine industry in the 1960/70’s were certainly that.

We have to look back a few centuries before to discover the origins of wine in the English countryside, the first name on the team sheet was of course the Romans. ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’ barked John Cleese and the Pythons, mocking with a waggy finger? Building vineyards and cultivating wine in many parts of England and Wales was part of the overall plan. Hoping to emulate their home-country, it generally failed as our climate was too cold for serious grape-growing. So they probably reverted to Gaul (they owned it!) for better quality wines.

Grape growing for winemaking then went to sleep for a few hundred years until the middle-ages when another attempt was made and as the previous one, it too fell away until around the First World War.

Even this was thwarted somewhat with sugar (then needed) was destined for food produce and ‘cups of tea!’ 

Asleep again, until the 1960’s when erstwhile pioneer farmers planted tiny new vineyards in England and Wales.  

Wine was made sweeter than we are used to nowadays as the grapes planted were mainly of German origin, producing a sweeter style in good years. 

Winemaking was still in its infancy until the 1970’s when new pioneer winemakers’ such as Gillian Pearkes in Devon, Nigel Godden in Somerset and Margaret Gore-Browne in Wales ‘nailed their flags to the mast’ exclaiming ‘English and Welsh wines were here to stay’.

Fast forward a couple of decades to the 1990’s when around 400 vineyards had been planted and with better understanding of grapes varieties, winemaking technology and vineyard management the industry was at last on a firm foothold.

Better quality wines and styles, the occasional Sparkling wines were offered to competitions and some of them proudly winning a medal or two to great acclaim. 

Climate change became a buzz word in the early 2000’s which of course encouraged more land to be converted to grape-growing.

Grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were being planted in new regions, many never before used for vine growing. But, it seemed to work as the ‘pop’ of English Sparkling Wine was beginning to make inroads to quality wine markets. 

This rather staccato style of grape growing and winemaking had truly come of age with ‘new pioneers’ creating lovely wines many tasting of our unique hedgerow fruit and in some cases the minerality of the soils.

English still wines have also had a renaissance with beautifully crafted Whites, Roses and Reds now readily available in many UK outlets including Farm Shops, Delicatessens and country markets, independent Wine Merchants, Restaurants, Wine Bars and Supermarkets. In other words English and Welsh wines have become easily accessible, many being sold at their point of elaboration – the Winery.

Many UK wineries are splendid places to visit, some have tasting rooms, Cafes and Restaurants – others have accommodation and hold Wine Lunches and Suppers others with Wine Clubs and On-line sales. 

The larger ones host festivals with music and country crafts nestling side-by-side that are certainly on my radar when we can visit with safety.

Westcountry based wineries of note – many I shall be reporting on in future articles with up to date wine tasting notes and maybe seasonal dishes on offer …..starting with Cornwall.

Polgoon Vineyard in Penzance – Wines and Ciders, Vineyard Walk, Lunch and Tasting room.  This is the westernmost mainland winery in the UK.(There’s a vineyard on the Isles of Scilly) overlooks Penzance towards St Michaels Mount. Now in its 17th year John and Kim Coulson and their family run this award-winning winery (once a flower farm)that opens most of the year. With friendly tutored Vineyard Walks, a brilliant tasting room and shop it’s a great place to visit when on vacation in West Cornwall. Special sharing boards with wines to match is a feature that allows the taster to consider their wines carefully. For me the two stand-out wines at Polgoon are Bacchus for the whites and Sparkling Pinot Noir 2016 for their acclaimed Fizz!

A beautifully crafted Bacchus with a limited edition (of 1500) Artist Label commissioned from Anthony Garrett, an artist from the nearby Newlyn School of Art exclaims the stylish livery. Known as Art Bacchus 2017 it offers a true English style of wine with notes of grassy hedgerow fruit and a clean long zippy finish. Great with Cornish Seafood and just £19.95 per bottle.

Tasting the 2016 Sparkling Pinot Noir offers the taster an insight to how Champagne styled sparkling wines have developed in Cornwall. Lightly spiced with persistent bubbles over a red fruit heart! Just delicious and drinking beautifully. Versatile and moreish it’s just perfect for a family celebration @ £29.95 for 75cl. 

These and other excellently made wines are now available via their internet site. www.polgoon.com 

Happy wine hunting….. 

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Stephen Barrett is a Wine, Food and Travel Writer based in Plymouth. Stephen welcomes correspondence via his website www.stephenbarrett.com Or via Twitter and Instagram @bistrowineman   Facebook and LinkedIn as Stephen Barrett