A few months ago, during this long summer spring and summer of isolation brought about by Covid-19, I watched a number of Instagram Live chats about the burgeoning wine developments coming from the Principality of Wales.
Yes, Wine from Wales!
I will confess to having a limited knowledge of the Wine Industry in England, and now Wales, having returned home from England twenty years ago, when the wine industry was still in its infancy, only really having a vague idea that there was some very nice sparkling wines starting to come out of the south-east of England, although none had passed my lips. I recall back in the 70’s, working in Victoria Wine as a student, that we stocked some sparkling wines, Concorde , that were classed as British Wines. They were the cheapest on the shelves, and although I never tasted them, my understanding was that they were pretty average to say the least. (The term British Wine generally refers to wines made from imported fruit concentrate, are generally sweet, and basic quality.)
I came across this advert for them….
We have moved on a long way from those days, and today, English Wines are making inroads in the Global Market Place, albeit in a small way so far, due to the limited volume being produced. However, the quality of the wines being produced in England has certainly caught the eye of wine judges in International Competitions, and today, English Sparkling Wines are routinely compared with French Champagne, with more to come.
So much so, that Oz Clarke, a long time champion of the developing English Scene has released his recent book, titled English Wine, with a note apologising to the Welsh for not adding them to the title, and hoping they would forgive him for not writing English & Welsh Wine every time… We shall see if they forgive him. The book itself is a masterpiece of writing, if you haven’t read Oz’s writing before, I highly recommend his way with words, and his many books on our favourite subject. The tome is a tour de force around England and Wales, and his prose makes it hard to put down.
All this leads me back to Wales, and my new found interest in an absolutely New World Area, although there were wines produced at Castle Coch in the Vale of Glamorgan up to the beginning of the last century, around 1920, when the vines were pulled, and there was to be another 30 plus years before commercial vineyards were to start appearing again, anywhere within the British Isles.
The Instagram Live Chats I watched seem to feature a certain individual, who is absolutely passionate about Welsh Wine, Robb Merchant. His story is well told by Oz in his book, suffice to say he didn’t come to wine through family inheritance, in fact, after buying a small farm, it was his wife, Nicola who had the dream, and together they have developed White Castle Vineyard, in Abergavenney, Monmouthshire, and I was intrigued. They produce a range of wines, from sparkling, through to the reds of Rondo, Regent and Pinot Noir Précoce (early ripening Pinot), and a white from Siegerrebe, and I couldn’t resist placing an order for some, directly from Robb at the farm.
I was able to get hold of the Pinot Noir Précoce 2018, and the Regent 2017 from White Castle, but as yet I haven’t had an opportunity to taste them. I have, however, had the pleasure of exploring a totally new grape to me, their 2018 Siegerebbe.
Siegerrebe is a white wine grape, created in Germany in 1929, by crossing Madeleine Angevine and Gewurztraminer, and is mainly found in its native country, along with small plantings in Canada, as well as England and Wales. Obviously it is a lover of cool climate, budding late, but ripening early, and it may have found its home in the Welsh countryide.
I found the wine to be light straw in colour, and it had sweet aromas of fruit emanating on the nose, with peach and orange overlaying a somewhat floral aspect at first. I was expecting low acidity, but felt that the sharpness was still there to enrich the texture, and maybe there were hints of spice on the finish, but it was the light summer stone fruits that were prevalent on the palate, maybe some pink grapefruit too, and these remained on the finish, with the flavours to be savoured as I finished my first glass.
All in all, a very enjoyable wine, paired well, with a Thai Curry, as you would expect from a relative of Gewurztraminer, and I believe it would go well with any light spiced dish, or white meat salad. A summer drink, chilled it would go well sat out on a warm day, as a substitute for Rosé, with a handful of nuts, or as an aperitif before dinner as we head into the autumnal days in September. I look forward to sampling the sibling reds that Robb produces in the days ahead.
I was also able to get hold of some other Welsh Wines from Montgomery Vineyard, in Cefn-Y-Coed, their Rondo, Pinot Noir, and a Bacchus/Solaris blend, and I have those to look forward to in due course. There are a number of other small beacons on the Welsh Wine Industry, and while the scale may be small to date, the future is definitely bright, and book titles may have to change to incorporate the “New” New World Wines of Wales before too long.