A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations. Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year. My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:
Christmas lights in Mayfair
Christmas holiday decorations
Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour, enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.
Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation
Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.
Ceremony at St James’s Palace
Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century. Another favourite haunt, this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.
Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century
Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection
In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings. The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider. While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or, I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar: delicious. Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.
In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list, I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.
I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.
After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area, a post-jet lag treat seems in order. What better than a glass of champagne. I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites. A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.
This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure. The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference. We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts: characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing. A champagne that really stands on its own.
I am idly glancing at the Cyprus Mail newspaper one day earlier this year and come across an article about English sparkling wines. In a moment of quiet reflection, I realize that I am mainly writing about French, Canadian and Cyprus wines but not paying attention to what is happening with wines in my homeland! With United Kingdom wines now on my radar, I decide to look for an opportunity to try English and maybe Welsh wines on our next trip to the UK.
Such an opportunity presents itself this spring. A visit to a favourite place in London, The Royal Academy of Arts, established in 1768 and housed at Burlington House in Piccadilly, followed by lunch with a long time friend at their new restaurant, The Keeper’s House, provides the perfect occasion.
An example of exhibitions at the RA – Royal Academy of Arts, London
We each have a glass of Chapel Down white wine, a clear, shining white with good acidity and full of apple flavours as befits a wine from the great English apple growing area of South East England. This Pinot Blanc 2010 was a refreshing complement to our fish lunch.
Subsequent exploration of Chapel Down winery reveals that it is one of the top English wineries. It won several trophies in the annual wine industry 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition. This competition is organized by the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), and apparently is the only competition in the world judged entirely by Masters of Wine.
Chapel Down Winery – an English winery
The United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA) website is a mine of information. In reviewing it, I learn an important definition when considering wines from the United Kingdom.
“English or Welsh Wine is made from fresh grapes grown in England or Wales and produced in UK wineries. All of the UKVA members grow grapes to produce this type of wine.
British Wine, however, is not the same thing at all. It is the product of imported grapes or grape concentrate that is made into wine in Britain. “British” wines are not wines as defined by the EU which specifies that wine can only be the product of fermented freshly crushed grapes.” (UKVA website)
An important distinction to avoid making an unintentional wine faux pas when either buying or ordering UK wine.
But I digress.
Back to The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy. A conversation with an employee reveals an interesting twist to their menu preparation and wine and food selection. They not only design their menus to reflect the changing seasons but also in some small way to reflect the essence of Royal Academy exhibitions. Like most major art galleries, the Royal Academy restaurants take great pride in presenting good value food and wine selections.
The new seasonal menu is being developed and fine-tuned. Along with the seasonal change in food selections, comes a change in wine offerings which helps showcase different wineries.
The new wine selection includes two wines from Davenport Winery in East Sussex. The Davenport Horsmonden 2013, is a dry white made from a blend of 5 grape varieties. The wine notes indicate that there are nuances of lemon and nettles; I can’t wait to taste this!
The selection also includes the Davenport Limney Estate sparking wine produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois. Davenport is an organic winery and another prizewinner in the 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition with their sparking wine the first organic sparking wine to win a trophy.
Davenport Vineyards – an English winery
The next major Royal Academy exhibition runs from September 27 to December 14, 2014 and features the works of contemporary German artist, Anselm Kiefer who is an Honorary Royal Academician. Some say his art is rooted in his beginnings: the end of the Second World War and the start of the new era in which we are still living.
Regarded as a colossus of contemporary art, and “one of the most imaginative, original and serious artists alive” (RA Website/The Guardian), this exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer has all the hallmarks of an intriguing visit. A post-visit glass of quintessentially English wine will surely encourage a stimulating discussion.
So having had a brief introduction to English wines what about trying some Welsh wine I ask myself?
Our visit to the UK includes a brief visit to Wales and in particular to the wind swept beaches of the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.
The wine swept Rhoshilli Beach, Gower Peninsular, S. Wales
What better place to taste some Welsh wine! We do this at Fairyhill hotel and restaurant located in Reynoldston, Gower. A review in Moneyweek Magazine/The Guardian recently noted: “for foodies and wine lovers, delightfully informal Fairyhill is a Welsh institution”.
Fairyhill hotel nestled in the woods in the Gower Penninsular, S Wales
Fairyhill Hotel terrace garden
Fairyhill is famous for their deep-fried cockle canapés which are served in a small dish in the same way as one would serve peanuts. These are a favourite of mine not only because they are delicious but also because they remind me of my childhood visits to Wales. We enjoy the cockles as we decide on a wine to drink with dinner. To pursue the idea of sampling Welsh wines, we order a bottle of Rosé from Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth, a more recent winery whose grapes were first planted in 2006. A light (11% ALC/VOL) wine with strawberry overtones, this Rosé could be a summer sipping wine.
Ancre Hill Vineyard – Monmouth, Wales
Fine Wines Direct UK, who represent Ancre Hill Vineyard, describes the winery as follows:
“The Ancre Hill Estate, which is situated in Monmouth has a unique micro/meso climate, on average it gets a quarter of the rainfall of Cardiff and plenty of sunshine hours to ripen the grapes. With huge plans to farm Bio-dynamically and with plans to build a state of the art winery, this award winning Welsh vineyard continue to grow from strength to strength, with the first vintage of the Pinot Noir now available on allocation.”
As we finish our visit to the UK, I realize my window on English and Welsh wines has been opened by a couple of inches only. There is clearly much more to learn and appreciate to get the full view of this industry.
History indicates that vineyards were first established in Britain during the 300 years of Roman occupation. Organizations such as the Royal Academy of Arts, Fairyhill and others are providing wine lovers with the opportunity to taste contemporary English and Welsh wines. They are increasingly getting the recognition they deserve.
Royal Academy of Arts and the Keeper’s House Restaurant