In a sip
English sparkling wine
loves seafood, from fish and chips through to indulgent lobster and crab.
English white wines
love fish dishes, soft cheeses and can even tackle fragrant Asian dishes.
love a British roast dinner with all the trimmings, simple pasta dishes and picnic foods.
Drink where? Preferably a flower-filled meadow on a midsummer day while the sun is high in the sky. But your front room while rain spatters against the window panes will work wonderfully too.
Whether paired with spicy Asian dishes, elegant fish suppers or the big, brash flavours of barbecued meat, Steve Farrow discovers that English wine can match just about anything. . .
English wines and winemaking have come a long way just in the twenty-five years that I have known and tasted them. With increased investment in vineyards and wineries, more experienced winemakers and even, it must be said, better temperatures for grape growing thanks to global warming (!), English wine has now firmly earned its place on the world wine map.
In terms of grapes, we're now masters of the mostly Germanic varieties we first started growing in the 1950s, including müller-thurgau, huxelrebe, reichensteiner, scheurebe, seyval blanc and madeleine angevin.
But English soils often have similarities to those across the Channel in Champagne, and we're beginning to triumph with the famous bubbly's preferred grapes of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier too. So it seems fitting for me to begin my food and wine matching suggestions with our fine English fizz.
English sparkling wine
Our bubbly is made in the same way as Champagne and is an excellent food match. What with? Well, the short answer is seafood!
English sparkling wine's zesty, lively character cuts through the crunchy batter and flaky fish of a traditional fish and chips, the acidity and zingy bubbles are like drizzling lemon juice over smoked, oily fish like salmon or trout, and the fruit and bite will be a winning partner for a crab or lobster salad.
One dish that I can personally vouch for (although perhaps old-fashioned these days) is a glass of our very own Exhibition English Sparkling Wine with herring roes on toast. The gentle bready character of the wine melded with the hot, buttered toast, while the citrus cut of the acidity lifted every mouthful of the soft, floured and fried roes with their dusting of sea salt and white pepper.
Try: Exhibition English Sparkling Wine from Sussex
Beyond the bubblies, bacchus is probably the darling of the English wine scene. A cross between müller-thurgau and a sylvaner-riesling cross, it shares aroma and flavour characteristics with sauvignon blanc, and often shares food matches with this grape too.
This fragrant, acidic style is a match for many cheeses - think the fresh sharpness of goat's cheese, crumbly Lancashire and Wensleydale, as well as saltier cheeses like sheep's milk Berkeswell or Manchego. The grassy, nettley, elderflower character is a summer food dream, from a herby pea risotto to a seared salmon fillet with green veg like asparagus, mangetout or runner beans. Smoked salmon with a cucumber salad or gravadlax with a sweet, sharp mustard sauce will also cut the… well, mustard.
Try: Chapel Down Bacchus 2015 from Kent or Camel Valley Bacchus 2015 from Cornwall
Aromatic English blends
Many English whites are a skilful mix of some of the Germanic grapes I mentioned in the intro, and these gently floral and fruity wines make for excellent summer drinking, especially with light, aromatic foods. Try them with fragrant Eastern Asian dishes like Thai, Szechuan, Vietnamese - perhaps a sea bass fillet steamed with ginger, lemongrass, basil and garlic, or a good old Chinese takeaway.
Try: Three Choirs Payford Bridge from Three Choirs (Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire)
Alsace fans will be pleased to learn the great waves English winemakers are making with pinot blanc, creating crisp, fresh, non-aromatic but vivacious wines that match a range of seafood (see the suggestions for the bubbly above) and also the same cheeses mentioned in my bacchus recommendations.
The fruit and freshness can also cut through the richness of quiche Lorraine, mac and cheese or a fondue.
Try: Stopham Pinot Blanc from Sussex
Last but by no means least, our Three Choirs Rosé is a crisp, red-fruited winner that will happily stand with a roast chicken or pork dinner, a bowl of pasta in any tomato-based sauce and simply grilled lamb served juicily pink and scattered with rosemary. Rather like a light red, this rosé is also lovely with salmon steaks fresh from the pan or grill, and a couple of thick slices of ham, whether with chips or a major salad, will duet very melodically.
As English wine week unfolds I do hope you can give our home-grown wines a chance to shine with some of your spring dinner delights, or even just to sip as a palate awakener or to accompany the view as you look at your handiwork in a sun-blessed garden. They are just so fresh, vibrant and delicious - they really do deserve your attention.
Try: Three Choirs Rosé from Three Choirs (Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire)