29 Jun 2006

Walking In Dorking

YESTERDAY I went walking in Dorking in addition to a thorough tasting of wines produced at Denbies Estate. It's hard to imagine a time before this seriously substantial vineyard - it was only established in 1984. Situated in the rolling, verdant Surrey countryside, in a valley facing Boxhill, and on the same seam of chalk running through to Champagne, at 265 acres this is England's biggie, and also rather beautiful.

Since my last visit five years ago I was impressed by the marked improvements in the range, something partly down to more mature vines, but also the style of 'new world' winemaking undertaken by Marcus Sharp who is relatively new in his position, hence wines appear to have more parity with New Zealand than Germany, or (in jest) trodden monastic liquids...

I particularly enjoyed the Greenfields Cuvee 2003, a blend of hand-picked Champagne varieties. Elegant, a slight crab apple grip and eager citrus tone shine through [£16.99]. Marcus plans to release a sparkling pink later in the year, which I think will be an exciting move. The base wine is apparently very good.

Unusually for an English producer, the vineyard manages to hit that sadly magical price point of £4.99 with their signature Chalk Ridge providing quince, bitter lemon and with a long aftertaste. Very good all-round, apart from the shocking pink label designed to stand out on the shelves in Sainsburys.

The medium sweet Ortega 2004 was plump and reminiscent of 'Pago' white peach juice whilst the Bacchus 2004 had a delicate typically crushed nettle feel combined with a resemblance to passion flower and gooseberry more commonly associated with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; a screwcap might be a good idea to guarantee the preservation of this wine's witty exuberance [both £11.99].

The Rose Hill 2004, a blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder was tasty and similar to a black forest gateau [£6.99]. In terms of the reds, whilst I consider GB wine producers nominally mad to try to ripen red grapes enough to make a competent red, the Redlands 2004 was nice and good value, with a confected cherry/cherry tobacco aroma [£7.99]. The Yew Tree Pinot Noir 2003 was at £13.99 very good indeed, using new (Slovakian) oak maturation.

60p/c of the vineyard is mechanically harvested (the only such instance in the UK), there being only 12 permanent workers to tend all those vines. This is a privately owned business, not an English Heritage site, hence market forces dictated that some of the premium, sunniest slopes have been grubbed up because of the implausability of reaching them. Hopefully this will change as the pink sparkler wine becomes popular and market forces simulatenously dictate their reinstatement...

All in all a patriotic moment for English wine, Denbies being the figurehead for education into the industry in this country.