Monday, 1 July 2013

English bubbles!

Yesterday was my first wedding anniversary. Yay! To celebrate, my wife and I shared a bottle of fizz we bought on honeymoon and had saved specifically for this purpose. We honeymooned in the south of England, spending time in Devon and Cornwall, seeing the sites and generally relaxing. On the last day we visited the Sharpham estate vineyard. We'd heard very little about this particular vineyard, but it was reasonably close to where we were staying, on the southern side of Dartmoor national park. I'd read a little bit about English vineyards, and had come across the Holmfirth vineyard, just outside Manchester, and the Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall, among others. I'd never tried English wine before but was curious to see what the fuss was about. I'd read that English winemakers were making names for themselves, creating lovely wines in a distinctive English style. I'd also read that the sparkling wines of the south coast were capable of matching the standards of those from across the channel! So while at the Sharpham's vineyard, we bought some wines that we had tasted. One of which was their Sparkling Reserve NV. At the tasting, this wine stood out as something special, so was a good choice to keep for our anniversary. The Sharpham's Sparkling Reserve is apparently made using the same, old fashioned, methods employed in Champagne. It is a blend of 4 grape varieties, Pinot Noir being the majority, I think. It is aged on the lees, which are removed by freezing the top of the inverted bottle, where the lees collect. Unfortunately, I can't remember many more details, as it was a year ago I was told them, and I'd been tasting the wines! I do recall it being £25 though, a fiver cheaper than it is now.

Now, I'm not a big Champagne drinker. I have done, but only on special occasions really. I have also drunk Prosecco and Cava , but I'm not sure I'd know the difference between these at a blind tasting. I might be able to have a guess though, based on the size of the bubbles! I would, however, like to think I can pick out the characteristics of a sparkling wine, and I know what I like. This said, I am not an expert on sparkling wines (nor other wines for that matter) so I shall not try to act like one here. I can't really review the Sparkling reserve objectively or too critically. What I'm going to try and do instead, is to describe how this wine made me feel!

Yesterday was a lovely bright sunny day, and was warm and humid. We'd been for a walk with our dogs, early afternoon, and it was therefore time for a late lunch. We made a nice light salad, (as we were heading out for restaurant meal in the evening) accompanied by some tuna, cheese and bread. I was so excited to open the fizz. I'd moved it to the bottom of the wine cabinet a couple of days before, where, at it's lowest, the temperature is about 10 degrees C. I thought this to be a good temperature to serve a more complex sparkling wine, of the same ilk as Champagne. To open, as normal, I unwrapped the black foil and removed the cork cage. I noticed that the foil seemed thicker, more robust than other sparkling wines I've opened before. Maybe that's a sign of quality? I quite liked the Sharpham's logo, printed atop the cage, white on a black background. I am under the impression that the correct way to 'de-cork' the bottle, is to hold the cork and twist the bottle. I don't know if this is the right way, or the wrong way, but it worked! The pressure in the bottle was great, the cork actually would have come out on it's own, had I not controlled it. It made the delightfully satisfying 'pop' you expect from such a thing, and added to the excitement. There is always a rush of bubbles to the top of the bottle and a great mist that gathers in the neck. With nowhere else to go, the mist overflowed the glass lips of the bottle like a mini waterfall, or like fake movie smoke from a witch's cauldron. I poured the wine into our flutes, adorned with 'Mr' and 'Mrs', in italic font. No prizes for guessing that they were a wedding present. The bubbling foam that ensued quickly filled the glass, but was depleted almost as quickly, leaving behind a fizzing nectar-like liquid. It was a darker yellow, gold-like colour than I was expecting, but not as dark as maybe an aged Burgundian white wine. Having plunged my nose into the glass, my mouth started to salivate as the aromas reached me. There was also a noticeable increase in the sound coming from the glass. The fizzing, tiny bubbles bursting out from the surface, leaving little pin-pricks of texture on the tip of my nose. The nose of the wine was floral and sweet, with a little bit of fruit, maybe stone fruit with a little bit of apple. There was a gaseous texture coming from the carbon dioxide too. In the mouth, there was lovely, mouth-filling feeling of expanding gas. It makes the wine feel less like a liquid and more like something you could chew. It excites the tongue and adds to the experience. The wine was dry, with good complexity of fruit, without being too dry and sucking the life out of your palate. It had a great, refreshing level of citric acidity and a slight, light nuttiness, maybe almonds. The finish was short and sweet, in both character and flavour.  At this point, my partner and I looked at each other. We both had big grins on our faces, confirming that we were delighted with, not only the wine, but the situation in which we found ourselves at that moment. We'd saved this wine especially for this occasion, and we were not disappointed. Personally, I had a sense of achievement and satisfaction, that we had accomplished something we had set-out to do. For desert we had some strawberries from our garden, with cream. The wine complimented the strawberries even better than it did the salad. As I've heard before, the strawberries brought out the complexities of the fruit flavours in the wine. It really was delicious!

I'm going to stop there. Hopefully I've conveyed what this wine meant to me, not only in terms of smell and taste, but also emotionally. I believe a wine should speak to the drinker in both ways. Sometimes an individual wine can taste better when drunk under exceptional circumstances. It all adds to the experience. The wines of Sharpham vineyards, are great. They may not be to everyone's taste, as they do have their own style, especially the reds. The sparkling reserve however, was as good a bottle of fizz as I have tasted, and equal, if not better, than the few Champagnes I have to compare it against. Look them up online to buy some and try it. Even better than that, visit the vineyard and do a tasting. They make great cheeses too!

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