Tuesday, November 30, 2021

English Sparklers for the Holidays!

The UK is home to the Masters of Wine Institute, the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and for a long time, it was known more from educating about wine appreciation and for consuming plenty of wine than from making wine. This was due, mostly to its northerly location, with most of the UK located at above 50º latitude north, it was extremely difficult to grow grapes and most importantly to get them to ripen in such a cool and marginal climate.


However, the English didn’t give up, and have tried making wines for some time, focusing at the beginning on early ripening varieties, mostly crossings/hybrids such as Bacchus and Seyval Blanc. Yet, most of the wine produced was not that great, and this is why for centuries the UK imported and consumed wines from all over the world, and was key for impulsing some of the most well known wine regions in the world, including Bordeaux, Port, Madeira or Sherry. This changed with global warming, all of the sudden, conditions were in place to make viticulture feasible, even in the English chilly to temperate climate. Since I’m a lover of cool climate wines that show zippy acidity, I decided to explore this a bit further. 

According to the Wines of Great Britain Institute (WINEGB), there are about 3,800 hectares of vineyards in the UK, so it's a tiny region, though planting is increasing, growing 194% in the last 10 years alone. About 164 wineries make wines, most of them sparkling (69% of the total wine production), some of these sparklers have received awards and praise from the press, who assures they could easily compete with the best of Champagnes. The remaining 31% are still wines. Most of these wines are sold domestically and only 8% is exported. The US is by far their favorite destination, which includes states such as CA, NY, TX and FL. 

Their favorite grapes are those suited for cool climates: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Bacchus (crossing of Silvaner, Riesling and Muller Thurgau) Seyval Blanc (French Hybrid) and Pinot Gris. 

Site selection is very important here, with 76% of all vineyards located in the South East of the Island, where it is warmer, sunnier and drier. Important districts are Sussex (East and West), Surrey and Kent (known also as the garden of England). All of them, located to the South of London, ½ to 2 hours away at most. Besides these, there are some vineyards in the South West (13%), in East Anglia (4%) and Wales (1%). We can see the list of regions clearly in the map below, courtesy of WINEGB.


Here, some of the best sparkling wines are produced, not only do they have the cool climate needed to keep acidity and elegance in bubbly production, but they also share the same type of soil as in Champagne, limestone chalky soils, rich in ancient marine fossils. Plus, low yields (good for fruit concentration), the average in the UK is 19 hl/ha, much lower than in Champagne (65 hl/ha). The minimum aging on lees is 9 months by law, though producers can age for longer as you will see in my recommended samples below. Of course, the longer the aging on its lees, the creamier the wine will be and the finer and more elegant the mousse.

In the early 2000s, these optimal conditions caught the attention of the French who started investing here, firms such as Pommery acquired land in Surrey and Tattinger in Kent. I’m sure, in the future, we will see more French houses investing in the UK, as they once did in California.

Stylistically, most of the English sparkling wines produced are vintage dated, yet some are non vintage and similarly to Champagne, English wineries make also Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), Rosé, as well as the typical champagne blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. British wineries use the Traditional method with second fermentation inside the bottle, and renamed it the “Great British Classic Method”.

Sparkling Recommended Producers: not every single winery imports to the US, and most sell their complete production domestically, hopefully, this will change soon.  Some of the most awarded producers (listed alphabetically) are: Chapel Down, Gusbourne, Hambledon, Harrow & Hope, Hattingley Valley, NyeTimber, Ridgeview and Winston State.

My recommendations include samples from two of these renown producers. Many thanks to Broadbent Wines and to Abck Corporation for these! My conclusion, after tasting them, is that English sparklers have the same quality and elegance of French Champagne and I look forward to see more brands in the US market.

Chapel Down Brut NV, $44.99

A blend of 48% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier and 

5% Pinot Blanc, sourced from Kent, Essex, East Sussex and Dorset counties. This wine was aged for 18 months on its lees. Simply delicious showing pear, and candy lemon notes with a smoky/ toasty finish.

Chapel Down Rosé NV,$54.99

100 % Pinot Noir grown in Kent, Sussex and Essex counties. It was aged for 18 months on its lees. Seductive bubbly offers strawberry, red currants and ginger notes and a touch of minerality.

Chapel Down Three Graces, NV $64.99

It's a blend of 60% Chardonnay with 31% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Meunier grapes sourced from Kent and Sussex counties. This wine

is usually aged for a minimum of 3 years on its lees. Outstanding and refined! It showcases grapefruit zest, baked apple and toasted almond notes and a layerful finish. The best of all 3 samples received from this producer.


Gusborne Brut Reserve 2016, $64.99

A blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 7% Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay. 

This wine was aged for a minimum of 36 months on its lees. Elegant and classy, it offers green apple and nectarine notes, very creamy on the finish.

Gusborne Brut Rosé Reserva 2015, $84.99

A blend of 52% Pinot Noir,32%, Pinot Meunier and 14% Chardonnay, 

this wine was aged for a minimum of 26 months on its lees. Extraordinary bubbly, invites you to keep drinking! Showing pomegranate, raspberry and red cherry notes. This was the first bottle I opened and it became my favorite.

Gusborne Blanc de Blancs 2016, $89.99

Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, and aged for a minimum of 

42 months on its lees. Complex and superb with delicious lemon preserve, hazelnut and briochy notes. Impressive!


So, isn't it time to think outside the box and try a different kind of sparkling this holiday season? Try these and you won't be disappointed! Happy Holidays to all of my readers! Cheers, Silvina

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Pairing Sherry with Food

Happy International Sherry Week!  And what a better way to pay homage to Sherry than by exploring how to pair the different styles with food. 

If you are a new reader visiting the blog for the first time, and you don’t know what Sherry is, I recommend you to brush up by reading my previous posts on Sherry


1) Manzanilla and Fino Sherries (biological aged Sherries) and 

2) Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX (oxidative aged Sherries). These two posts will help you understand, discover and enjoy these delicious fortified wines.

But first and the most important thing when matching Sherry is to be aware that Sherry is a very complex wine that has 307 molecular aromatic compounds (more than any other wine) and these aromatics are going to be key when choosing what foods to match with them.  In Spain, in Jerez, to be more precise, there’s a saying: 

“If it swims (fish/ seafood), match it with a Manzanilla or Fino”. Manzanilla and Fino are the lightest, more delicate styles of Sherry and are always dry. 

“If it flies (chicken/poultry), match it with an Amontillado”. Amontillados have aromatic notes of both aging processes: biological and oxidative. They can be dry or medium. 

And finally,“If it walks (pigs, cows, sheep) match it with an Oloroso”. Olorosos are aged only oxidatively, have bigger textures and are more flavorful. They are mostly dry, since when they are sweet they are called Cream Sherries. 

Traditionally, in Spain, Sherry is normally served with Tapas (appetizers at no extra cost). I still remember when I was there, when $1 Euro would buy me a serving of Manzanilla or Fino with potato chips and olives. Other Tapas also cost $1 Euro per serving; what a feast it was to try all these delicious appetizers (pinchos), cheeses, Potato tortilla matched with a different copita of Sherry! If you live in the tri-state area, I recommend you to visit Mercado Little Spain, the place to taste and buy some of the best tapas (as well as cheese, ham and olives) in the US.  

That said, Sherry can be served with so much more than Marcona almonds or Manchego cheese, the lightest styles for example; the Manzanilla and Fino sherries that naturally have notes of iodine, seaweed, saltiness, almonds and yeast extract in their aromatic profiles are a great match with all types of umami foods such as sushi (my favorite), poke, prawns, fried shrimps, calamari, fish and chips, cold soups like gazpacho, oysters and green salads. Match your Fino, either regular, en rama (which means with minimum fining or filtering) or Pasado, (which is slightly oxidized), with cured hams or other cured meats like Chorizo, all types of croquettes and turnovers (empanadillas), vinegary appetizers, especially olives, white anchovies and mini onions, grilled sardines, mojama (which is salted cured tuna), stuffed piquillo peppers, Mahi Mahi or flounder in garlic or butter sauce, grilled octopus and seafood Paella.  


Match your Amontillado and Palo Cortado that have notes of caramel, bruised apple, nuts and soy aromas with teriyaki dishes, including tuna, duck or pork, caramelized dishes such as onion or leek tarts, roasted pork, braised artichokes, sauteed or grilled mushrooms and onions, grilled fish such as tuna, barbecue ribs and matured hard cheeses. Amontillado Sherry can also be used to dress up sauces or soups, adding an extra wow to your recipe; I confess to often adding a touch of Amontillado to my pumpkin or carrot soups.  


Oloroso Sherries that show roasted walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup and toffee notes can match with bigger and more flavorful dishes such as pulled pork sandwiches, steaks (lamb, beef and duck) morcilla (black pudding), hearty stews like oxtails in tomato sauce, even roasted game like Thanksgiving Turkey! Amontillado or Oloroso Sherry will be a great pairing to your Thanksgiving feast, since its spiciness will match with all your sweet and savory side dishes. 

Always keep in mind that in the case of the Olorosos, that go through oxidative aging, the flavors of the wines will concentrate even further, during aging, making these wines even more intense, and it's their intensity that will allow a match with hearty/ big dishes.  


Now, if you are like me, (someone who drinks sweet Sherries in the winter) whether these are Cream, Medium Cream or Pale cream, besides drinking them on its own, you can pair them with foie gras or blue cheese for a classic sweet/ salty combination, and of course with all types of desserts including chocolate based cakes and cookies, cinnamon buns, pecan pies, walnut cakes, baklava (my favorite), sweet potato pie, etc.   

Sweet and floral Moscatel Sherries that have a delicious orange peel, honey and quince aromas will match very well with any orange/ citrus flavored cakes, pies, creamy fruit tarts, flan or crème brûlée. And finally PX, which is the most luscious sherry of all styles and thick as a syrup, showing prune, dates and chocolate notes, will be a good match to ice cream or on vanilla ice cream as they have it in Spain, dark bitter chocolate, tiramisu, sticky toffee pudding or churros (Spanish fritters). 

To better enjoy these wines serve them as follows:

Serve Manzanilla and Finos at the same temperature you would serve any white wine, or at 41º- 45º F. Pale cream (sweetened Fino) should be served at 44º- 48º F. Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso, can be served warmer, at 53º- 58º F. Consume Manzanilla and Fino within 3 to 4 days after opening. The oxidative sherries can last a bit longer, actually the more exposed to oxygen they are, the longer they can last, but no more than 2 weeks, keep them in the fridge or use a Repour stopper to keep it for longer.

My recommendations include 3 of my favorite sherries of all time, that you can find anywhere in the US!


Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, $16.99

Made from 100 % Palomino Fino grapes grown on Albariza soils, sourced from the Carrascal and Macharnudo vineyards. The wine undergoes its aging under flor in the Solera system for an average of 4 years. 

Elegant and dry Fino, showing blanched almonds and green olive notes. Nice bracing finish!

Williams & Humbert, Dry Sack Medium Sherry, $18.99

A blend of Palomino Fino and PX grapes, this wine was aged in the 

Solera system for 6 years. Seductive off-dry sherry, showing exotic roasted walnuts, cinnamon, golden raisin and toffee notes. Delish!

Lustau East India Solera Cream Sherry $27.99

A blend of Palomino Fino and PX grapes, this wine was aged in a Solera system for a minimum of 15 years. Sweet sherry showing molasses, rum raisin and chocolate notes, WOW! outstanding.


So, isn't it time you explore the world of Sherry? Cheers! Silvina

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