When Fuseblower was a young lad growing up in Kent his chief pursuits were fishing for perch and tench in the River Stour, watching the Cowdrey brothers demolish opposition bowlers at the St Lawrence County Cricket Ground, messing about in dinghies off Pegwell Bay, and doing his military training in Hougham Woods (ok so it was just the school cadet force – but I was in the Infantry Division and I was a Marksman with a rifle, even have the badge to attest to this prowess!). But he never once visited a Kentish vineyard let alone tasted an English Wine. In fact his viewpoint on English Wine was akin to the one Ronnie Barker espouses in the sitcom Porridge…“I’d like to warn you, gentlemen, that this (wine) should be sipped delicately like a fine liqueur. It shouldn’t be gulped down by the mugful. If you do that you will lose the flavour and the bouquet. You will also lose your power of speech”… Spin forward a few decades and Fuseblower v2.0 has visited several top flight English Sparkling Wine Estates and has become a proselytiser for still wines from English vineyards made with grapes grown in Kent.
This epiphany came when, as the passionate amateur, Fuseblower is today, I tried the wines made by Ruth & Charles Simpson near Canterbury at the Kentish wine estate that bears their name – Simpsons. They already make a storied wine (Domaine Saint Rose) in Languedoc-Roussillon and, on the evidence of their English wines, have honed these skills to perfection over the past 17 years. Incidentally, Canterbury, from times past, knows a thing or two about earthy, ripe and vinous affairs through the legacy of Geoffrey Chaucer’s eponymous Tales. Last week Ruth and Charles hosted a tasting in Soho, London, to introduce their range of 2018 vintage wines to neophytes and disciples alike
At first I worried something had gone wrong at the printers when I read through the list of still wines we were going to taste. Surely there had been an awful mix up and the word French had been erroneously substituted by the word English in some godawful autocorrect snaffle. English Pinot Noir, English Chardonnay, English Pinot Meunier. Seriously…?! Their print manager was going to be toast for this. Or maybe we tasters were about to appear on a ‘pranked’ tv show where Davina McCall or Dom Joly ambush us mid-gulp to reveal we weren’t, as we thought, tasting Savigny-lès-Beaune, Chablis or Côtes de Provence rosé after all but, quelle horreur, vin de Kent. Suckers!!!
But no, here we were, in a convivial group chatting away sociably with two of the most charming and eloquent advocates of English wine you’re ever likely to meet. In the company of, amongst others, the Secret Sommelier – aka Nick G Breeze, Emily Lambert (@emilysenglishwines), Roberson Wines and wine grandee Oz Clarke. The Simpsons’ vineyards occupy glorious positions on the sunny, sheltered slopes of the North Downs of Kent, protected from the whimsy of the English climate by ancient woodland and anchored in the iconic chalky soils so highly revered in the world of both still and sparkling wine. The wines we tried were:
- Chalklands Classic Cuvée – 2016
Made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, a traditional method English Sparkling Wine with apple, citrus and toasty, bready overtones. It has a bracing jolt of acidity and great length on the palate. What a start!
- Gravel Castle Chardonnay – 2018
This was almost an “I can’t believe it’s not Chablis” moment. With citrusy aromas, this un-oaked, pale gold Chardonnay is a very fruit forward, fresh and rich proto-Burgundian wine – perhaps not too surprising since the grapes come from Burgundy still wine clones. With no oak aging to get in the way of the fruit this stripped back style is kind of like Simpsons Unplugged and I was picking up positive vibes.
- Derringstone Pinot Meunier Blanc – 2018
100% Pinot Meunier white. Full disclosure, I’ve not had a whole lot of still Pinot Meunier so didn’t have huge expectations but, boy, was I about to be disabused of this ambivalence. It is a piercing wine of great purity with lovely red fruit aromas and lingers long on the palate. Pinot Meunier’s with the class of this Derringstone are lithe and elegant, like a vinous Stella Maxwell or Eva Green. Things were hotting up
- Railway Hill Rosé Pinot Noir – 2018
I’ve been tasting and quaffing quite a lot of rosé lately. First at the Berkmann Cellars tasting with some delicious examples from Apulia, then Ribero del Duero and earlier in the week Château Minuty the Côtes de Provence estate by the Saint-Tropez peninsula. The Simpson’s example put me most in mind of the Provençal rosé since it exhibits those delectable citrusy aromas of pomelo, lime and tart red berries, it is certainly very moreish and has enough mouth-watering acidity to keep you coming back for more. And more. And more!
- Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir – 2018
The pièce de résistance – Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir. Given its name I did almost wonder after my first sip whether, like Alice, I had disappeared down a rabbit hole but, in my case, emerged in the Côte de Nuits… This Pinot Noir is mind-bogglingly good and makes you completely rethink what English terroir is capable of. If I was Ruth or Charles I would sneakily pop this into a high profile blind Burgundy tasting and enjoy seeing the perplexion and bafflement this wine would cause. Trademark crushed redcurrant, blueberry, bilberry bouquet, fine integrated tannins, silky smooth on the palate. I’ll be astonished to find a better English Pinot Noir. A game changer for me
All the wines tasted are available from Roberson Wine www.robersonwine.com
*Thank you to Lindsey Marden at Roberson Wine, Rosamund Barton at R&R Drinkers and, of course, Ruth & Charles Simpson. ©Photos courtesy of Steve Miller