I write this piece in Starbucks in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, after attending a trade wine tasting. The reason I'm in Starbucks is because it is a known quantity to me. I know that I can get a drink that I will like, I know I can get a comfy seat and I know that there is free wi-fi. No matter how much we think we are adventurous, we humans like the familiar. I like Apple computer products, Mitsubishi UniBall disposable pens and Starbucks Chai Tea Lattes because I'm familiar with them and know what I'm going to get. This is why people tend to drink the same grape variety over and over again. They find something that they like and stick with it, scared to venture out of their comfort zone and try something different. That is all well and good if you are one of the established wine producing regions, as you have hooked the consumer with your Sauvignon Blanc or Syrah and all you have to do is keep producing the same wine. But what if you are are making wine in a country like Bulgaria, Japan or England - what do you do there?
After the tasting today, I can say yes. I tried a pair of wines from Stopham Estate that proves if you choose the correct grape and plant it in the right place, England can produce still wines that can compete on an international level. On south facing sandy soils in West Sussex, Simon Woodhead planted Alsatian varietals Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, alongside Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (both for sparkling wine) and Dornfelder. His wines are the first English wines made from international varietals that I have tasted and not had to factor in the country of origin.
The first wine I tasted was the 2010 Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc. It was bright, spritzy with a balance of fresh lemonade and lime on the nose. The palate was lovely and clean, a nice oily texture rather than the thin acidic body you can often get from English whites. There is a tartness on the finish, wonderful balance and a potential competitor for any similarly priced Alsatian Pinot Blanc. £14.99 90pts
The next wine, the 2010 Stopham Estate Pinot Gris, has been given positive reviews by Jancis Robinson and Jane MacQuitty, but I preferred the first wine. Having said that, it was a close thing! This wine had a soft, subtle vegetal hint, with floral aromas and a little crisp green apple. A fuller palate that is good, with gentle pithy flavours. A lovely wine. £14.99 89pts
These two international varieties would give the consumer a familiar grape variety that they often want, and be able to stand up to the same varietals from other countries. Add into the equation that they have now got national distribution through Liberty Wines, rather than being the cottage industry that so many other English producers insist on being, this producer has the potential to be one of the leading wineries in England. Mr Woodhead, you might not have been the first producer to make a good still wine in England, but you are the first to make it with grapes the rest of the world actually care about - good show sir!