About English Wines (and Spaghetti Carbonara)

Wine in England? Difficult to get and the one produced here not too good. I gave it a try: the Polgoon Vineyard in Cornwall was acceptable, the sparkling wine even good. Denbies Wine Estate close to London is to avoid – we had an interesting visit to this very fake vineyard with some fake wines – doggy grape juice (Riesling!) imported from Germany, fermented in the estate, but you cannot call this wine! No smell, no taste, awful. This is called the „British Wine“ and needs to be distinguished from English Wine that is grown and produced in England and Wales – so turn around if somebody offers you British Wine!

However, I gave the English Wines another chance with the English Wine tasting coming up. As a belated birthday present to Lars, I made an effort of writing wine notes to help my memory after the 10 wines we tasted. This tasting was organised by the Wine Society of the University College of London (UCL), so back into Uni to learn about wines. The regular tastings are well organised and this special English Wine tasting was led by Mike Hildesley, a very British, very gentleman, very knowledgeable former banker who is now the cellar master of the even more British „Wine Guild of the United Kingdom“. What do I mean by very British? Traditional clothes, special rituals, restricted access (check out here).

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We enjoyed this special wine tasting with Mike a lot – interesting, entertaining and dotted with British humour. We learned that wine was produced already for a very long time in the UK, however, there were only three good vineyards in 2000, when Mike and another Professor and wine-writer at UCL (Kathleen Burk) started to think about English Wines (today they list about 100). The best wines that we tasted this evening where, not very surprisingly, from these traditional vineyards – THE one to mention is the „Three Choirs Vineyards“. But to that later.

We started with sparkling wines, and Mike taught us that you need to open a bottle of champagne to make a sound like a „ladies fart“ (cork-smashing the ceiling is against Health and Safety regulations and not very British anyway). We tasted one of the winners of the sparkling wine competition this year in which some English wines nowadays beat the sparkling wine from the champagne – the most famous coming from the Nyetimber Vineyard. The sparkling wine we had was the `Nutty`Brut of Nutbourne Vineyards, a very pleasant blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Reichensteiner. Why is it that the sparkling wines are doing so well in Britain? Easy – to produce sparkling wine you use the unripe grapes and winemakers in the UK are allowed to add sugar…

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Another thing we learned from Mike is that the British liked their wines old; wines that taste like leather and the horse staple, rotten and cigar/cedar-like, or more sophisticated – like on old library. He explained that these wines made up for the very blunt and tasteless food that was served in England not long ago (overcooked vegetables, baked potatoes and very dead meat). As we are very lucky to live in a „fancy foodie time“ we experience (lucky us!) different food and different wines…!

We tried some of these old wines too, sherry like and quite interesting (one „Curious Grape Bacchus Reserve“ from 2002 – kept too long in the cellar but still quite good). Then there were some white still wines with too much sugar, too much oak and not much taste. My favourite though was the „Three Choirs Willow Brook blend“, fruity and medium dry with a lot of Muscat in the nose, some acidity and beautifully balanced – to drink on its own and indulge.

Interestingly and due to the similar climate, we recognized quite a lot of grape varieties used also in Baden Württemberg: Pinot Noir for Rosé, Dornfelder, Siegerrebe (cross of Muscat and Sauvignon), Müller-Thurgau and Bacchus (cross of Sylvaner and Riesling).

Although the winemakers started to make red wines in England about 15 years ago, no red wines here „to write home about“. And although the white wines are getting better, the quality compared to price is still much better elsewhere. So to today’s Spaghetti Carbonara we stick to wine „Made in Germany“ and drink a perfect bottle of Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling. Cheers!

Our favourite Spaghetti Carbonara

for 2 hungry people – never 4…

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  • 1 onion
  • 100g Speck (and I prefer smoked Speck)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150 ml dry white wine (we used the Riesling)
  • garlic (to taste or not)
  • 400 ml vegetable broth
  • 100 ml creme (single)
  • 3 egg yolks (small to medium)
  • 50 g or more Parmesan (depending how rich your Carbonara should be)
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. chop the onion and speck in small cubes. Fry in the olive oil on low heat (until onions are translucent). Add the wine and let simmer for 2 minutes. Add the broth (and garlic) and let simmer for another 10 min
  2. meanwhile cook your preferred pasta (we use fresh spaghetti)
  3. mix the egg yolks, creme and parmesan, season with some pepper
  4. add to the sauce at low heat and stir until it thickens (make sure not to boil it again as the egg would coagulate)
  5. add your pasta and enjoy!

Special plus: fry some dark mushrooms with some speck and pepper – adds some extra, lovely taste

Wine: Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett 2012 (Josef Schmitt, Mosel)