English wines are all fizz and no finesse? Best think again. A British fish & chip shop, (where else) helps us discover a whole lot more.
How things change. Twenty years ago or so English wine wasn’t exactly a joke, but you could usually see wine writers suppressing a smirk when the subject came up.
They had a point of course, the fizzy wines were drinkable in an ironic kind of a way but you might as well have toasted the happy couple in Buckfast Abbey as raise a glass of British bubbles to their health.
Well that has all changed, British fizz is now very good indeed even taking top prizes in blind tastings against rivals around the world.
And the South East of England in particular has come on in leaps and bounds as a wine growing region, to the point that vineyards can be seen springing up all over the place.
Aside from the sparklers, though, British reds and whites have remained under the radar but if Brexit turns out as bad as some people hope, we may soon have no choice but to drink home-grown. Right now, British wines are a bit expensive though, owing to low yields and no tax breaks, unlike their European counterparts, but are they worth it?
Well, where better to check out what’s happening in the Brit Wine Scene than in a fish & chip shop and by tasting a range of wines against a range of fish dishes?
Olley’s Fish and Chips near Herne Hill Station has been around since 1987. Well known as being one of the best chippys in London, Olley’s also has a firm policy of sourcing their fish very well. They have Marine Stewardship Council accreditation and a 4.5 rating from fish2fork (the highest rating). This then is guilt-free fish at its finest.
Drawn from five counties, Kent, Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and Dorset, their nine-strong wine list has been chosen by Olley’s owner Harry Niazi to pair with nine of his fish suppers.
The wines are all lined up in ice buckets and in front of them are the freshly prepared dishes. So, without further ado, we dive in.
Ridgeview Fitzrovia Sparkling Rose from Sussex
Served with a prawn cocktail, for pink on pink effect, this Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier blend from the South Downs was served to Barack Obama, who some may remember was once President of the USA.
A nice fruity wine and the fizz helped clear the palate after the fatty prawns and their more-ish mayonnaise.
Chapel Down Brut N/V If I remember correctly, Chapel Down was, in the 1970s, one those drinks they sold in the corner shop to help tramps to get totally out of their heads for a little outlay. Now replaced by Eastern European Loony Lagers.
This is not however that kind of a drink. Chapel Down are now one of the South East’s biggest producers where, as we are always being told, the geology and climate are perfect. This is a blend of primarily Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc and is traditionally bottle-fermented.
A light yellow tint and hints of citrus make this a good wine to start a meal with. Here it was partnered with grilled herring on deep-fried bread. I can’t say whether this worked as herring, along with mackerel, is a fish I simply don’t like, it’s too’fishy’ for me.
I do like Hake though, it’s a fish the Spanish work miracles with and they don’t always fry it either, well they do mostly.
Olley’s batter their hake with gluten-free batter and the result is delicious, although it could have been drained of its oil a bit more.
Red wines remain difficult to make in the UK, we just don’t have the heat and sunshine, and so the results, as here from Bolney in Sussex and its sandstone soil, are a little thin and insipid. Or light-bodied, as it is preferable to say.
There is however some complexity in the wine and the lightness actually works well with the battered fish, however I cannot yet find it in my heart to buy UK red wine. Not at these prices, around £16, anyway
This though is another matter, a fresh wine with lovely citrus notes and a tingling acidity that is just perfect for fish.
Here it’s a battered Lemon sole that I pile high with Tartar Sauce because you can never have enough tartar sauce. Don’t argue, you just can’t.
This blend is Bacchus, Pinot Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner, and that last is perhaps the key to its excellence. Aside from Germany this grape is usually only seen in New Zealand.
Lyme Bay is in Dorset of course and it’s good to try a wine that’s not from the South East and its dominance. If this is what they can do down there in Steinland, then the South East has a challenge on its hands because, at £12.99, this wine is for my (hard to get out of me) money a great buy.
Ah haddock, the fish I have always preferred in the chippy. The Bacchus grape is becoming’the’ English grape. It’s very new in grape terms, reckoned to date from around 1930 and a combination of a Riesling-Silvaner cross with MÃƒÂ¼ller-Thurgau.
England’s climate seems to suit it even better than its native Germany and here it gets favourably compared to Sauvignon Blanc. I liked it a lot, but better was to come.Litmus Bacchus (Surrey)
This wine really shows what the God of Love can do. This is a barrel-aged blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Bacchus and is smooth drinking with a hint of peach and lick of beach pebble. This was again partnered with the battered haddock and for my mind it was a better match.
Litmus White Pinot Noir
You really wouldn’t know this was an English wine at all, so full and round, beautifully silky and rich with lots of layers of complexity.
It was a good choice for the battered salmon it was served with, although I’d have been happy to lose the batter as it was rather oily and with an oily fish there’s a danger of an Exxon Valdez situation occurring.
By now, what with the wine and the fish I was feeling a bit battered myself, so saying goodbye to Ollie’s ebullient owner, I went outside for a view of Brockwell Park and the short walk to the station. Brixton is about ten minutes away on the bus by the way.
Great wines overall, eye-openers some of them, and fab fish and chips. A treat for locals and well worth anyone dipping into their Oyster card and swimming over for.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rose n/v (Sussex) & Chapel Down Brut N/V (Kent)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Jenkyn Place Blanc de Noirs (Hants)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Bolney Pinot Noir (Sussex)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Lyme Bay Shoreline Bacchus blend (Dorset)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Chapel Down Bacchus (Kent) & Litmus Bacchus (Surrey)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Jenkyn Place Brut (Hants)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Litmus White Pinot Noir (Surrey)
Photos: Thomas Alexander