A Salute to English Mead and Wine

wine bottles

As the autumn weeks slowly pass us by, we are now on the verge of my favourite season, winter. This is not just because it’s the season the world celebrates a very special person’s birthday (mine…and it’s December 3rd), but also because it’s the season that everyone over indulges in delectable delicacies…or if you’re anything like my friends and family, you take up the beige diet.

In case you’re not aware of what the beige diet is, it’s basically just anything that’s void of any vitamins, iron, zinc and colour…pretty much void of everything good that you need to live. Pies, pasties, crisps, any breaded food. The list is endless. When it comes to drinks, it’s pretty much the same in every household across the UK. Baileys, Tia Maria, Guinness, Stella (vomit) and a few other spirits. As for the wines, well, some people get it right and some people get it all sorts of wrong.

In this piece, I’m going to open your eyes to some fantastic drinks that are 100% English. Not only are they 100% English, but most of them are bloody brilliant too. So pour away that open bottle of Blossom Hill that you’ve been drinking from for the past few days (you disgust me), get out a notepad and pen (or if you’re young and hip you can use your notes thingy on your iPhone) and take heed of what I have to say!

Last week, my lovely friends at Lyme Baye Winery (www.lymebaywinery.co.uk) sent me over a few samples of their new Mulled Christmas range and a few meads to sample. I was like a child in a sweet shop. The samples arrived and I was overjoyed! But this was too big a task to take on alone, so I roped in a few friends and decided to have an impromptu wine tasting session…as you do. I called up the guys from The Edge in Soho (www.edgesoho.co.uk) and asked if I could make use of one of their many floors to bring a few gays and taste a few wines. They were more than happy to oblige. The Edge is renowned for having hot guys drinking there, so it seemed like the most sensible option (plus because it meant we could stay on afterwards and party the rest of the night away. Win win).

So, what is mead?

Mead is thought to be the first alcoholic drink made, although the exact date of when it came to be is not exactly known, but the first evidence of production of mead dates back to 2000BC. Mead is produced by fermenting honey and water. That’s the basics. Now to the drinking!

We started off with the lighter of the drinks, Garden Mead. Being a mead, these are all pretty sweet, so if you’re not a fan of sweet drinks, these may not be for you. Garden Mead is very light and has a strong taste of honey and lighter notes of mint. One comment my friend Edward made was actually pretty good. “Even though it’s quite nice by itself, it needs food”. I happen to completely agree with him. This would be great served with lamb, I would even go as far as saying that this would be fantastic if reduced down and used as a glaze with rosemary.

We then moved on to the Tournament Mead. In my view, this is a fantastic drink, but it did have a mixed response. It’s a lot smoother than the garden mead and packs a lot more flavour. With hints of ginger, this screams out Christmas and digestif. The only argument it got was that it tasted of too much ginger…this was a comment made by 2 people who don’t like ginger, so it comes down more to personal taste rather than the drink itself. Another friend of mine, Paul founder of Outsavvy.com, really enjoyed this mead and suggested having it instead of port, which is exactly what I would suggest. It would even be delicious with Christmas pud.

After the meads, we moved on to Mulled Cider. If you’ve never had mulled cider before, go straight to Lyme Bay Mulled Cider; don’t even think about tasting any others. They will leave you disillusioned about mulled ciders. You get the lovely south western cider taste with gentle spices of nutmeg and cinnamon. This needs to be gently heated to really be able to appreciate the flavours. Some of the guys with me thought that it wasn’t spiced enough, which again comes down to personal taste. You can add extra spices to it, but be careful not to use ground spices as it leaves a nasty, powdery residue.

The last drink we tried from Lyme Bay Winery was the classic Mulled Wine. OH MY FROLICING GOD! Unanimously, we all agreed that this was just brilliant. It was light, low tannins, perfect amount of spices and you got a gentle citrus flavour of orange and lemon coming through. It was everything a mulled wine should be. It didn’t leave a furry layer on your teeth and it didn’t make you wince after a sip. It’s fair to say, Lyme Bay Winery know how to mull.

Since I was introducing my friends to the wonders of mead and the fineries of Lyme Bay, I wanted to take it one step further and get them to try some English wines too. The first one we started off with was the Bacchus Reserve 2011 from Chapel Down, Kent.

The Bacchus is a delicious wine. It has the same characteristics as a NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Passion fruit on the nose with tropical fruits and a tad of lychee. Dry and slightly acidic. A word that came up a lot in the tasting was “zesty”. This is one of my all time favourite wines and will really impress your friends at a dinner party…especially when you tell them that it’s an English wine! To check out their full range, go to www.chapeldown.com

Next we moved on to Nyetimber Sparkling Wine. Nyetimber has been going for just over 20 years and has one purpose, to produce a sparkling wine to rival those of Champagne. Unfortunately, the bottle we had came nowhere close to some of the Champagnes, maybe Moet and Tattinger, but that’s about it. Usually when I’ve had their sparkling, they’ve been fantastic, but this particular one wasn’t all that. It was lovely and dry, but no fizz, it literally fell flat. I’m not going to write it off, because I’ve had this sparkling wine before and it has been outstanding, but this time it was a little bit of a letdown. Do try their Blanc de Blancs though. That has never failed me. www.nyetimber.com

And finally, to the surprise of all of my friends, and I’m pretty sure to you too, Bolney Estate, Lychgate Red. Yes, you heard me, an English red! This is a very light red, so don’t expect anything amazingly full bodied. It has similarities to a “young Cotes de Bourgogne” as my friend Edward pointed out, and Edward knows his wines. It has a toffee crisp and praline nose; it’s quite a thin wine with soft tannins. All in all though, it’s pretty damn good. www.bolneywineestate.com

So there you have it. A selection of great drinks and wines from this glorious nation of ours. So before you try and get a little bit too poncy and opt for a Sancerre or Chianti, take a look at what our fantastic wineries have to offer and really treat yourself this winter.