What do you think of when English wine is mentioned? Poorly made wines from unknown grape varieties that taste awful even in the best years? This may have been the case 15 years ago but a revolution has been taking place. One that not only has the attention of local wine lovers but globally.
The UK wine resurgence has been led by sparkling wines – the cooler climate being ideal for the grapes, providing just the right amount of acidity. I am not saying all the wine is good, but inferior examples are more of a rare occurrence these days.
Kent and Sussex in particular have risen to prominence with a multitude of French Champagne house buying up land and planting. Soon the cycle routes around the country lanes of both counties will be spectacular in summer. We may not have the chateaux of Bordeaux or colourful village of Piedmont, but we do have impressive period homes and oast houses interested by rows of vines which is always a pleasant sight.
The UK wine resurgence has been led by sparkling wines – the cooler climate being ideal for the grapes, providing just the right amount of acidity. These wines are standing on their own two feet and in blind tastings performing exceptionally well. Look back to the Paris tasting over 40 years ago in 1976 when Chateau Montana’s 1973 was put up against 4 top white Burgundies and 6 high end California wines. The French judges were convinced it was on of theirs and it rated the highest. How long before a UK winery wins Best Sparkling wine at a show? Of course, not all the wine is good, but inferior examples are more of a rare occurrence these days.
People who back an underdog with conviction, in a competitive market get my vote. I love their belief and to a certain extent, bravery. Harry Niazi has just done this his outstanding fish and chip restaurant in Herne Hill – Olleys Fish Experience. Established in 1987 it has an old world feel to it but with a warm welcome and interesting menu. Using sustainable fish extensively, you can feel the passion from the moment you enter. Fish and chips taken to another level. A level with consideration for the oceans, quality and provenance.
Alongside the varieties you might expect to find, there is also hake, salmon, plaice and lemon sole. All are available battered or steamed/grilled which is a lovely touch, especially for people like myself who are not huge batter fans. You might think a fish and chip restaurant would be devoid of vegetarian options but that is not the case here. Although I did not try it (but would love to) is Toms Mushroom & Spinach with Hazelnuts & White Truffle Oil Pie. Sounds delicious and I am trying to think in my mind which wine I would pair with that.
Carrying on with wine, logically it makes sense to choose English wines here, in both still and sparkling formats on so many levels. The acidity often found in English wines is perfect to cut through the batter and then complement the fish. They work hand in hand and Harry has curated a small, but well thought out collection. Of course, wine and food matching is hard and to be honest it really comes down to personal preference a lot of the time. If visiting, I would always ask the author of the list for their recommendation and go with that.
Out of the 8 combinations I tried, shown in the images below, my stand out wine of the evening was the Litmus White Pinot. It was sublime showing fine levels of complexity, flavour and enjoyment. The Litmus Elements also delivered with waxy lemons in abundance really working well with the Haddock.
The Bolney Pinot Noir was served chilled but I found some of the wines (limited) complexity was subdued. A few minutes in the glass though and it improved but I am not sure I would want to order it. Red wine in the UK is a tough ask. I can see where they where going with it, but felt it actually worked better with the salmon.
Herring is a very strong flavour so needed a wine to stand up to it (and its oil) which the Jenkyn Place Blanc de Noirs 2010 did well. It’s citrus notes intermingled with the fish perfectly. It was a very good match and lovely to taste a sparkling wine with some age. It will be interesting to visit these wines in another 5 years to see how they have developed (or not).
The Lyme Bay Shoreline caught my attention for its lemon overtones. I am not sure if I was being influenced in that by its pairing with Lemon Sole but it did work very well. Investigation when I got home discovered that it is a blend of Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner. Each was fermented separately with different yeast strains and then blended together resulting in a wine of elegance.
Overall, the pairing of UK wines with fish was a success. You need to accept that UK wines are never going to be inexpensive due to high production costs, but are worth the investment for enjoyment and patriotism.
This was the first time I had been to the restaurant and being just a couple of minutes away from Herne Hill tube station it was perfectly located for me to travel to from Kent. I am a firm believer that the staff pay as much of a role as the food and here they were superb.
Photos by Thomas Alexander