Madeleine is a lady who rewards being wooed
After all my jaunts around the country discovering English wines, it was back to tasting with friends at the Early Swirlers wine group in Guildford last week. Since our former prof, the eminent Michael Schmidt, returned to Germany, we’ve taken it in turns to educate and entertain one another with blind tastings.
I confess to having been a little nervous… It was a while since I had taken the floor and although one kind person had previously said “If there is anyone I trust to find a decent bottle of English wine, it’s you” there was still a feeling of pressure and wanting the wines to show well to share the delights of English wine.
On the assumption that I might get the hot seat again another day, I decided that we should go for a couple of classic English grapes to start with, beginning with Madeleine Angevine. There was no particular theme with the bottles selected, just a collection from my recent travels, which I expected to be quite different from one another and which were presented in random order as follows:
- Manstree 2010 Madeleine Angevine Old Vine from Devon (Manstree vineyard / made by Juliet White at Yearlstone) £9.50
- Astley Madeleine Angevine 2010 from Worcestershire (Grown by Jonty Daniels at Astley Vineyard / made at Three Choirs) £8.95
- Leventhorpe Madeleine Angevine 2010 from Yorkshire (Grown and made by George Bowden at Leventhorpe) £8.20
- Sharpham Estate Selection 2011 from Devon (Grown and made at Sharpham) £11.95
- Leventhorpe Madeleine Angevine Grower’s Reserve 2009 from Yorkshire (Grown and made by George Bowden at Leventhorpe) £9.00
- Stanlake Park Madeleine from Berkshire (Grown at Stanlake Park and made there by Vince Gower) £8.49
Note that those are all “cellar door” prices; you must expect to pay more in a shop.
I had remembered George telling me that his wine shouldn’t be served too cold and had also previously noticed it getting better over time and even thought of decanting, but didn’t. So all the wines were at the same temperature (cool, but not fridge-cold) and been open for about 15 minutes before beginning the tasting.
All were inspected and found to be pale and clear, with just a little variation and wines 2 and 4 slightly lighter in colour than the others (this process perhaps undertaken a little quicker than in Michael’s day, I confess).
We then went through all six with a standing nose and a swirl. The expected lemon zest, floral and apricot / white peach aromas were observed in wine 1 (Manstree), together with sherbet and lychee. Number 3 (Leventhorpe) was less lemony and minerality was noted. Number 6 showed lemon zest and with a bit of flinty minerality together with an orange flower / butterscotch note. Wines 2 and 4 were much more muted, exhibiting a little “cat’s pee” aroma – something I’d previously read in tasting notes on an American Madeleine. Wine no. 5 the Leventhope Grower’s Reserve had a hint of citrus, but also a slight chemical aroma and a feint honey / butterscotch / stewed apple and there was even some debate about whether it might be oxidised.
Then back round to the beginning again for an initial tasting. There was pronounced acidity on all of them, followed by a slight bitterness and a following warming that hadn’t been expected. My notes show mention of oiliness too, on wines 2 and 3. Purely for drinking alone, No. 6 the Stanlake Park Madeleine was considered “quaffable” with No. 4 the Sharpham coming across as more balanced than most of the others at this stage. They all cried out for food, though, and when Marcelle said “what these need is some smoked salmon”, I was both impressed with her acuity and also rather pleased as I had prepared brown bread triangles with smoked salmon which I then revealed and we went through the six again.
The wines were transformed. No. 1 the Manstree Old Vine was pronounced the perfect match for the smoked salmon – interesting as the first place I had come across their wines (the Mayval Dry, a Madeleine Seyval blend) was in a fish restaurant. After that round of tasting, more than half the group rated No. 4 the Sharpham Estate Selection as their favourite, with numbers 1 (Manstree) and 6 (Stanlake Park) also getting votes.
As time went on, over a couple of hours of talking and sipping, the Astley (No. 2) started showing its character and was pronounced versatile and working well with or without food. This wine had been consistently praised by those who had tried the Astley mixed case, so I wasn’t surprised to see it enjoyed, although I was a little surprised it took so long to come through. The Leventhorpe Wines (Nos. 3 & 5) started coming into their own, too, with the Grower’s Reserve coming up late on the outside (to mix a metaphor), while No. 6 from Stanlake Park in particular, faded away. By that time, however, we were definitely drinking the wines warmer than we would have liked.
There was some debate around the wines that rewarded a bit more patience and how this might be difficult in a restaurant and perhaps contribute to the poor reputation of some English wines. So is it the temperature, the effect of them having been opened or a bit of both that makes the difference? The leftover wines were taken home and reports from those late runners in particular suggested that they were drinking at least as well if not better the following day, which contributes to the air theory. So we’d learned a bit and the group definitely found the session interesting, but perhaps we raised as many questions as we solved.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Madeleine, the Sharpham Estate Selection is the first English wine I remember having; they manage to produce it pretty consistently year after year and I’ve often enjoyed the bright crispness of its grape, enhanced by being made in stainless steel tanks with no wood added. I’ve recently met another big fan of this grape in the shape of Linda Howard of Giffords Hall, while Piers Greenwood of New Hall told me he doesn’t let a drop of Madeleine pass his lips if he can help it. So that’s two knowledgeable respected people with diametrically opposite views, which just shows something of the passion Madeleine arouses.
Our tasting shows that as well as a simple like or dislike, there is also a lot in the way a wine made from Madeleine grapes is treated. I’ve resolved to (a) do a bit more investigation and (b) ask Santa for a wine thermometer. After that, another tasting I think and I’ve already started collecting some more wines which I think will be a real treat.
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