In anticipation of English Wine Week, which started this week and continues over the weekend, I thought my Argentinian friend Marcelo might relish a chance to see a bit of England's green and pleasant land.
In anticipation of English Wine Week, which started this week and continues over the weekend, I thought my Argentinian friend Marcelo might relish a chance to see a bit of England's green and pleasant land. He had never tasted an English wine, and since he had been cooped up for three days at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair in Docklands, what better way to experience the countryside than a good old English gastropub serving English wine.
After negotiating the village of Lamberhurst in Kent, we eventually found The Swan at The Vineyard which boasts an innovative menu and a selection of English wines by the glass. Customers seemed to be mainly families with small ones; children played merrily in the adventure playground. I had anticipated ice buckets and wine glasses clinking to the sound of "Greensleeves", so it was a bit of a surprise to see Sunday lunches being washed down with pints of beer and the odd bottle of Rioja.
Assuring me that customers did come for English wines, the barman handed me a wine list with pride of place reserved for five English white wines and a solitary red. One of the five, the 2001 Flint Dry, wasn't available, so we tried the 2002 Bacchus, the 2001 Aromatic, the 2002 Downland Oak and 2001 Pinot Blanc. "They are correct," said Marcelo. "They are very good. I like the Downland Oak because it's soft. The other whites have rather tart acidity but the aromas are good."
Ordering, Marcelo was told he couldn't have the salad as a starter because it was a salad and not a starter, so he asked if he could have his salad before the mains, which did the trick. The Thai crab cakes were mushy and came with a very un-Thai chutney. The battered hake spoke for itself, while minced fillet hamburger was duly pink as requested, but the 2000 Pinot Noir wasn't available. Marcelo was disappointed. "But isn't the vineyard just at the end of the car park?" "Yes," came the reply, "but it's not from here; it's from Tenterden." "Aren't Tenterden and Lamberhurst the same company?" "Yes, but we don't have the red." That was it - end of story.
A stroll through the vineyard, revealed that, lo, the nearby Vineyard Bistro had not just every wine on The Swan's list, but a full selection of the Curious Grape brand from the English Wines Group which comprises Lamberhurst, Tenterden and Chapel Down. Marcelo was keen to tackle the wine tasting. But when he asked if the wines had been opened today, he was told: "Some are and some aren't; we can't just open a new bottle every day." By way of compensation, the 2004 Bacchus was fresh, grapefruity and sauvignon-like, the Flint Dry refreshingly floral and grapey and the 2004 Tenterden Rosé showed crisp summer-pudding fruitiness.
So that was Lamberhurst. An average meal, and only four of the English wines we asked for were available, though they had them over the road at the Vineyard Bistro. No one seemed to have much of a clue about the wines at the Vineyard Shop, where only half of the wines were clean and fresh. This was hardly flying the St George flag in anticipation of English Wine Week. Despite the hiccups, Marcelo enjoyed every minute of the lunch, the walk and the wines. "I never imagined for a moment English wines could be so clean, fresh and fruity," he enthused. "Wait till I tell the folks back home." Me, I won't be holding my breath.
For more details of English Wine Week activities this weekend, see www.english-wine-week.co.uk