Wine column: Europe's vignerons

Colin Burbidge from Lancashire Wine School writes about visiting Europe's vineyards.

In vineyards across Europe, the last few weeks have seen the start of the most frantic activity of the year. Europe’s vignerons, including our own English vineyards, are busy preparing to harvest grapes to create their very own individual wines. The harvest or ‘vintage’ is special in Europe. Changing weather patterns from year to year affect how the grapes ripen. Warm weather increases sugar levels, cooler weather increases the acidity in the grape. In France this is particularly noticeable, where weather conditions can change just as they do here in the UK. This contrasts considerably with the experience in some of the New World countries such as Australia, where any localised weather variations can be countered by the ability to draw in grapes from vineyards far and wide. In France it is the wine maker who has to work with the different elements in the grape to produce a quality wine. Sometimes adding sugar, sometimes increasing the temperature at which fermentation takes place so that it is finished more quickly. These are just some of the painstaking decisions being thought about as we approach this year’s early harvest. In England where the harvest may well be the earliest on record, winemakers are more pleased, where adding sugar is often required this year it may not be necessary. So next time you take a sip consider the complex work that goes into your glass of nectar, it may not seem so expensive after all. Look out for the English sparkling wines coming from this year’s harvest as companies like Denbies, Nyetimber and Chapel Down are predicting some fantastic wines, though you may have to wait until 2022 to taste them.I have just celebrated a ‘special’ birthday so enjoyed some special wines for the occasion. Marks and Spencer’s Delacourt Medium-dry Champagne was, as ever, a delight. Still crisp but with a hint of sweetness, it is just too moorish. The wine is made by Elisabeth Sarcelet, who was awarded the prestigious title of “Champagne Winemaker of the Year” for one of her vintage wines in 2016. The wine has a higher than average proportion of chardonnay and reserve (old) wine giving extra body and depth of flavour. A delicious champagne and one of my favourites with a not unreasonable price tag of £30.The Berry Box from Edgebaston Finlayson Family Vineyards in South Africa is another delight I enjoyed with my favourite peppered steak. Finlayson Family Vineyard is the great South African region of Stellenbosch. ‘The Berry Box’ label was created to produce a lie of fruit-forward wines. This one is a wonderful blend Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc so it’s not surprising that the flavours are a mix berry and fruit flavours, blackcurrant, raspberry, strawberry, mulberry and blackberry sweet spice flavours of anise and vanilla. A truly intense and delightful experience drinking this one, available from The Lancaster Wine Company at just over £10.I should mention I started my birthday celebrations with a rather delicious G&T made with Lytham Gin, but that’s another column.