A Titanic Murder Mystery & the best of English wine

Nov 4th, 2013 Jayne Pearce ,

Many people know far more about the sinking of the Titanic than that of the modest English wine industry. Admittedly, English wine does account for less than 1% of the UK domestic wine consumption [1]. While some English vineyards claim to export 10% of their wines, the 4 million bottles produced in 2010 is decidedly diminutive compared to the 7-8 million bottles produced in France - the world’s largest producer - each year. So what does the English wine industry have to do with the Titanic? As a school auction event hostess I decided to combine my partiality for WhoDunnit murder mysteries with some appropriately themed food and wine. An excellent downloadable Titanic Murder-Mystery game gave me the perfect opportunity to introduce the good people of California and their trained palate to the finer subtleties of English wine and some solid British comfort food. Click on the link: Menu Titanic for a breakdown of the food and wine consumed while on board our ill-fated journey.


To help us on our incriminating way, we started with a bottle of the highly regarded Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2007 ($40 equiv). Sparkling wine now accounts for 60% of all wine produced in England with still white and red/rose producing 30% and 10% respectively. Sparkling wine is a natural fit within the chalky southern soils of Sussex, creating a style not dissimilar to that of Champagne. It is hardly surprising that Chardonnay has the largest number of plantings with 21% of the total under vine, followed by Pinot Noir with 19% and Pinot Meunier further down the rankings with 4%. This plucky pinot has fewer plantings than the German and cooler climate preferring Bacchus, Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner - but more about these guys later. The Nyetimber met my expectations with a healthy mousse and some fresh lime, green apple and white floral on the nose followed by balanced citrus and subtle croissant and hazelnut on the palate. The goats cheese and caviar crunch worked well with the refreshing acidity and citrus.


With the next wine to fuel our accusations and suspicions we moved across from the Chalky climes of Sussex (see map of Southern England for a visual explanation) to the Herefordshire - Gloucestershire - Worcestershire border and the aptly named Three Choirs vineyard.  This hundred acres of rolling terrain boasts one of the largest single estate vineyards in England and the Midsummer Hill 2012 ($12 equiv) was an opportunity to try the one and only 2012 vintage in this tasting. The 2012 vintage was thwart with poor weather throughout the growing season and at harvest to the point Nyetimber had to abandon its entire harvest. With low yields and only 1 million bottles produced , the 2012 vintage is hard to come by. The Midsummer white is a blend of three cool climate German grape varieties, namely Phoenix, Muller-Thurgau and Reichensteiner where the acidity predominates but is not overly excessive. I paired it with quintessentially British battered cod and asparagus with jacketed tartare mash for extra effect. No doubt the food overwhelmed this delicate aperitif of a wine which is probably why your average fish & chip eating Brit washes down this fare with beer, lager and the like.


Our third English achievement of the evening was easily washed down as suspicions started to mount up over the murder of the First Office of the Titanic. The white Stone Brook 2011 ($11 approx) again from Three Choirs delivered a rather different experience of aromatic lychee and a long ripe finish. The fuller body with tropical notes worked very well with the creamy-curry spice of the Coronation chicken and rice on a crispy lettuce boat.

Red grapes play a relatively small part (10%) in the English vineyard particularly in a non- sparkling single variety allocation. In cool, wet years such as the 2012 reds were prone to grey rot or diluted fruit resulting in heavily reduced yields. The 2011 Litmus Pinot Noir from Denbies back over in Sussex ($38) is an example of what English wine producers can create in a moderately good year. This particular pinot did bear a lot of resemblance to a German Spätburgunder with a lighter body of plums and raspberries and a little lavender. On its own this was a very good wine with good length. However, the matched Shepherd’s Pie was too rich a flavor for this slightly delicate pinot to handle on its own. The food would have been better suited to a heftier Southern French Syrah or similar.  That said, the Litmus would probably have handled a roast duck easily as well as various vegetarian pasta.


Staying in Sussex whilst simultaneously full steaming ahead towards ice, the next red was the Bolney Estate Lynchgate 2009 ($20 equiv). Two red grapes by the name of Dornfelder and Rondo were responsible for the plum and berry fruits and soft tannins as well as a slight vegetal earthy note suggestive of unclean mustiness. Whether it was faulty or not, the result was not altogether pleasant so I gave this one a miss - but continued to tuck into my roast beef in Yorkshire pud minis.

I really wanted to serve a late harvest with my strawberry shortbread but anything remotely suggestive of noble rot was hard to come. I then broke with wine order tradition and settled for a Sharpham Rose 2011 down in the county of Devon. The slight residual sweetness of this Rose balanced nicely with the acidic sweetness of the wine - but not the bitter truth of murder and motive (duh duh duhhhh!).

We wrapped up the dramatic events with a fine selection of British cheese and something Brits do best - consume port. I chose a bottle of Taylor Fladgate 10 Year old Tawny ($30) as a guest appearance from Portugal to finish off a fun evening of English finery momentarily stuck in the Edwardian period. I encourage anyone who reads this post to try these wines or other English equivalents for yourself, especially those 60% of English production sparklers. (Source of stats: English Wine Producers and French wine stats in Wikipedia.)

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