Quality of English Albariño stuns the Spanish

England’s first attempt at Albarino wine gets a stamp of approval in the country best known for growing the popular grape.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association took an English Albarino to Madrid to test Spanish wine experts in a blind tasting – the outcome surprised everyone.           

Chapel Down Winery in Kent are the only UK vineyard to have been brave enough to make a wine from 100% Albariño  – a grape associated with Galicia in northwest Spain.

Its 2014 vintage comes from England’s first Albariño vineyard in Sandhurst planted on clay. Thanks to an early spring that year, this small corner of Kent experienced similar weather to the Galician climate giving the Albariño grapes a longer time to ripen.

The fruit was pressed and 30% of it was fermented and matured in old French oak barrels while the remainder fermented in stainless steel vats. This was followed by 9 months maturing on the lees.

The result of this process is a wine that stunned the Spanish for its ‘full’, ‘rich’ and ‘artisanal’ qualities.

The two wines going up against each other were Chapel Down Albariño 2014 limited edition, which retails at £25 alongside a bottle of Paz de San Mauro 2016, Rias Baixas, Albariño from Galicia which sells in Spain for €13.40.

The top team of wine connoisseurs taking part in the blind tasting included Pau Roca, Secretary General at Federación Española del Vino (FEV),

James Blick founder of Spanish food and wine tour firm Devour Tours, Juan Manuel Bellver, Director of Lavinia specialist wine shop and restaurant and WSTA Chief Executive Miles Beale.

Pau was sceptical at first that the English could produce a decent Albariño and was confident it would be clear which one was the Spanish and which one the English.

Both Pau and Miles incorrectly identified the origins of the wines. Juan identified that the Spanish Albariño saying it was clearly a wine made on a larger scale and James also correctly assessed which wine came from which country – but admitted he was stunned that one of them came from the UK.

All the tasters came away impressed by the quality of the English wine.

Pau said:

“I am astounded. I really thought the English wine was the Spanish and the Spanish was the English. I was sceptical when I was asked to taste and English Albariño and would not have thought that the grape would adapt well to English climate but it is a very good wine. I liked both wines but the English one was rounded and full of flavour.”

James Blick who runs the Spanish food and wine tour company Devour Tours, said:

“The English Albariño took us all a little by surprise. It was tight, racy and well-balanced. A very good wine that at once reminded you of a white from Rías Baixas and yet clearly had its own thing going on. This rather informal Judgement of Madrid reconfirmed that the English have the know-how, determination and - most importantly - terroir, to make great wine.

Juan Manuel Bellver, Director of one of Spain’s leading specialist wine shops and restaurant Lavinia, said:

“The English Albariño is a very interesting wine. It is full on the nose and rich in the mouth. I am impressed with the artisanal style of the wine. The winemaker has taken time to create something which tastes good, he knows what he is doing.”

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

“Unlike my fellow tasters I had the advantage of knowing that in England we are very capable of making excellent quality wine, but even I didn’t expect it to taste better than an Albarino from Spain. In my opinion it packed more of a punch, which was why I thought the Spanish one was the English. I was delighted that my fellow tasters were equally impressed by the Chapel Down Albarino. It is yet another example of how English wine makers are proving their products can compete with top quality wines across the globe.”

Josh Donaghay-Spire, Chapel Down Head Winemaker, said:

To have had the opportunity to make England’s first Albariño was incredibly exciting, for it to then receive such a positive reception in its spiritual home is truly humbling and shows the potential of the great terroir we have here in Kent.”

English sparkling wine has been gaining international recognition over the past few years, leading to a trophy cabinet bursting with awards and attracting Champagne houses, such as Taittinger and Pommery, to invest in English vineyards.

There are over 500 Vineyards in England and Wales and around 150 wineries producing 5m bottles of wine a year.

In the last ten years the area of vines planted in the UK has more than doubled and is set to grow by a further 50% by 2020.

The UK is a valuable market for Spanish wine and is the second largest market by value and 4th largest by volume. Britain accounts for about 12% of the Spanish wine export market and 6% by volume.

This summer UK consumers drank over 23 million bottles of Spanish wine up 4% on last year, worth £165 million.  

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