Braving the January night, ukvine editor James Graham took part in the second Extreme Grape vs Grain grudge match organised by London-based Winechap as it had a most English of themes. The score? English wine 18: English beer 16
It was a close run thing but in the end it was a narrow points win for English wine over English beer. It was a runaway win, however, for enjoyment, conviviality and an evening well spent in enjoying and discovering new vintages and brews.
The evening consisted of four rounds where a wine and a beer were matched. This was no po-faced tasting, however. Little of either drink was spat out, though spittoons were provided. Instead, it is fair to say that the evening was lubricated with the warring liquids as they were judged and the atmosphere was none the worse for that.
Both hosts gave spirited, knowledgeable and wittily partisan defences of each of their drinks at the start of each round. This allowed those unfamiliar with the drinks to know what to seek in the tasting, the background of the drink’s production and provide a pointer to its quality. The downstairs dining room was filled with enjoyment and a buzz of excited chatter, much connected with the drink. A delight was the ending of the session with everyone writing a haiku, and then standing to declaim their neighbour’s effort, often to great hilarity and mirth.
This evening was a template in how to introduce a reluctant and diffident English wine drinking population to the produce of the country. Many of the crowd were avowed beer drinkers who were curious and intrigued enough to come along and try some English wine.
The pairings were very successful, matching the artisan and boutique brewing now becoming very popular in England and some of the finest English wines across the sparkling, still white and red varieties. The four rounds were just right in length – fewer and the contest would have been irrelevant and more and the evening might have turned into something like hard work. Choosing four pairings meant eighth drinks tasted; enough for the evening to be a success.
The evening was a sell-out. This is a positive note for English wine and points to its growing popularity. The fact that those curious enough to try English wine were prepared to put their hands in their pockets is a compliment to the foresight of the Winechap and Draft House in holding this challenge.
As well as the drinks, the hosts laid on a first-class light dinner, chosen to show the drinks off to their best. Foot-long Pork Scratchings, olives, Cottage pie and late season pear and apple crumble.
The format is infinitely transferable to other parts of England. After all, there are few areas now that lack an artisan brew or substantial regional brewery whose products could not be put up against an English wine from that area.
The Winechap and Draft House are to be congratulated on hosting this event, which will boost English brews as much as English wines for those who attended. If this event became a regular occasion, this by itself could create a great momentum towards a greater demand and liking for English wine.
EXTREME GRAPE VS GRAIN 2
England: Love in a Cool Climate
Chapel Down Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2006 12.5%
A Curious Brew, Chapel Down 4.7%
Stopham Estate Pinot Gris 2010 11%
Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale, The Kernel Brewery 5.4%
Coates & Seely Rose NV 12%
Hoxton Stout, The Redchurch Brewery 6%
Chapel Down Union Red 2009 11.5%
Conqueror 1075, Windsor & Eton Brewery 7.4%