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English wine needs Saint George

Saint GeorgeIt would be really handy if rather than just celebrating the life, and death, of Saint George on April 23rd, we could actually still have him in full working order. He defeated one piece of unwelcome wildlife for us 1800 years ago and now Britain's wine and gardening enthusiasts need his help again to defeat a nasty Asian invader - harlequin ladybirds have been spotted in eastern-England.

Harlequin ladybirdUnlike its British dark-red counterpart, the Asian Harmonia axyridis is no friend of fruit-growers. When frightened or attacked it drops a noxious smelling liquid. If it happens to be standing on a bunch of grapes or perry pears at the time these pick up the ‘ladybird taint’.

The tainting chemicals – methoxypyrazines – smell of green peppers or roasted peanuts. Because of their potency, even a slight amount can potentially affect a wine or perry’s taste.

English winemakers should take heed from their American counterparts. Harlequin ‘ladybugs’ were introduced into vineyards as biological controls for aphids, but become so successful they now threaten the butterfly, lacewing and native ladybird population.

Harlequins are now so numerous they are being picked along with the grapes, enter the grape crusher and get mixed into the juice – resulting in poor quality wine. Ladybird taint is said to significantly lower a wine’s fruit and floral characteristics. The chemicals responsible may smell and taste awful but are not considered harmful to humans.

Luckily there are no reports, as yet, of the ladybird chemical getting into the English wine production chain. So it's still safe to sup a glass of chilled native fermented grape juice this Saint George's Day on Thursday.

PG Wine Tips

Unfortunately we don't make enough wine in this country to see economies of scale lower bottle prices. You'll find English wines will Cost a bit more, but taste great.

Bookers Dark HarvestBookers Vineyard Dark Harvest Red Wine, £9.99 direct from Bookers Vineyard

Trying to grow Cabernet Sauvignon red grapes in this country is a non-starter. We just don't get enough sunshine to ripen them properly. But grow the less demanding, and less classily-named, varieties of Dornfelder and Rondo and you can produce a pretty decent red wine. That's what Bookers Vineyard in Sussex have done and they've made it taste rather like a blackcurranty Merlot with a dash of English elderberry.

Sandyford Brut 2004 Sparkling, £15.19 WaitroseWineDirect

Essex once had a reputation for producing only white-skirted women and race-boy fellas. Now that's been superseded. One 2-acre vineyard in northern Essex turns out some rather elegant wines. Their sparkling white, made with a blend of Bacchus and Reichensteiner grapes, tastes lightly of gooseberries and melons. Very refreshing and a good match to chicken or pasta dishes.

Chapel Down BacchusChapel Down Bacchus, £10.99 direct from Chapel Down

Chapel Down vineyards in Kent have the ideal growing conditions for the Bacchus grape and they also know how to make it into some spiffing white wine. Tasting rather similar to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Bacchus is almost all gooseberry flavour but with the added English complexities of lemon balm, elderflower and peaches. The Kiwis don't produce anything quite as balanced as this.

 

grapesIf you want to have a go at growing your own English grapes then try Deacon's Nursery. A specialist supplier of fruit trees, bushes and vines. They're based on the Isle of Wight, but they'll arrange safe delivery to your back garden anywhere in the UK. Buy Bacchus, Rondo, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay (and many, many more) for £8.95 each. Fruit-loving gardeners beware, you'll emit that familiar cry 'I need more space' and then spend a lot of money as the range is just so fabulous.