Peter Ranscombe catches up with Sergio and Lynsey Verrillo from Blackbook winery in London to celebrate the start of English Wine Week.
LET me begin with a confession – I’m not a huge fan of bacchus.
At its worst, the German grape variety offers high acidity and under-ripe green aromas of nettles, damp hedgerows and cat pee.
Yet Sergio Verrillo may have just made a bacchus that could change my mind.
The American winemaker at the Blacbook winery in Battersea used grapes from Forty Hall, an organic vineyard that’s also in London, and created the first wine to be grown and made in the city since Roman times.
And the result is enough to make me think again about one of my bogey grapes – on the nose, it’s got attractive aromas of white flowers, apricot and melon, which then lead into a much more savoury palate featuring lemon, grapefruit and apricot to balance its acidity.
The key to the success of the 2018 Blackbook Tamesis Bacchus (£19, blackbookwinery.com) is down to all of last summer’s sunshine, which helped the grapes to ripen, and the organic techniques used at Forty Hall, which always make fruit taste brighter and more defined to me – along with Sergio’s skills in the winery.
His 2018 Blackbook The Mix-up Bacchus Ortega (£17.50) again uses bacchus but this time from the Redhill Farm Estate in Kent, just 35 miles from the winery, and blends it in equal proportions with ortega, another crossing created for Germany’s cool climate.
Redhill Farm’s bacchus brings back those nettle and hedgerow notes on the nose, but for me they were nicely balanced out by some savoury notes from the ortega, centred around orange peel.
This is Blackbook’s experimental bottle for the year – following in the footsteps of last season’s GMF sparkling blend – and it’s much more of a foody wine, with crisp acidity balanced by lemon rind, orange peel and some subtle herby notes.
Everything’s coming up rosés
Sitting in the Edinburgh sunshine tasting the wines with Sergio and Lynsey, his wife, who hails from Aberdeenshire, it was his 2018 Blackbook I’d Rather Be A Rebel Pinot Noir Rosé (£17.50) that stole for the show for me.
Last year’s rosé – which was made with a clone of pinot noir that originated in Burgundy in France and was grown at the Clayhill vineyard in Essex – sold out and I can easily see this year’s incarnation following in its footsteps thanks to its concentrated cranberry, redcurrant and strawberry jam flavours and its long finish.
It’s full of fresh acidity, but everything’s in balance.
In a departure from last year’s pink, the fruit comes from the Crouch Valley vineyard, next door to Clayhill and farmed by the same family, and is from a German clone of pinot noir, which delivers a deeper flavour.
English Wine Week
Since visiting the Blackbook winery under the railway arches in Battersea last year, it’s been a privilege to follow Sergio and Lynsey’s story and to see how their wines are growing in popularity in Lynsey’s native Scotland.
Smith & Gertrude, the awesome wine bar in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, is celebrating English Wine Week – which kicks off today – by serving flights of Blackbook’s wines to accompany cheese.
Look out for Sergio’s wines in bottles shops including Cask & Cork in Edinburgh, Valhalla’s Goat in Glasgow and St Andrews Wine Company in Fife too.
With a line up of wines like these – alongside its core pinot noir and chardonnay – I think Blackbook will soon be winning even more fans north of the border.