Wednesday 13 July 2011

Bolney Dark Harvest – English red wine

We English like to pit ourselves against the odds. Plucky little islanders, rising to a challenge, us against the world, etc etc. And if the odds aren’t quite steep enough, we like to introduce some additional difficulties; like running a marathon, but in a diving suit. So something about the perversity of producing not just a wine, but a red wine, in the English village winery of Bolney, appeals to Sediment's similarly English mentality.

Southern England is now on the cusp of a grape-growing climate, and there have been particular compliments paid recently to English sparkling white wine. But black grapes require greater heat over greater time than white; English red wine is therefore a climatic curiosity like, say, English olives.

Still, overcoming the weather is a national habit; to be quintessentially English, ambitions must have a few further obstacles placed in the way of their possible success. Most of those which follow appear to have been placed there by Bolney themselves. Most raise questions...

First, a little label confusion to baffle the potential customer. I found Dark Harvest amongst the world’s wines on my Waitrose shelf; but side by side were two completely different labels, from the same vintage. The label at the top of this page is rather stylish and elegant in a quiet, classic, serif-font English way – whereas this one  

shrieks amateur craft fair. Did they want a label to dissuade potential purchasers? Why are the two side-by-side on the shelf? I do not know – but only one is fit to grace my dining table. (CJ probably bought the other one…)

Next, I discover that Dark Harvest is not actually on the Bolney website. They offer instead another red wine – similar grapes, similar label – called Lychgate Red.  I e-mailed to ask if they were the same wine, and their PR (!) replied, “the Dark Harvest wine is not available from the vineyard, it is however available from Waitrose stores and online at Waitrose Wine Direct”. Which is not really an answer. But okay, Dark Harvest is the one in Waitrose. Oh, and, I find, in the Eight Bells Village Pub & Restaurant, in… Bolney. Perhaps, in a second vain attempt to hinder wider tasting of Bolney’s produce, they have been hijacking the departing Waitrose lorries.

Now, on the Waitrose back label, it’s suggested that the wine goes well with roast beef. This is a shrewd marketing move for an English red. Unfortunately, that's in complete contrast to Bolney’s own website pairing suggestion for its red wine: serve with salt marsh lamb, quince aioli and wild broccoli.

Are they mad? I could count the number of Englishmen eating quince aioli this Sunday on the fingers of one… finger.

And not even roast lamb, an immensely popular English dish, but salt marsh lamb, an exclusive, seasonal speciality. Narrow the market, why don’t you? (And none of that tame broccoli…)

So they’ve stubbed their English meta-tarsals against climate, naming, labelling and food matching. Finally, like many wineries, Bolney make a little marketing statement about their wines. “Our wines are of slightly lower alcohol content than most other countries,” they say, “and this makes them especially attractive to women and to our younger drinkers – but of course, men enjoy them too!”

Presumably English is the language in Bolney? The statement should either employ an apostrophe, or read “than those of most other countries”; as it stands, we’re comparing wines with countries. 

But anyway, do women find wines of lower alcohol content especially attractive? Why? Why younger drinkers? And what about younger women drinkers, who I see on the streets of Northern England in Police, Action programmes, wearing what appear to be pelmets, and falling off the pavement from alcohol content?

In any case, it is plain wrong – Dark Harvest is 12.5%, an average strength among wines.

Still, at least “men enjoy them too!” Well…

Not this man. Dark Harvest is indeed Dark, almost purple in colour. It has a pungent bouquet, bordering on the urinal, above what I can only describe as farmyard base notes. Is that the Harvest? Rotting in the rain?

I felt it was, strangely, very slightly petillant on the tip of the tongue; and then it flattens out over the mouth. It has a raw, actually slightly bitter flavour, like Biro ink, above flabby fruit. And it leaves behind it, not so much an aftertaste as a residue. I’m sorry – it is really very unpleasant. I actually had to take the taste away, with a glass of proper English red wine – claret.

So, the final obstacle to success. It’s horrible. The amateur craft fair label would have been more appropriate after all. The Eight Bells supportively describes it as "a real stunner" - frankly, only if you were coshed with the bottle.

Why did I go through all that bother? Why bother drinking it? Why bother making it? The only answer is: because we're all English.

I am left with the thought of a greater Englishman, Dr Johnson, who would no doubt lump this stuff in with women preachers and dogs who walk on their hind legs. English red wine: it is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.



  1. "It has a raw, actually slightly bitter flavour, like Biro ink, above flabby fruit."

    That's it. The finest tasting note ever written. Most unpleasant is the shock, when you only realise you've been idly sucking or chewing on a biro when your mouth fills with that metallic-earwax taste.

    I had a similarly unpleasant experience with an English white recently...

  2. You do have some interesting insights. I think I would like to try the English Red Wine because it has an interesting taste.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. I have never tasted such a hideous 'wine' in my life. In my opinion there is nothing to redeem it - except perhaps that it leaves you with an empty bottle which you can smash over your own head to dull the pain of paying over £10 for a bottle of urine. As a winemaker friend of mine once said 'it tastes like my a**e after a particularly acidic s**t'. I rest my case.

  4. "As a winemaker friend of mine once said 'it tastes like my a**e after a particularly acidic s**t'" - I can only say that someone who values the opinion of a winemaker who knows what the products of his a**e taste like is hardly qualified to give a meaningful opinion of any food or drink.


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