Where to begin? I was certainly not the most thrilled I'd ever been at the prospect. According to DrinkWales.org there are now 17 vineyards in Wales, employing around 350 people and producing around 100,000 bottles a year. Contrast this with England, where around 4.4 million bottles are produced per year from 470 vineyards and 135 wineries. Welsh wine is definitely still a niche product.
After a lot of internet research, I realised the only place where I could pick up a bottle without having to buy a whole case or drive to Wales, was central London. Available from WaitroseCellar.com, I was able to select from the red or white wines of Glyndwr Vineyard in Oxford Street's John Lewis food hall. I decided to be brave and spend £12.99 (my budget was £15 ruling out most UK sparkling wines) on red wine. Well, it was a Rugby World Cup theme, and Wales play in red, don't they? But would they win the World Cup tasting?
The bottle label depicts the Welsh prince, Owain Glyndwr, riding into battle with Carreg Cennen Castle in the background.
Glyndwr Vineyard's website claims they produce a range of fine, award-winning wines which have been carefully blended and fermented by their skilled winemaker for over a quarter of a century. It also mentions the Glyndwr wines have won many competitions and commendations from Decanter Magazine to the UK Vineyards Association Awards. "The sparkling wines have been particularly successful with the Brut taking first prize in the renowned South West Vineyards Association competition. The red wine, judged by four Masters of Wine, was singled out for a double gold in the same competition, the first time this accolade had ever been awarded."
This new information certainly boosted my hopes of making it through to the second round...
Glyndwr Red 2014 (11.5% abv) is produced from early ripening mature Rondo and Regent grapes, giving a wine that's dark in colour and fragrant. The wine also rests for an unspecified amount of time in American oak, which promised to give some complexity and spiced notes.
Both Rondo and Regent are grape varieties you might find in English red wine, but as "hybrid" grapes they're much less commonly known than the international varieties we drink most in the UK: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Those popular varieties would simply fail to ripen, even in our best summers.
Canada's premium Ice Wines often come from the Vidal grape, a high quality hybrid, and the Laithwaites-procured bottle at our tasting was one of the most popular wines in our Rugby World Cup. (The outright winner on the night was a stunning Pinot Noir from Oregon purchased through Robersons. Admittedly, both of these wines were over budget, although the ice wine at £11.99 for 20cl is definitely worthy of a try if you haven't yet had the pleasure.)
Rondo was created in 1964 and officially named Rondo in 1999. Its high resistance against winter frost and downy mildew comes from its Asiatic Vitis Amurensis parent, and it's early ripening makes it well suited to the climate here. Commonly blended, it's great for producing strong colour where this can be hard to achieve.
With an extreme sour cherry flavour, the wine almost appeared to fizz slightly on the tongue. It's possible that this was a fault although the sensation died down quickly. While I have higher hopes for award winning Welsh fizz, I don't have any immediate desire to try more Welsh red wines. Given our documented aversion to bright cherry flavours at Chateau Purple Teeth, it will be some time before Rondo and Regent wines from England feature on my buy list. But, if you're a fan of young and fresh Valpolicella, this wine style may well be for you. Juicy, fruity and with decent acidity, the flavours, while prominent, just weren't for me. Cherry lovers may feel differently. Do let me know if you've tasted any other Welsh wines, red, white or sparkling, and what you thought.
And if you hosted a Rugby World Cup tasting, I'd love to hear about your winners. You might even host your own semi-final tasting with amazing wines available from South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.