By Jane Anson
Having just spent a week in Manchester and Leeds with ten winemakers from Bordeaux, it occurred to me that we rarely talk about England as a wine destination for tourists. But maybe we should: it is after all the most dynamic wine market in the world, where wines from every conceivable country compete for shelf space. There can be few better countries to visit for horizontal or vertical tastings of just about any grape, from just about any producer.
And there are increasingly interesting things on offer for wine tourists. On a previous trip with winemakers, we visited Denbies, a winery in Surrey around an hour outside of London, that had a very impressive tourism installation, including an IMAX-style cinema experience comparing the terroir to Champagne, all set to the rousing strains of classical music (what was it exactly? In my head, it was Land of Hope and Glory, but you get the picture).
This time, in the north of England, it was a little harder to visit actual wineries. Of course James May and Oz Clarke, in their programme Oz and James Drink to Britain, recently visited one in Yorkshire called Leventhorpe, and I heard that there was a winery opening in Urmston, just outside of Manchester city centre. We had planned to visit this one, but apparently the man who runs it has gone AWOL and we were unable to contact him. If anyone knows anything about this, I would be thrilled to hear more.
But Manchester was full of great surprises for wine lovers. Besides excellent wine lists in hotels such as the Lowry, we visited two of the best independent wine shops that I know Hanging Ditch in the centre of town, right opposite Harvey Nicols and Reserve Wines in Didsbury that has just recently won the UK’s independent wine merchant of the year at the International Wine & Spirits Challenge. If you think England is all about binge drinking, or a love of either wine brands or Pinot Grigio of dubious origin, I suggest you go visit these two places. Both have passionate, knowledgeable owners who are keen to share their love of unusual bottling with their clients.