Welcome to the wine city - future looks rosé for Norwich ahead of new wine school opening
Norwich has long been known as a city of ale. But a new wine school, prized vineyards nearby and innovative shops are now putting it on the map for lovers of whites, reds and rosés. Lauren Cope reports
No longer reserved for collectors, merchants and winemakers, appreciation of good quality wine is today a hobby open to everyone.
The growing popularity of wine tastings, trendy bars and independent shops have – as the craft beer movement did for ale – created a market of discerning drinkers no longer satisfied with a supermarket’s cheapest bottle of plonk.
In just over a month, wine expert Jeremy Dunn hopes to encourage more people to sort their Beaujolais from their Bordeaux as he launches Norfolk’s first wine school.
While it won’t sell bottles, something Mr Dunn says will keep his advice impartial, the Norfolk Wine School will run courses and tastings for both for novices venturing into the world and experienced wine lovers.
Initially, the tastings will be held at Norwich venues The Library and St Andrew’s Brewery, but there are plans to add extra locations outside the city next year, in particular in north and south Norfolk.
Mr Dunn, who has spent 10 years in the industry and has a Wine and Spirits Education Trust diploma, said wine schools had become hits elsewhere around the country.
“People want to go out and have a nice time but they also want to learn something and experience something new,” he said. “I’m part of the Local Wine School network around the UK, which is seeing year on year increases at its other schools.
“We’re catering for everyone – for those who want to learn more about wine in a structured, formal way and for people who just want to pick up some tips. A little information goes a long way.”
A bluffer’s guide to wine tasting
Use our tips to sound like a connoisseur at your next wine tasting.
Experts don’t just knock back their wine and reach for the bottle, they take their time. Swill it – without decanting it over the walls – around the glass. Breathe in as you sip, gurgle – not to be confused with gargle – and move it around your mouth. It might not feel, or look, particularly dignified, but it will open up the flavours. So they say.
Be armed with stock words to bandy about as needed – acidity, bouquet, tannins and citric are a good start. Even fruity will do. If this sounds like a different language, read our vocabulary panel.
Travel writer Duncan Rhodes has a failsafe formula for sounding knowledgeable on a wine’s flavour – for reds, pick two fruits that are similar to its colour. Plum, strawberry or forest fruits are safe. For whites, pick a tropical fruit and add a flower.
If it looks like you’re going wrong, be ambiguous. Ask questions. ‘Is that raspberry I’m tasting?’ Be prepared to backtrack hastily. Let someone else speak. And then nod fervently, elaborating with your own detail.
If all else fails, remember wine changes as it reacts with the air (hence the swilling). Use this – Swill. “You don’t taste Peruvian blackberries?” Swill. “Yes, now I’m getting cherries and dandelions. It must be evolving very quickly...”
With the website having gone live in May, Norfolk man Mr Dunn, who has moved back to Thorpe End with his family to start the venture, says many of the courses were being booked up, with a cheese and wine one in particular demand.
He said: “Buying wine can be really confusing – it’s an absolute nightmare. You go into a supermarket and see a wall of wine and there’s not much telling you about them.”
Over the last few years, various independent wine shops and bars have sprung up in Norfolk, while Naked Wines, an established sales website, has its headquarters in the city.
A better climate has also seen many of the county’s vineyards pick up awards, strengthening its claim as a go-to place for wine connoisseurs.
A wine dictionary
Aroma – A component of a wine’s overall scent.
Bouquet – The sum of a wine’s various smells. For example, cherry is one aroma in a fruity bouquet. Also called its Nose.
Chardonnay – Arguably the most planted white wine grape in the world.
Corked – A wine with a musty, mushroom aroma due to a cork tainted by a chemical.
Malbec and Merlot – French red grapes.
Oxidised – A wine that is no longer fresh because it was exposed to too much air.
Reserve – A mainly American term indicating a wine of higher quality. It has no fixed definition and is different to...
Reserva – A Spanish term for a red wine which has spent at least three years in barrels and bottles.
Tannins – Naturally occurring compounds that exist in grape skins, seeds and stems. They release during the wine-making process and give certain wines their dryness.
Vintage – A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown and harvested in a single year.
The first event is Introduction to Wine, which will launch the school on Tuesday, September 6. Tickets are available at www.norfolkwineschool.com
Innovative ways to encourage wine drinkers
To tear shoppers away from supermarket shelves packed with bottles of wine, businesses are having to think outside the box to encourage more discerning drinkers.
Over the last few years, Wymondham shop Reno Wine has made a name for itself as an eco-friendly outlet, selling refillable bottles of wine with organic, vegan, low sulphur and biodynamic options.
Its environmentally conscious approach is shared by Les Garrigues in Norwich, on St John Maddermarket, an authentic French food and wine shop with vats of vino and refillable bottles.
Many of its products are sourced from the French region that Damien Cabinis calls home.
Just around the corner is The Wallow, a wine bar which opened just eight months ago and operates a vending machine inspired approach – top up a card, choose your wine and push the button.
Its no-frills marketing approach – word of mouth – has served it well, with its unique concept appealing to larger parties and wine connoisseurs alike.
Meanwhile, wine shop Harper Wells opened its second branch in the city last month, complete with a tasting room and cellar for customers’ collections.
Also in July, a wine-tasting event inspired by fantasy series Game of Thrones was held at Norwich Cathedral, with similar events inspired by the Harry Potter books and films in the works.
County has successful vineyards to boast of
Traditionally, England’s unhelpfully cold climate has put it on the back foot as a wine producer, but warmer summers in recent years has spurred the industry on.
But while the UK is a major consumer of wine, it remains a minor producer, with English and Welsh wine sales accounting for just 1pc of the domestic market.
Here in Norfolk, there are a handful of vineyards in operation, including the award-winning Humbleyard in Mulbarton, which has about 10,000 vines on its eight acres.
Oliver Berney, from the vineyard, said that much of the work was done by hand.
“There’s lots of romantic images of growing grapes and it’s certainly a lovely place to spend time,” he said. “But it’s also very labour intensive.
“Unlike other areas we don’t get the high yields, which makes mechanised work, to pick the grapes and deleaf
the vines, hard to justify. Instead, it requires lots of hard work.”
He said the vineyard could expect two to three tons of grapes per acre, a low figure compared to the eight to 10 which wineries in warmer climates are used to.
But he said the south-facing slopes of Humbleyard had proved fruitful for growth for years, with its positioning keeping it warm, well drained and largely protected from frost.