It would be really handy if not just celebrating the life, and death, of Saint George this week, we could actually still have him and his sword in full working order. He defeated one piece of unwelcome wildlife for us 1800 years ago and now Britain’s wine and gardening enthusiasts need his help again to defeat a nasty Asian invader – harlequin ladybirds are spreading across England.
Unlike its British dark-red counterpart, the Asian Harmonia axyridis is no friend of fruit-growers. When frightened or attacked it drops a noxious smelling liquid. If it happens to stand on a bunch of grapes or perry pears at the time these pick up the ‘ladybird taint’. The tainting chemicals – methoxypyrazines – smell of green peppers or roasted peanuts. Because of their potency, even a slight amount can potentially affect a wine or perry’s taste.
English winemakers should take heed from their American counterparts. Harlequin ‘ladybugs’ were introduced into vineyards as biological controls for aphids, but become so successful they now threaten the butterfly, lacewing and native ladybird population.
Harlequins are now so numerous they are being picked along with the grapes, enter the grape crusher and get mixed into the juice – resulting in poor quality wine. Ladybird taint will significantly lower a wine’s fruit and floral characteristics. The chemicals responsible may smell and taste awful but are not considered harmful to humans.
Luckily there are no reports, as yet, of the ladybird chemical getting into the English wine production chain. So it’s still safe to sup a glass of chilled native fermented grape juice this Saint George’s Day on Wednesday.
PG Wine Reviews
Bolney Estate Lychgate Red 2011
Trying to grow Cabernet Sauvignon red grapes in this country is a non-starter. We just don’t get enough sunshine to ripen them properly. But grow the less demanding, and less classily-named, varieties of Dornfelder and Rondo and you can produce a pretty decent red wine. That’s what Bolney Estate vineyard in Sussex has done and they’ve made it taste rather like a blackcurranty Merlot with a dash of English elderberry.
Sandyford Brut Sparkling
£15.40 Sandyford Vineyard www.sandyfordvineyard.co.uk
Essex once had a reputation for producing only white-skirted women and race-boy fellas. Now that’s been superseded. One 2-acre vineyard in northern Essex turns out some rather elegant wines. Their white sparkling, made with a blend of Bacchus and Reichensteiner grapes, tastes lightly of gooseberries and melons. Very refreshing and a good match to chicken or pasta dishes.
Chapel Down Bacchus
£11.50 The Wine Society
Chapel Down vineyards in Kent have the ideal growing conditions for the Bacchus grape and they also know how to make it into some spiffing white wine. Tasting rather similar to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Bacchus is almost all gooseberry flavour but with the added English complexities of lemon balm, elderflower and peaches. The Kiwis don’t produce anything quite as balanced as this.
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© Paula Goddard 2014 www.paulagoddard.com