English Wines continue to attract global attention and there are a growing number of opportunities to experience them. We had one such opportunity when we joined a group of curious wine enthusiasts for a wine tasting and seafood pairing experience at the Seafood School at Billingsgate, London.

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I grew up in a family that primarily ate fried fish. In fact, our family restaurant were experts at fry-ups: Catfish, Red Snapper, Buffalo, Whiting, Shrimp, and more. If it swam, we could fry it. This is not to say that we didn’t cook fish in other ways. However, fans travelled nationwide (even the VP of the U.S., Joe Biden) to dive into their favourite fried, comfort food goodness, lovingly prepared by the generation ahead of me.

 

Seafood School, Billingsgate

When invited to attend an ‘English Wine and British Seafood‘ afternoon at the Seafood School at Billingsgate, I jumped at the opportunity! Being a pescatarian, I constantly seek opportunities to savour my favourite “meat” prepared in different ways.

We had always wanted to go to the historically bustling Billingsgate Market. However, as the wine and seafood event was only offered in the afternoon (when the market activities are actually closed), another trip would be required to experience the early-morning hustle and bustle of the market.

English Wine & British Seafood Class at Billingsgate Market

 

Burnt fish is not OK

I joined other excited food bloggers ready to sample, photograph, and savour what we knew would be exceptional cuisine. The session began with a welcome by celebrated author and school CEO, CJ Jackson. Her book, Billingsgate Market Cookbook is a great guide to learning how to properly clean, prepare, and cook fish. Believe me, work goes into making our supermarket fish, including those lovely salmon and ahi tuna fillets, look pretty.

CJ was pretty straightforward when asked about her top tip for cooking seafood: “Don’t overcook seafood. Don’t follow timings, follow instinct! Be confident!” she said.

 

Sampling English Wine

The session got underway, and was brilliantly led by Stephen Skelton, the UK’s only Master of Wine working as a viticultural consultant. Basically, Stephen knows everything about wine production and vineyards.

As Stephen topped our glasses with Chapel Down Vintage Rose Brut NV, in preparation for the first course, he explained why the term ‘English wines’ is used in place of ‘British wines’.

English wine comes from freshly harvested and fermented UK grapes. However, it should not be confused with the often cheaper British wines which are fermented and bottled in Britain, but use the juice from grapes grown abroad. That juice is often shipped in concentrate form to ports in Sussex, and then shipped to London and stored in tanks and fermenting plants there. British wines are not known for their high quality taste factor.

Sampling English Wine at the Seafood School Billingsgate

I honestly cannot say that I have gone looking for British or English wine. I tend to veer more towards Spanish and French wines, and will often purchase reasonably priced wines that have been highly recommended to me (regardless of their origin).

However, made absolute sense as he shared insights on English wine.  It turns out that British wines are actually cheaper to buy, but honestly, when Stephen told us that the English wines we were sampling that afternoon were only a few pounds more expensive per bottle (in most cases), we were sold (and felt strangely empowered with that knowledge)!

So now that I have a lot more knowledge about the differences between both, I’ll forgo British wines, and look for English ones instead! In fact, if you’ve bypassed English wines on the account for more southern European vines, I urge you to delve in and give them a try. I was pleasantly surprised at the array of flavours I was able to detect as we got to the end of the session.

We were already on our second wine sampling when the food began arriving. Let the courses begin!

[clickToTweet tweet=”One wine does not fit all… @spskelton” quote=”One wine does not fit all… @spskelton”]

 

Course #1

Our first canapé course featured brown shrimp in hot butter, infused with mace and black pepper. We also had a delicious smoked salmon (the Coln Valley brand, one of the best on market) on rye flatbread. The wine pairing was a Bolney Estate Pinot Gris 2013.

Sampling English Wine at the Seafood School Billingsgate

Since the shrimp mixture had butter in it, I was unable to sample it (pesky dairy allergy). However, the salmon’s succulent, smoky, and delicate earthy flavour won me over quickly. The Bolney was light and crisp, with subtle pear, jasmine, and honey notes.

HDYTI Tip: All English wines have a higher acidity and go with a variety of food really well! A light Pinot Gris will taste amazing with your smoked Salmon!

 

Course #2

Now this course introduced me to something new: steamed cockles on laver bread, and gorgeous queenie scallops in the half shell, served with beure blanc. Lavar bread is an edible Welsh delicacy (seaweed) which grows on the rocky coastal areas of Wales. Traditionally, the seaweed is boiled for several hours, and then it’s often minced, prior to being rolled in oatmeal, and soon after fried. The wine pairing featured Three Chairs Sonnet White 2014. The hints of lemon in this wine weren’t aggressive. However, it was a bit sharper than I prefer my whites.

Sampling English Wine at the Seafood School Billingsgate

By the time we got to the second course, the wine was flowing, as well as the laughter! We were having a wonderful time gaining new knowledge on pairings, sampling the amazing dishes, and getting to know one another. Anthony Bourdain said it best: “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Bourdain’s quote hits the nail on the head. Sessions like these prove that food, wine, and great conversation certainly provide that “je ne sais qoi!”

 

Course #3

The Seafood School Billingsgate version of fish and chips was unlike anything I had tried before. These were Greenwich Meantime beer-battered goujons of coley with frites. Not to be outdone, the cuttlefish arancini with black ink, accompanied with paprika mayo was a lovely addition. The wine pairing included the refreshing Waitrose The Limes by Denbies 2013. This is a great pairing to go with fried foods. The zestiness of the lime really hit the back of my tongue. This was a playful wine with loads of flavour.

Sampling English Wine at the Seafood School Billingsgate

During this course, CJ talked more in-depth about the shelf life of various fishes. For example, cod and haddock have a good shelf life when packed on ice. Did you know that Dover Sole doesn’t need to be fresh? The flavour actually deepens and develops after a few days!

 

Course #4

It was difficult to decide on a favourite course, but I believe this may have been my favourite! We were served gurnard roasted with streaky bacon with aromas that could tickle any tastebuds. The delicately cured Scottish mackerel-on-samphire was certainly full of flavour!

Sampling English Wine at the Seafood School Billingsgate

Stephen poured us a lovely Hush Heath Pinot Noir 2014. This red is quite versatile. You could easily have it with a heavier meat, but it is light and unassuming, with lovely berry notes. Stephen surprised us with a sampling of a wonderfully sweet, late harvest dessert wine by Astley Domain. It was the perfect ending to a lovely afternoon.

 

Does one English wine fit all?

I’ve been to my fair share of wine tastings around the globe, however, I definitely learned more in this class about wines and seafood pairings than previously before. Stephen’s top tips of the afternoon? “Dry English wine with seafood goes well. Experiment! One wine does not fit all. Know what you like. Find foods to fit your tastes in wines.

I completely agree. Experiences like the Seafood School Billingsgate wine and seafood pairing session offer unique learning opportunities and an all-round enjoyable experience.

Sampling English Wine at the Seafood School Billingsgate

Need a little more convincing? Make sure to check out some of the reviews by other attendees. Corey, over on Learning Patience, talks a bit more about some of the flavours she experienced in the various courses. Also, Kitchen Takeovers (curated by Alicia, a London based nutritionist) talks about the balance between the canapés and the wines we sampled.

London food bloggers enjoying the English Wine & British Seafood class at Billingsgate Market

Sound like something of interest? Visit the Seafood School at Billingsgate for their listing of current offerings. Before booking online, make sure to message them directly, and let them know you read about them here on HDYTI! You might get a special discount!

Update [2017] – the English wines referenced in this article may no longer be available. However, you can find other good varieties in most UK supermarkets.

Have you tried English wine before? Feel free to tell us below in the comments section below! *Special points anyone who introduces us to a  new English Wine!

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).