Down here on the south coast we are lucky to have the beautiful South Downs, miles of coastline and some really great vineyards.
Yup, you read that correctly – vineyards. English wine has benefited from somewhat of a resurgence in recent years and the chalky soil here in Sussex and Hampshire is, I’m told, perfect for those vines to grow in. In fact, the same chalky soil dives underneath the English Channel and pops up again in North France, home to the famous Champagne region. Although, like any good theory, the debate continues to rage on as to whether the chalk in the soil actually contributes to the flavour or fizz of English wines.
Whatever the reason, there are some really beautiful English wines being produced at the moment and we are always keen to try a new variety or vineyard (all in the interest of research, you’ll understand).
For quite a few years now I’ve had a bit of a thing with buying only European wines – not for anything to do with flavour but everything to do with carbon miles. We have some wonderful wines being produced in Europe and so I feel that buying Southern Hemisphere wines (and therefore contributing to the demand that sees them shipped across) is a little excessive. Not that I won’t indulge when visiting those countries, but merely trying to make a better choice when faced with a supermarket shelf full of options. I make the same decisions with fruit, veg and meat where I can too – I’m still trying to make those baby steps towards being a responsible consumer.
Of course this is improved even further if we can buy wines produced on our own doorstep – luckily this is very easy to do. Seek out the English wines section of Waitrose or even better, your local independent wine shop.
One of the closest vineyards to us is Hambledon Vineyard. They are nestled in the Downs just north of Portsmouth and occupy a beautiful spot. Not only could they host a spectacular wedding (those views though!) but they also nail it on taste. We particularly enjoy their classic cuvee – any excuse for a celebration! They focus their efforts solely on their sparkling and have planted the cherished three grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) that are renowned in the sparkling wine industry.
Moving across into West Sussex, just outside Chichester, finds you on the doorstep of Tinwood. This vineyard also only produces sparkling wines – they have been harvesting their grapes since 2009 . Tinwood also offer stays at three stunning lodges within the vineyard and there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with the idea of watching the sunset with a bottle of their Blanc de blanc.
Further across into Sussex and close to where our family home is, you’ll find Wiston Estate. Wiston Estate is owned by the Goring family and Pippa Goring, who grew up in South Africa, always nurtured the idea of having her own vineyard and so, Wiston Estate was born. I’m totally in love with their almost Tiffany blue bottle design but yes, their wines do also stack up on taste – their 2010 Blanc de Blanc was named one of Decanter’s top five most exciting sparkling wines of 2016. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Pip a few years ago as I know her daughter and it was wonderful hearing about her much treasured vineyard. They really do have one of the best locations in Sussex, thankfully my sister and her family live nearby so we’re never away from the area for long.
Up near Horsham, in West Sussex, is the Bolney Estate. Sam Linter, the head wine maker, is a family friend of ours whose passion for wine has turned her into an award winning winemaker. Not only do they produce wonderful white and sparkling wines but their 2014 Lychgate Red (recently renamed Rycroft Red) is really worth a taste – I think it is probably one of my favourites. Not content with leading the way in the English wine stakes, Bolney have now also begun to produce their own gin too. Foxhole Gin is created on site and distils the flavours of the wine into the spirit which reduces the waste from the winemaking process, they use the marc which is leftover from the first pressing of the grapes and usually chucked out. It has not yet made it to our gin shelf but we’ll sniff out a bottle soon!
I couldn’t write about my favourite English vineyards without including the next one. Whilst not super close by, it is tucked in beautiful South Devon on a bend in the river Dart. Sharphams Vineyard is an oasis and I promise you won’t be disappointed if you pop by for a visit. Last autumn we included their vineyard tour, wine and cheese tasting as part of a friend’s Hen weekend and it really was an education. From learning about the red Devonian soil that has its roots in the Jurassic period through to tasting cheese that is traditionally made on site, it was the best way to get to taste a little of each of their wines! I also had the pleasure of sitting next to the couple who own and run Sharphams at dinner earlier this year, it was amazing to natter about wine over good food – a fascinating history to the vineyard and winemakers with a clear passion for their trade.
We seem to be always doing an ongoing taste test of sparkling wines from all five of these vineyards and will keep you in the loop if we ever make a decision on a favourite! I promise it won’t be swayed by just beautiful label design…
Have you got a favourite English wine?