English Vineyards

Sipping Syrah in the vines overlooking the Apalta Valley in Chile. Tasting Pinot Noir in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. Dining in a medieval Tuscan Castle with vertical vintages of Chianti. Just three of the many memories over my 22 years of escorting wine tours around the world.

So it was wonderfully different to simply walk out of my front door, and after a five minute stroll to meet the train from London and welcome my clients on our first Love Wine Food private tour in Southern England. From the LWF HQ, which nestles in the heart of the South Downs National Park and surrounded by nearby vineyards, I’d designed a two day exploration of English Vineyards for the members of a London Livery Company.

Hambledon Vineyards are located in the eponymous village in Hampshire and is the oldest commercial vineyard in England. Vines were originally planted in 1952 on the property by Major General Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, with valuable help & insight from the De Billy family who own the famous Champagne House of Pol Roger. At a time when English wines were virtually unheard of, Hambledon enjoyed prestigious clients, such as being served by the Queen at official functions as well as Embassies. The modern story of Hambledon was reborn in 1999 when it was bought by Ian Kellett, who had absolute belief that Sparkling Wines were the future of the estate, thanks to the chalk on which the vines are planted. The Classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinots Noir & Meunier were planted and the relationship between Pol Roger and Hambledon was rekindled.

Last year, they undertook a huge new planting of 230,000 vines bringing the total of land under vine to a substantial total of 85 hectares. Their expansion investment also includes an impressive vast new cellar, mostly underground so it will have a permanent natural cool temperature with no need for air conditioning. The obvious slight problem was the solid chalk which although so beneficial for the vines, is less than amusing to dig out in such large quantities, hence the chalk “mountains” dotted around waiting to be backfilled in around the cellar hiding it almost from view.

Chalk "mountain" hiding

Hambledon have just launched their fourth wine, the Première Cuvée Rosé and we were privileged to be the first guests to the estate to taste it. In an eye catching bottle shape, it’s rather unusual to be made with 100% Pinot Meunier, which normally only makes up a smaller percentage of the sparkling blend, so it was fascinating to taste a pure expression of the variety. Made with Zero Dosage, it was bone dry with attractive raspberry notes. Only 4000 bottles were made in its first outing, so somewhat of a rarity. It compliments their Première Cuvée made from 73% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Noir (the rest a splash of Meunier), it was beautifully rich and lots of toasted brioche notes thanks to an extended 42 months lees contact. The Classic Cuvée was reminiscent of sherbet with its lively freshness and the Classic Cuvée Rosé version made from 90% Chardonnay with 10% PN red wine was all strawberries & cream in the glass.

Although many people go to wine tastings, it’s not very often that consumers have the opportunity to do a comparative dosage tasting. Dosage is the addition of wine & sugar back into the wine after the yeast sediment has been disgorged in Champagne and Sparkling Wines. The numbers of grams of sugar per litre governs the taste and texture of the final wine. Taking four glasses of Classic Cuvée, one with Zero Dosage, 4 gms, 6 gms and 10 gms. It is truly incredible how much difference such an infinitesimal variance has on the wine, creating more roundness or less for a racier acidity and vital to get this spot on to truly establish the House Style.

Staying on the chalk soils of Hampshire, our lunchtime appointment was at Danebury Vineyards, close to the picturesque village of Stockbridge. Originally the property was part of a famous racehorse yard, patronised by Royalty during the 19th Century. Danebury is owned by an Austrian family, who cherish this pocketsize estate. Often the term boutique vineyard is bandied about, but is most apt for Danebury’s small 2.8 hectares of vines.

Being suitably British in our studious ignorance of threatening rain clouds, we started with a vineyard visit in the company of Patrick, who tends this immaculate grassy vineyard to hear about the challenges and benefits of making wine in England following organic principles. Kicking off with a welcome glass of their Sparkling Cossack, named after the winner of the Epsom Derby in 1847, which was trained at Danebury. Made from Auxerrois Blanc and Pinot Gris rather than the classic Champenoise varieties, it has a gentle mousse and hints of citrus fruits.

A canter through their white wines, starting with their Madeleine Angevine, a variety that hails from the Loire valley, which has a delightful nose of elderflowers leading into crisp hints of lime. An extremely attractive and dangerously drinkable wine which is perfect for Spring. Their Schönburger (the variety is a cross of Pinot Noir & Muscat), was more full bodied and aromatic. The Danebury Reserve, a blend of their four white varieties displays a savoury aspect on first taste, which when combined with food comes into its own with riper stone fruit notes coming through and went well with the delicious luncheon of chicken poached in white wine with braised lettuce. Danebury is a wonderful small hidden gem of an estate set in the beautiful Hampshire countryside.

A reviving break to give palates time to recuperate with some free time in beautiful Winchester, the first Capital of England, with its impressive Gothic Cathedral and 12th Century illuminated bible.

Our evening visit was to Coates & Seely, a small scale artisan producer of Sparkling Wines located not far from Winchester. One aspect of wine tours is that after two decades of vising wineries around the world, LWF understands well that it is vital to avoid endless repetition at wine cellars. Nothing is more depressing for a vintner than seeing visitors eyes glaze over when faced by yet more barrels or another gleaming avenue of stainless steel tanks. So all praise goes to the wonderful Nicholas Coates, co-owner of Coates & Seely, who nixed the idea of a cellar visit (though looking forward to going back another time to see the concrete eggs!), and instead invited us to relax in a delightful setting with a glass or three of their gorgeous sparkling wine – a much more enjoyable way to listen to their history and philosophy. Charming, with a slight maverick streak, Nicholas is the epitome of an English Gentleman, who along with his business partner and old friend, Christian Seely, have a passionate belief in making great sparkling wines in England and labelling them as Britagne wines.

Their wines, always with a French winemaker at the helm, are created with reserve wines for the NV, which gives an attractive depth. Their vintage wines – amusingly called La Perfide – are treated to extended lees contact, anything up to five years which gives wines of great complexity and are only released in the best years. Refreshingly honest, Nicholas was a veritable font of anecdotes of how he and Christian have developed the estate, since in 2008 (over a few bottle of Champagne) they decided to start this new project of English sparkling wines to rival the best in the world. Since they are the only English Wine to have been stocked at the George V in Paris – they are definitely on the right path! Virginia, Nicholas’s wife had prepared a tempting array of local food, starting with Canapés of Blinis with Smoked trout from the River Test and melt in the mouth shortbread made with Tunworth Hampshire cheese. Her beautiful menu continued with venison fillet showing that Sparkling wines can be enjoyed throughout a meal rather than simply as an aperitif.

Such a glorious range of wines, and convivial company meant that my tasting notes of all seven wines rather went by the wayside. The Brut Rosé NV, made by the saignée method was an elegant pale shade with alpine strawberries on the palate and had great balance of acidity. The 2009 Brut Rosé La Perfide was full of complexity and toasty notes thanks to 6.5 years on the lees and a further 3 years bottle aging – this is a wine to be savoured, choose your company well or treat yourself to enjoy alone with a good book overlooking the watercress beds of Hampshire! Brut Reserve 2011 La Perfide in Magnum of 65% Pinot Noir with the rest Pinot Meunier was an absolute delight and still incredibly vibrant in the glass. To finish, in honour of absent friends, we enjoyed Château Suduiraut, the Sauternes estate that C&S's other owning partner, Christian Seely looks after in his role of head of Axa Millésimes Wine Portfolio (who own Pichon Baron in Pauillac, Quinta do Noval in Portugal et alia). Truly a memorable evening – and looking ahead to my next day at the Races, secure in the knowledge that C&S wines are now listed at 14 of the Jockey Club’s Race courses in England and served from Albion, their 1952 British Charabanc with her British Racing Green Livery.

Our second day of this private wine tour saw a quick hop over the county border into West Sussex to Stopham Vineyard. Welcomed by their head winemaker Simon Woodhead, a blustery walk through the vines was the perfect start to understand the philosophy of the estate. The vineyards are sandy loam, which is free draining (vines hate wet feet!) and made for an interesting comparison to all the talk about chalk soils the day before. Sustainability and responsible agriculture are at the heart of their vineyard practise from careful soil management through to increasing their biodiversity, including planting 400 metres of natural hedgerow. They only use grapes from their own six hectares of vines for complete control over their fruit quality.

Their Pinot Blanc is one of my favourite English still wines, indeed is the one that I tend to take as a gift when visiting wine makers abroad to show them what English wine can achieve. A fascinating visit, with Simon explaining lots of viniculture & vinicultural practises. A very appealing zesty white with slight hints of ripe melon & greengage, the Pinot Blanc works happily as an apèro or with fish and is remarkably rounded considering that it does not undergo malolactic fermentation. But it has competition in the shape of the recent award winning Pinot Gris. We tasted the 2017 vintage which has 15% of Bacchus in the blend. Off dry thanks to a perfect pitch of residual sugar, just enough to give it body & character, with stunning nose of white peaches and spice – truly delicious and would work well with aromatic Asian food. From next vintage, it will be pure Pinot Gris as the Bacchus will be bottled as its own variety – so lots of exciting things to look forward to at Stopham. Their Sparkling is the house Fizz at the V&A in London - is there a better excuse to visit a Museum? The tag line on their bottles is “Made with passion and precision in West Sussex” which sums it up perfectly!

Nutbourne Vineyardshwas our lunchtime appointment, almost walkable across the fields as also close to the village of Pulborough. Owned by Bridget and Peter Gladwin, who took it over in 1991 (although vines had been planted on the estate since 1980), Nutbourne has a wonderful range of wines produced from seven different grape varieties on their 26 hectares of vineyard. Welcomed by their adorable collie Buddy, and a glass of their Nutty Brut Sparkling, produced from Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, Bridget led us up into their windmill, from where it’s a lovely view across their vines. It was interesting to be visiting the vineyards at time of bud burst and fingers crossed that there are no more frosts.

It’s very much a family affair at Nutbourne, as Bridget is an artist, whose ethereal paintings are the labels on all of their wines. Her husband Peter, is an excellent chef (indeed owns a prestigious London Catering Company as well as being a key member of Wine GB), two of their sons run three London restaurants which they supply with Sussex produce foraged on the Nutbourne family estate (as well naturally as Nutbourne wines on the list). As we explored the vineyards, there was a deliciously distracting scent wafting across of Sussex lamb roasting in the clay oven with old vine cuttings. A smoked trout & horseradish mousseline was a great foil for their unoaked Chardonnay. But truly exciting to taste was their Pinot Noir 2018 – still unfinished, so a barrel sample, but it was so vibrant in the glass with cherries, red fruits and an underlying touch of smokiness. To watch out for when it’s released! Dessert was a lemon posset with delicious homemade Florentines which was paired with their Hedgerow Wine. Made from Bacchus and Huxelrebe grape varieties in an off dry style with delightful aromatics, thanks to some daring late harvesting. Nutbourne are hosting a Pop Up Restaurant in the Vines for English Wine Week at the end of May – so do book yourself a ticket for a great day of delicious food & wine.

Our last visit to round up these couple of days exploring English Vineyards was to the Surrey Hills to the small estate of High Clandon Owned by Bruce & Sibylla Tindale, this pocketsize vineyard on Chalky Limestone is situated in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), with spectacular views across to the City – on a clear day, it almost seems as if one could reach out and touch the Shard! Walking through their wild flower meadow that edges the vineyard (followed by a small coterie of inquisitive ducklings), it’s clear that the vineyard is their absolute passion – and they are very much hands on doing all the vineyard work throughout the year themselves – with one being very much in charge of the Chardonnay vines and the other tending the Pinot Noir vines! On the far side of the vineyard is their wood planted with oak & hazels, which is their truffière – gradually becoming home to Burgundian truffles.

Their focus is all about the vineyard and growing the best fruit possible, whilst the wine making is entrusted to the brilliant Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley, who have a much larger wine making facility. In the High Clandon Wine Lodge, which is filled with artwork and sculptures from local artists, a relaxing tasting was prepared around the log burner, a welcome sight on this English Spring day. The Elysium Cuvée 2013 of 54% Pinot Noir & 46% Chardonnay was very approachable, with lovely notes of apricots and was complimented by the homemade Gougeres (an English twist on the classic French cheese puff). To finish in style, we’d decided to open a couple of Library Wines – the Aurora Cuvée Rose 2011 was the palest of salmon pink shades with not only strawberries but a delicious butterscotch finish. The Queens Jubilee Cuvée 2008 of which only 1100 bottles were produced, from 56% Chardonnay was the perfect finale. Still lovely freshness with a good mousse, on the palate it was all stone fruit and some lime to end. Before we disappeared, there was one last wine – the Essence of High Clandon, an Eau de Vin du Vin. Double distilled from their Chardonnay & Pinot Noir grapes, and infused with 14 local botanicals plus a small additional of their own honey, whose bees enjoy the wild flower meadows next to their vines. A great expression of this little magical corner of quintessential England in the Surrey Hills to end our tour.

English Wine is going through a very exciting time, no longer the joke of hobbyist wine makers with more enthusiasm than knowledge, it is now a serious industry and growing very quickly. Last year’s vintage of 2018 was for most producers a blessing as the large yields have given them opportunity to build up reserve wines, even though at the time of harvest, the challenge of what to do with so many grapes was a very real worry! Sparkling leads the way with 72% of English production, with Chardonnay & Pinot Noir making up the Lions share at 58% of vineyards as opposed to other varieties. Vineyard plantings are rapidly increasing, which I see first hand here around LWF HQ in Hampshire, and since 2015, the amount of land under vine has increased by 47%. But with over 520 vineyards that are producing grapes for commercial use and only 164 wineries, there is a concern for over production without sufficient infrastructure. English Sparkling only makes up 2% of all Sparkling wines on the home market so there is room for sales expansion and export markets will only increase but it is a time for long term planning in English Vineyards. But what an era to be experiencing as a wine lover in England. There are some great Sparkling wines being produced to rival Champagne, as has been proved repeatedly in recent blind tastings. There are a handful of winemakers already making delicious still wines, like the Pinot Gris at Stopham, I drink it because it’s delicious wine and not simply to be patriotic. Finally your low “wine miles” count can easily persuade you into enjoying a second glass or so without worry!

For more information please visit: www.winegb.co.uk

Restaurant Review: The Three Buoys

Waking this weekend to sunshine that makes resistance futile, my desire to be on an Island was overwhelming. Yes, I know that Britain is an Island, but I confess to having a “thing” about Islands off Islands – it’s something about the double feeling of escapism which gives that frisson as you step off the ferry onto the Aeolian Islands (off North Coast of Sicily) or onto Bruny Island (off Tasmania). But somewhere closer for the day was needed and so the Isle of Wight beckoned.  Sixty one minutes later, one excellent train connection with the ferry and a charming transfer along the pier in a vintage London Underground Carriage and our feet were in the sand on Ryde beach!  Ryde, although the largest town on the island, often is overlooked in favour of more stylish yachtie Cowes or beautiful Bembridge, but Ryde has an eclectic mix of shops dotted along Union Street (including the wonderful Aladdin's Cave of  Elizabeth Smith!)and of course the excellent museum of Donald McGill, designer of the saucy postcard which caused Police Raids in the1950’s for being offensive!

After a blustery stroll along the long sandy beach alongside Appley Tower, although slightly eerie with a 21 Gun salute booming out of the mist somewhere on the mainland (as a Happy Birthday Your Majesty!), lunch beckoned. So what a heavenly surprise it was to discover The Three Buoys Restaurant. On the top floor of an unassuming building, the bright & airy New Englandesque décor is a pleasing surprise.  Beautiful paintings by Penelope Walford, (a local artist who lives on a houseboat in Bembridge) adorn the walls. The tables on the terrace were deemed a tad chilly, but the tables inside still look out over the beach.  Hard to choose a pre-prandial G&T from their Gin menu, but with the restaurant focusing on local produce, it had to be the Mermaid Gin distilled just a stone’s throw away! Lovely Citrus notes, backed up with slight salty tang which was echoed in the samphire & lemon floating amongst the ice. To stave off hunger pangs, the bread board came with two flavoured butters – smoked cardamom and the other with fennel seeds – quite delicious!

Unlike a recent visit to a “Celebrity” Chef’s restaurant, the Three Buoys menu was balanced and well thought out, so for starters I plumped for Scallops served with wild garlic, black caraway seeds & fermented grains, whilst PJ was struggling to choose between the Beetroot Salmon Gravlax served with Kohlrabi or the Pig Cheek with sweet potato, mango glaze & miso. Whilst the descriptions might sound slightly like a Chef who is trying too hard to prove seasonality alongside trendy ingredients, the actual delivery of the dishes was spot on – scallops cooked to perfection, the pig cheek melt in the mouth.

Mains on the principle menu included temptations such of Isle of Wight Lamb, with aubergine & harissa chickpeas as well as a mountain of Mussels cooked in a Thai Coconut broth, but the Daily specials were impossible to resist. PJ’s choice of Plaice, a fish which inexplicably seems to have fallen out of fashion, delicately cooked and served with black olive crumb & poached radishes. For me, the Sea Bass - a thick fillet with perfectly crispy skin, topped with samphire, excellently cooked flakes falling apart alongside charred asparagus & fennel seeds. The only thing awry on the plate was an small odd polenta cake but apart from that it was pretty close to perfection – especially the seasoning which can make or break a dish – this is a Chef who understands balance!

The Wine List is well chosen and fairly priced – something of a surprise in restaurants these days.  A Clare Valley Riesling matched well with the scallops and the Sea Bass. Made by two MW’s (Masters of Wine – of whom there are only 370 in the world!) , the Courtesan Riesling from Wild & Wilder had lovely lime & pink grapefruit notes, wonderfully fresh with no oak, but thanks to a couple of months lees contact, was rounded and rich enough to compliment  the mains. Good to see wine by the glass were not just the run of the mill, but included a Feteasca from Romania – the best way to get people to sample something different!

Sadly despite the delicious sounding desserts – Textures of Rhubarb or Spice Pineapple with Coconut Ice cream will have to wait for our next visit.

A great meal is never just about the food, but whole experience – The Three Buoys ticked lots of boxes – seasonal food cooked brilliantly with precision & flair, fairly priced wine list, great panoramic view of the beach and best of all -  friendly, knowledgeable staff. Very pleased to have discovered this small gem of a restaurant, and on an Island! The Isle of Wight produces some great food from garlic through to tomatoes – so a longer gourmet weekend away exploring the Island is needed - but a lunch booking at the Three Buoys will certainly be included again!





Wine Evening at Hambledon Vineyard with Joe Wadsack

Salvador Dali, the calorific value of Guinness and  Georgian Architecture. It may seem find to find a link between these subjects, but they all featured in the fascinating presentation by Joe Wadsack at the “How to be a Winemaker evening” at Hambledon vineyard, which I’d bought for a birthday present for my fizz loving other half!

Arriving to a backdrop of beautiful winter skies, nestled on the side of a valley on the chalky hills of the South Down National Park in Hampshire (England), Hambledon Vineyards hosts a creative calendar of events from the perhaps expected ones such as wine tastings, WSET qualifications  through to the more eclectic Yoga in the vineyards. Hambledon is the oldest commercial vineyard in the UK, started in1952 by Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, with lots of advice from the Pol Roger Cellar Master, their vines are planted with the classic Champenoise grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Meunier.

But the evening’s event with Joe, was not arrogantly designed to promote their own (superb!) sparkling wines – but an opportunity to directly compare a variety of fizz in the company of one of the most knowledgeable & entertaining communicators in the Wine Trade. A real tour de force, with endless energy, whose enthusiastic presence is quite compelling, Jo’s mind works like a Classic American Pin Ball machine - bouncing everywhere, landing on subjects at a tangent, scattering fascinating nuggets of knowledge as he enthuses around the central theme. I  wish it were possible to have Joe on a rewind function,  you are so overwhelmed with the depth  of knowledge,  it would be fabulous  to have him on catch up to listen again later!

Tasting events can often be too formal and rather off putting for the consumer, but this was a remarkable privilege whilst being great fun! There were only 6 wine lovers at the event (due to the bad weather) listening to Joe’s years of experience of the wine world for almost four hours! With such a select number, there was a great opportunity for interaction & discussion – the lady who was there as part of her Year Long celebrations of her 50-th birthday, who was emphatic about her love of Bolly through to the lady from the New Forest decided dislike of Cava – for all, it was fascinating opportunity to taste a range of sparklers side by side.

A glass of Hambledon on arrival was served with some delicious patés, including vension and  smoked salmon to stave the hunger pangs!

The tasting kicked off with a glass of Prosecco – Conegliano Valdobbiadene La Marca to be precise – which qualifies as  DOCG, Italy’s’ highest wine classification. Prosecco has really taken off in the UK, since 2008, sales have increased by 6000%!!! Joined now by the Scandi counties and the US in their love of this classic Italian sparkling wine, this marketing phenomenon shows no sign of abating.  A shaft of brilliance from Joe described Prosecco as the Lager equivalent of the Sparkling wine club (not in a bad way!) . Uncomplicated, reliable, low acidity, quite mono dimensional, this is easy drinking fizz ideal for BBQ’s or rainy Tuesday evenings after a bad day at work.

Personally I am not a fan of Prosecco (except for some Colfondo styles, which are bottle fermented but this is a tiny production compared to the big companies), but the La Marca poured as first wine was fresh crisp green apples, simple clean  and unchallenging – and would find great success in many wine bars.  Moving up the production method scale, using oak barrels and bottle fermentation, next up was Cordoníu Cava from the vineyards of Penedès, just an hour outside Barcelona, Spain. Although Cava has lost out recently to Prosecco in the UK at the entry level price, it still is huge consumption in Spain. Our small group were not that enthusiastic, it was more yeasty which was more layered in flavour, but slightly flat on the fruit, and as Joe pointed out, suspect it was a bottle fault (it happens) as certainly usually a much more enticing wine. Top end Cava is a heavenly delight such as the Grand Reserva 457 but at a price over £100 a bottle, I should expect so! But despite the poor showing of the Cordoníu this evening, generally speaking for a party wine, you get more complexity from your Cava than Prosecco at same price point. Interesting also to hear about how one of Cava’s main grape variety, the weirdly named Xarel- lo which gives acidity to the wine, is now increasingly being planted for still wines in the region.

Amongst the critiques of the wines, the aim of the evening was to show how a winemaker would approach making the final sparkling wine blend. Joe shared the brilliant BLIC theory (I am not going to explain here as would spoil for anyone yet to attend the evening)  - but it shows consumers an insight into how the professionals in the wine trade approach a wine.

Our third glass was back to the classic Home of sparkling, with the omnipotent Champagne Laurent Perrier on show. The bubbles were much finer than previous two, making it a more appealing texture and sensorial perception. Joe’s refreshing honesty about the marketing aspect of the big Champagne brands and how that has helped them to dominate this market for so long – working out to an average of £10 a bottle of your Champagne bottle price goes on marketing alone! The LP (whose strong market presence is down to the trade off as wine bars still clamber to get their hands on the delicious LP Rosé) was discreet but with  lovely pink  grapefruit note on the nose, notably more complex but to my taste just too technically perfect – everything was there but no passion.

Last in the flight of finished wines was the Hambledon Classic Cuvée, which although is a NV was based on the 2014 vintage, when the quality of the Meunier (previously known as Pinot Meunier) grapes was outstanding. Keeping an objective view, despite tasting it in its spiritual home, of the four the Hambledon won for pure individuality, complexity and interest in the glass. Blend of 40% Chardy, 31% Meunier & 29% Pinot Noir made with 7.6 gms residual sugar per litre, it charmed the group.

This stage of the evening is where it became fascinating technical for those who have never blended wines before. Hambledon’s brilliant Events Manger, Katrina Smith along with their Wine Maker Felix  Gabillet (yup – French!) had lined up four versions of Hambledon to taste – in which the only varying factor was the amount of dosage added at the end of fermentation. This decides the mouthfeel, texture, taste and aging potential of the wines, and for famous names of Champagne is usually about 10 gms per litre added, but Hambledon have done extensive research on varying dosage levels.

Kicking off with the Zero dosage, understandable racy acidity, with a nose like a Nashi pear, with waxy white lilies - it simple danced on the tongue, a thrilling wine but not for those of a nervous disposition!  The 4 gms dosage per litre had more roundness – and interestingly 5gms / litre is the magic number to help the wines aging slowly and gracefully.  6gms / litre in comparison felt quite heavy but with attractive biscuit notes and good long finish – very easy to drink! 10 gms had a different bubble formation and to my personal taste was slightly unbalanced as lacked the necessary acidity. But totally fascinating and the group loved having the possibility to taste these wines side by side for a direct comparison. Even more fun, was the choosing of which dosage to go into the bottle we were each given to take home – so all off to the cellar to bottle and label our own Hambledon after a delicious supper cooked by South African Steve, one of the team who makes a mean Coq au Vin, ideal to soak up the tasting and paired superbly with a surprise Alsace Pinot Noir!

Having first focused on getting the vineyards as they wanted, Hambledon  is currently undergoing a huge investment with new gravity fed cellars and tasting room. So do go and visit them at this exciting time in their (and English Wines’) development.  The momentum of English wine is on a roll – no longer a laughing stock to amuse our cousins over the Channel – but there are some outstanding sparkling wines being made in England. Certainly, where I live on the South Downs, there is an explosion of vineyards being planted  all around. Increasingly also the still wines are gaining attention – but the sparklers are the stars, even getting listings on export markets (including France!).

A brilliant evening, and a real privilege to have the company of Joe and his immense knowledge – not to mention pithy quotes – not sure how we got onto the subject of Merlot, but his view on this grape variety was “The Tofu of the wine world, only to be used to numb the pain of attending a child’s party”! Joe’s parents ran a gastropub, he was an RAF pilot for a spell, before heading  to Bordeaux to study wine making and went onto to become wine buyers at several UK companies including Waitrose. His enthusiasm for all things food & drink – along with a healthy dose of refreshing honesty – meant for a brilliant – both fun & informative - evening in his company.

Hambledon are holding another date for this course later this year – for details do contact Katrina Smith on katrina.smith@hambledonvineyard.co.uk

Oh and in case you’re wondering apparently Guinness brewed in the UK is only 210 calories a pint vs 600 for that which is cask conditioned in Ireland!


White Wines & Fish for the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is such an amazing charity – entirely funded by donations, their crews set sail without a thought for their own safety, often in dreadful weather whilst the rest of us are tucked up on the sofa at home. In order for them to be equipped to cope with the challenges that the seas around the UK throw at them when out on a “shout”, the RNLI is brilliant in raising these essential funds in all manners of ways! To run the RNLI last year cost £177.3 million (yes – please read that figure again!). In 2016 alone, they rescued 8, 643 people at sea, plus RNLI

Lifeguards went to the aid of a further 20, 538 beach goers!  So when they appealed this year for people to host a fund raising Fish Supper – it seemed a great way to invite a few friends over for supper, try out a range of wines to see what paired best with fish and top up the donation box as well.

Planning menus is almost as much fun as the actual cooking, but a bit of a quandary ensued for this evening. Fish supper implies a visit to the local “chippy” so would people be disappointed if the menu went all chi chi and offered a ballotine of poached salmon with yuzu dressing? So some canapés to pacify my need for pretty presentation followed by a Fish Supper involving batter but with a bit of a twist!

Cullen Skink

A trio of fishy Canapés to kick off with -  mini blini’s topped with smoked salmon, sour cream&  faux caviar, followed by Scandi inspired waxy potatoes topped with dill gherkins & smoked anchovy, ending with a shot of Cullen Skink (smoked haddock soup).

Baguette aux goujons de poisson sounds so much more elegant than Fish Fingers sandwiches, but not when made with rustic haddock fingers, lemon mayo and even a handful of rocket to pimp it up inside soft white rolls!

A beautiful platter from Southern Italy was heaped with golden nuggets of scampi, delicate lemon sole goujons and tempura king prawns. All very delicious, but of course no fish supper is complete without chips – so newspaper cones overflowing with steaming hot crinkle cuts completed the scene. Well almost, as individual ramekins of minted mushy peas were there for those of that odd persuasion!

So onto the wines - to avoid being too serious, we opened up a range of wines so people could taste a variety of grapes and countries.

Given the menu, whites obviously dominated, and with one exception all the wines were ordered from the brilliant Wine Society, whose list not only weaves around the wine world throwing up many a lesser known gem, but almost all the wine were just below a tenner!

Gewurztraminer is one of those divisive varieties (the Marmite Love it Hate it of the Wine World!) so it’s always great to see friends get excited about this aromatic variety. Add to the fact this one comes from Slovenia, Traminec from Dveri Pax, is a fun one to add into a blind tasting! Delicate rose notes typical of the variety backed up by lovely spiciness. Worked well with the oiliness of the smoked anchovies. £9.95 (WS)

Some classic wine pairings disappear as the wine sadly goes out of fashion. Muscadet used to be a default choice with shellfish, but sadly not offered as much these days as the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. So how delightful to taste (drink…..) the Muscadet Sevre et Maine from the charming Bougrier family. They’ve been making wine in the Loire for six generations, including this lively, refreshing bone dry Muscadet, the acidity making it the perfect pair for the rich batter of the scampi. Great wine for a party being great value at only £6.50 (WS).

Tabali, a wine estate located in the mystical valley of Limari in Northern Chile, make a smooth Chardonnay Reserve Especial. Offering a more rounded mouth feel than some of the crisper other whites, it’s surprisingly richness (given the young vines and no oak) picked up the smoked salmon quite well. £9.50 (WS)

The volcanic soils of Mount Etna, home to the Carricante & Cataratto white grape varieties give wines with appealing layers of minerality. Tenuta Nicosia Etna Bianco with appealing red apple flavours paired happily with the tempura king prawns and the kick of the chilli dip. £12.50 (WS)

Encruzado is a lesser known white variety from the Dao region of Portugal, which sadly has seen so many vineyards recently destroyed in the forest fires. The Ribeiro Santo Encruzado is a delicious example to discover; citrus yet soft, a light touch of French oak adding complexity. £10.95 (WS)

Chateau Thieuley showed the elegance of a Bordeaux Blanc, when Semillion grapes are used in the blend, rather than the recent trend of doing 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This one also having a touch of Sauvignon Gris in the blend as well. Fabulous citrus notes, not just lemons but also tangerines & pink grapefruit. £9.50 (WS)

Hailing from the Cotes du Rhône, Secret de Famille Blanc from Paul Jaboulet Ainé is a blend of four whites grapes (including Viognier and Marsanne). Put quite simply, it ticked all the boxes for a good mouth feel, peach notes from the Viognier, well balanced and a great all- rounder wine – and I mean that in a positive way! Great value £8.50 (WS)

Matakana Estate Pinot Gris 2014 from New Zealand – the only wine shown not from the Wine Society but from our excellent local (Hampshire) independent Wine Merchant, The General Wine Company. Given this arrived in the hands of a vegetarian friend (no fish therefore), who is also lactose intolerant – it was much appreciated as a sop for the challenge of doing a “fish” supper for a veggie! It was deliciously rich with good acidity, ripe pears, slightly floral and honeyed long finish. £19.59 (General Wine Co.)

But for a couple of friends known for their devotion to reds, they gamely tried some of the whites before moving onto a couple of reds to see how well they worked with the fish.

Bulgaria might not be the first country to spring to mind when looking for a Pinot Noir, but stand up Soli from Edoardo Miroglio. Made by an Italian in Bulgaria, this wine is delightful, relatively uncomplicated but all the more appealing and very food friendly - worked best with the richness of the scampi.  £9.95 (WS)

New Zealand is perhaps better known for that same grape variety, so the Kumeu Village Pinot Noir made by Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich was a great comparison with lovely raspberry and redcurrant notes. His family emigrated from Croatia to New Zealand in 1937, and their estate, Kumeu River is on the North Island, also making truly world class Chardonnay (albeit with a higher price tag than this!). £9.95 (WS)

Back to Mount Etna for the partner in crime of the Nicosia above – this time from the red Nerello Mascalese variety. Trademark minerality showing through the attractive notes of red fruit with herbal notes, almost savoury finish. Would have worked better with a tuna fish steak (or meat!), but was a great option for relaxing with after supper! £9.95 (WS)

Added to the number of bottles rapidly mounting on the table, two beer options for one friend who was designated driver! Sharps Brewery comes from Rock in Cornwall and two beers which matched the fish main course – Doombar Amber Ale, named for the notorious sand bank in the Camel Estuary and Sharps Sea Fury, brewed at the request of local fishermen to have a stronger ale to revive them after facing the storms of the Atlantic coast. Seemed an appropriate choice! My informal Beer Guru of the evening said the Doombar apparently went well with the prawns!

So apart from a fun evening with a group of friends, having shown off a wide range of some lesser known wines and test run them with various sorts of fish dishes, the eight of us managed to raise £151.32 for the Lifeboat – which is good news! Still not sure where the £1.32 came from – but as they say, Every Little Helps!

With the high costs of building and maintaining the boats and Lifeboat stations, the RNLI are outstanding at looking to the future. Their use of sustainable energy last year created at the stations by wind turbines and solar panels saved enough money to run nine inshore lifeboats.

Please do visit RNLI.com for more information. If there is any way you can get involved (last year I did the H2O Challenge giving up all liquids except water for a month – no wine for 31 days? That was a challenge and a half but raised almost £600 – not sure if that says something about my friends doubting my wine resistance levels?) , then there are lots of ways to help support this truly selfless charity.

PS – If you want to see the RNLI in action, available on BBC iPlayer is “Saving Lives at Sea”  following the work of Lifeboat crews as far afield from Tower Bridge on the Thames down to the Atlantic coast in Cornwall.

PPS – Apologies, I meant to take lots of great photos of the fabulous food, but we were having so much fun pairing the wines & fish that was forgotten!! So hence a few images from some of the empty bottles next day!



Hambledon Wine Festival

Take one Sunny, Summer's Sunday morning. Add in a beautiful setting, the Hampshire Countryside at its best, butterflies fluttering through the vines, bees buzzing on the lavender plants and a sparkling white marquee. Stir in a judicious selection of wines and delicious local foods and you have Hambledon Wine Festival which took place this weekend! The oldest commercial vineyard in England, making wine since 1952, the estate has undergone a complete renaissance since Ian Kellett took over in 1999. On the chalky soils of the South Downs (like those of the Champagne region), Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir have been planted with great success. The vineyards lined with hay bales, with the notes of jazz floating on the air, invited you to share in this fabulous festival. The resident canine welcoming Committee, Beka (a beautiful Ridgeback), led visitors through into the marquee where an array of wines & foods awaiting to while away the Sunday in relaxing style in the Culture of Wine!

With around 80 wines to taste, where to start? Kicking off in style with the home team, Hambledon hosted by the welcoming polyglot, Phillip Kellett, their Classic Cuvée Rosé was all strawberries & cream in a glass and truly hit the spot as the opening wine! But their Premier Cuvée, a blend of the three main grape varieties that go into that other sparkling wine, Champagne aka Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir was delightful, slightly toasty and hazelnut notes with a long finish. Showcasing these superb sparkling wines showed just how quality has become the focus for English Sparkling Wines.

The oldest Wine Merchant in Britain, and holder of Two Royal warrants, Berry Bros & Rudd chose seven wines from their extensive listings. The delicate pale Provencal Rosé Chateau la Mascaronne suited the sunshine perfectly and would be delicious with a hot smoked salmon steak. Their Pouilly Fuissé from Olivier Merlin showed how well Chardonnay can give an elegant balance of richness & fresh minerality - perfect for a classic Sunday Roast Chicken! Amongst their excellent selection was their own label Bordeaux, sourced from Chateau du Tetre, which was textbook Margaux and a lovely Rioja from Amezola de la Mora, full of vanilla, red fruits and a spicy finish. But when the main Wine Man of the day, acting MC - Joe Wadsack - decides that he is willing to part with his own cash for a wine, you know it's something notable. In this case, BBR's own label Good Ordinary Claret. For a very good reason, as the advert used to say "it does what it says on the tin" and at a special show price of just £8.50 (and even at the regular price of £9.95) it is undoubtedly a bargain! Despite the main shop in London, BBR also have a warehouse shop near Basingstoke, which carries a wide range of discounted lines with up to 30% off, worth a visit!

The General Wine Company have two shops in Hampshire, Petersfield (ideally placed next to the station so perfect to drop in & pick up a bottle of something to revive you after the current hideous train delays!) and Liphook. Known for choosing smaller wine estates rather than large brands, the festival selection was wide ranging including the wonderful Bellingham Bernard Series Viognier from South Africa which would have been perfect with a Chinese Spicy Ginger Sea Bream through to an elegant Reserve Malbec by Bodegas Fin del Mundo, which translates as the Cellars at the End of the World - appropriate as it's from the cooler climes of Patagonia in the South of Argentina!

Vin Wine Merchants, the new shop started by local Wine Educators, the Solent Wine Experience were showing a classic Entre Deux Mers from Bordeaux, an eminently quaffable summer white as well as for those after something a little more esoteric, a Marsanne Reserve from Uruguay! Their small courtyard in the heart of the attractive coastal town of Emsworth is a great place to relax and enjoy their wines with charcuterie & cheese platters. But it was the beautiful artwork on display that first enticed you to their stand. Striking drawings in Indian Ink of gnarled vines created by local Emsworth artist, Steven Massey, the pictures would make a beautiful present for any wine lover!

If someone offers you a Chardonnay from Canterbury, you'd probably think first of the South island of New Zealand, where the Canterbury region hugs the Pacific Ocean.  So at the Simpsons Wine Estate stand, a bit of a surprise to find out this wine hailed from a bit closer, from Kent. A new estate whose vines are still establishing themselves in that sunny corner of South East England, they also own Domaine Sainte Rose in Southern France and were showing a delightful Barrel Selection Rousanne, displaying how well this Southern Rhône variety has found a home in their Languedoc estate.

All this wonderful wine was superbly backed up by a tempting range of food stands as tempting smells wafted across the vines, of South African sausages on the Braai courtesy of the award winning Simply African Food. If you think you know Pork Pies, you'll think again after tasting the truly fabulous Pork Pie from Jake's Artisan Foods. Not filled with artificial pink mushy meat, these heavenly pies are delicious chunks of hand cut pork encased in a classic hot water pastry case and great tasting jelly. A perfect pairing for a glass of the spicy Crozes-Hermitage on the General Wine stand!

To keep the younger visitors smiling, refreshing local ice creams made from Jersey milk by Meadow Cottage Farmhouse were being served from an old fashioned tricycle. Two of the flavours Apricot & Mango and Vanilla & Stem Ginger would actually go quite well with a chilled glass of the Late Harvest Rousanne on the Simpsons stall. The image of a summer English fete was enhanced even more by the bunting on Crepe Britain, whose scrumptious crepes had some unusual fillings such as Chorizo & Jalapenos but what could be a more traditionally English flavour than Cheese & Pickle!

One of the most classic food & wine pairings is fizz and oysters, so as a happy match for the Hambledon sparkling, there was the Oyster Meister wandering around with a barrel of oysters on ice!

Cork & Cheese, a Hampshire deli that stocks a wide array of English Cheeses were there tempting all turophiles (that's Cheese lovers to most of us!) So a little retail therapy was called for (and cheese is SO much more fun to shop for than shoes!) Hard to choose but plumped for some Tunworth, a glorious squidgy Camembert cheese from Hampshire and even more local from the Goodwood Estate, Molecomb Blue, award winning soft blue cheese. 

Cupcakes seem to have taken over the world, so good to see Cupcakes with a twist from Boozy Bakers, staying with the day's drinks theme, make strictly for adults flavours with their Gin & Tonic, Prosecco or Limoncello flavour Cup Cakes.

Throughout the day, were a series of Masterclasses from their brilliant in-house Wine Educator, Katrina Smith,  superbly explaining all about Pinot Noir, through to Ian Kellett, (MD at Hambledon) who studied wine making at Plumpton College, waxing lyrical about the terroir of their vineyards and even a Masterclass with the energetic, enthusiastic whirlwind that is Joe Wadsack. A great personality of the wine trade, his depth of knowledge is so brilliantly communicated to all levels of wine lovers and combined with a true love of putting the right wine with the right food! Recently seen on This Morning tasting the new premium range of Bag in Box wines that are undergoing a revival, there seems no end to Joe's fount of knowledge all things food and wine! Hambledon have a gravity fed winery, so Felix, their French wine maker was also hosting visits to their cellars in between all the tastings.

Hambledon run a great event calendar, so if you'd like to learn a bit more about wine, why not sign up for one of their WSET courses!

A glorious day, which seemed so very typically English, held in Hambledon, the Cradle of Cricket, set against a bucolic backdrop, with the vines flourishing as a reminder that vines have been grown in England since the Doomsday book. Combined with the welcoming team at Hambledon, this is an wonderful wine event that is already in next year's diary!

If you'd like to know more about English Wines,  do visit http://www.englishwineproducers.co.uk