The Finesse of English Sparkling Wines
Did you know that Britain is one of the few places on earth naturally suited to growing grapes for sparkling wines?
This should come as no surprise given the fact that Champagne’s terroir is a stone-throw’s away (relatively speaking).
A few years ago on a weekend getaway to Cornwall, whilst sitting in a hot tub of the Scarlet Hotel overlooking the sea (as you do), I was leafing though the wine list and an entry under the Sparkling Wines caught my eye: Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, with a captivating description along of the lines of English sparkling wine at its best underneath. Intrigued – who wouldn’t be?- I ordered a glass. And that’s how my love affair with English sparkling wines began.
Regardless of the fact that the English vineyards are situated on the wrong side of the English Channel, its somewhat cold and uncertain climate makes them better suited to the production of fine sparkling wines than those situated in the New World. Nyetimber is perhaps England’s Britain’s most famous sparkling wine producer and this country’s first resounding success. When it was first launched back in 1996 by an American couple Stuart and Sandy Moss, English sparkling wines’ true pioneers, it won almost instant acclaim. Against all odds and expert advice, they planted the grapes of the classic Champagne varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and ended up with top-notch sparkling wines. A paradox for many and a victory for them. Nowadays, the best of English sparkling wines rival some of the best of what the Champagne region has to offer. And yet, most people have neither ever tried nor even heard of them.
Until now, I have never set my eyes on a vineyard in England regardless of the fact that I have been pioneering English sparkling wines amongst my friends for quite some time. A real shame considering many of the vineyards and wineries are a mere one hour’s drive from London! However, last week I decided to just do it: rent a car and drive down to West and East Sussex to see where all that delicious, sparkling nectar comes from!
So here is my photo diary from my two wonderful days brimming with English bubbly…
Our first stop was the Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex, who have been producing both still and sparkling wines since the early 1980s. The grounds of the estate were exquisite and well manicured, with an abundance of flowers interspersed throughout – a real joy to roam about!
Our second stop was Ridgeview Wine Estate, where we sampled some world-class sparkling wines.
Just like Nyetimber, Ridgeview has gained international success and fame with its award-winning sparkling wines. Their Victoria Rose is my all-time favourite sprakling rose – even better than the Laurent Perrier.
After Ridgeview, it was time to fuel up of some delicious gastopub food at The Bull in the pleasant village of Ditchling, where we would also be spending the night. This place was coincidentally highly recommended to us by Ridgeview staff. To celebrate a warm sunny afternoon, we accompanied our lunch with a bottle of Ridgeview bubbly.
After lunch we headed to charmingly named Bluebell Vineyard Estate in East Sussex. Here, the grounds here were very pretty indeed, with four beautiful labradors prowling about. As the sun was still high up in the sky, we decided to stay a little and absorb some vitamin D.
I made friends with one the four labradors who seemed completely disarmed by having its neck stroked…
After Bluebell Vineyards we headed back to our hotel The Bull in Ditchling for a well-deserved pre-dinner nap.
The next day, I started the day by downing about a litre of black coffee and admiring pleasantly old-fashioned plates in the dining room.
Feeling slightly worse for wear after too many the bubbles the day before, we decided a five-mile stroll under the sun along the South Downs would do us some good and prepare us for more wine tasting later in the day. It was a glorious morning, and as we climbed one of the downs, beautiful vistas opened up in front of us.
There were some lovely cows and flowers all along the way.
By a fortunate stroke of serendipity, the second day of our road trip coincided with Nyetimber’s second EVER open day (there is another one happening this coming September). Considering the fact that Nyetimber, England’s foremost and largest sparkling wine producer, has been around for 26 years, it it surprising that this winery is so secretive! We started off with a tour of the vineyard, followed by a wine tasting. The grounds were very modern and buildings sleek.
Following our all-encompassing tour of Nyetimber, we briefly popped into neighbouring Nutbourne Vineyards. I had heard of this particular English wine-producer from eating at a couple of very en vogue restaurants in London, Rabbit and the Shed, who pride themselves on offering sparkling and still wines from their boutique family vineyards.
Our last stop of the day was a family-run Upperton Vineyards, where once again we sampled some magnificent sparkling wines. The visit was made even better by the spectacular views of the South Downs.
The owner of Upperton Vineyards directed us to the Horse Guards Inn in Tillington, a bucolic drinking establishment at its best. What a perfect way to finish the road trip!