Our next part of the journey would see us moving in a westerly direction, over the border into Sussex via the seaside town of Hastings and the self-proclaimed town of Battle, hopping on and off trains in the proceedings.
Whilst on our way out of Kent, we took in The Spa Valley Railway. It was opened in 1886 by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway as a through route from London to Brighton. It now has its headquarters in the spa town of Tunbridge Wells and the new station is situated on a site close to the original Tunbridge Wells West, where it still stands but is no longer rail connected with its use now being that of a hotel. The line stopped being a through route in the late 1980’s, closed by British Rail it is now blocked in one direction by a supermarket that has been built on what was part of the mainline. The town’s passengers have had to transfer to the nearby Central Station for their rail journeys since.
However, the line has been reopened in the direction of (and all the way back to) Eridge, where it now reconnects with the main line and is one of few preserved lines that shares one of its stations with the national network. Not often can you witness a 1920’s built Fowler 3F Jinty stood next to a Southern Electrostar electric multiple unit built in the last decade!
Bolney Wine Estate
Moving into the county of Sussex and not too far along the A23, this estate is situated at The Booker Vineyard in the village of Bolney. It has been making wines since 1972 and produces a full range including whites: Chardonnay; Schonburger; Reichensteiner; Wurzer and reds: Dornfelder; Merlot; Pinot Noir; Pinot Meunier; Rondo.
It is worth trying all the range of wines but we particularly liked the:
Bolney Estate Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 – Crimson in colour, good acidity and tannins. Cherry and blackberry aromas and flavours with a hint of savouriness from the oak. A good example we thought!
There is a bright and well set out tasting area, cafe and shop, excellent to while away a few hours sipping a glass or two of Bolney wine. Regular guided tours are available in various formats of the vineyard and winery. Tastings by the glass can be purchased as well as by tasting flights. Kel had a red and white flight and Ruth had a sparkling flight – a great way to spend a morning!
Right, time for some fresh air entwined within a bit a classic English history – so off to the seaside we went.
Hastings is famous for its long sea front and classic old town as well as for the battle that it is named after, even though this event took place a few miles further up the road in the now aptly named village of Battle. Taking in this seaside town, exploring some of its many historical streets and taking a ride on one of its two funicular railways, that afford spectacular coastal views, is well worth it. There was also the opportunity to take a ride on the miniature railway that runs along the sea front (of which Ruth was duly compensated with the hasty purchase of an ice-cream!).
We had a brief English history lesson when calling upon Battle on our way to Ridgeview. Neither of us had been here before and it was great to absorb the atmosphere still felt as a result of the events that took place almost a thousand years ago that had such a momentous affect upon English culture.
Ridgeview Wine Estate
A relative newcomer as an English wine producer compared to some of the others that we had visited on this trip so far, established in 1994 and produced its first wines in 1996. Since then, the reputation of the Estate has grown out of all proportion and can now claim to be one of England’s leading sparkling wine producers.
Ridgeview concentrates on making a range of sparkling wines, which can be found in stockists all over the country. They also provide Marks & Spencer with their Marksman Sparkling English Wine as well as making wines for many other local producers. Their wines have also gained the Royal seal of approval by being served at state dinners.
What we like about Ridgeview is their ability to produce consistently good wines, having tasted the full range over several vintages and two of our favourites are their Grosvenor and Knightsbridge fizz.
On our visit, we had the tasting room to ourselves. It was great to spend some time sipping and tasting the range whilst either looking out at the vineyard or down into the winery. Tours are available, please see their website for forthcoming dates.
We did have the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Oliver Marsh who is Sales and Marketing Executive. It was great to hear his take on the Ridgeview brand.
It was now time to head back to Kent, which involved one or two detours along the way including a stopover with friends in the village of Marden and what will be the final part of our 2012 tour of English vineyards.
The Feathers Inn at Hedley-on-the-Hill in Northumberland, run by Rhian Cradock and Helen Greer, has gained a bit of a reputation over the years for its restaurant and fine range of cask ales, seeing it win Great British Pub and Gastro Pub awards in recent times.
As well as having a yearly real ale festival, which will often showcase many local breweries, The Feathers also prides itself on putting together an English Wine and Cider Festival.
So on this sunny Bank Holiday Monday, we headed off to Northumberland taking a pleasant drive along winding lanes through the picturesque landscape, to try out one or two of the wines on offer.
We arrived to a busy beer (or should we say, wine/cider?) garden with folk already enjoying a glass or two as well as tucking into the offerings from the BBQ.
The range of wines on offer could be purchased by the glass, bottle or 50ml sample, we opted for the latter so as to try more of the range without becoming too tipsy in the process.
As with previous years, producers such as Bolney, Chapel Down, Denbies and Three Choirs were all present, with new (for us) at this event, Biddenden, Leventhorpe and Nytimber.
Wines that we particularly enjoyed were:
Three Choirs Regalia 2011: Madeleine Angevine, Phoenix, Schonberger, Siegerrebe and Seyval Blanc – Hedgerow, elderflowers, mineral notes with zest and a decent finish
Biddenden Gribble Bridge Rose 2012: Dornfelder & Acolon – Strawberries and cream, structured with an acidic backbone
Broadwood’s Folly English Sparkling Wine NV: Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc – the grapes are from the North Downs and made into wine at Denbies by John Worontschak – Good nose of fresh apples with a hint of melon and brioche on the palate and a creamy finish. However, the bubbles did fade a bit too quick from the glass.
The Bank Holiday was now well and truly underway…!
Well, we have arrived at our final English fizz tasting of the week and what better way to complete this than by a glass of Cornwall. We tried this fizz last month when we visited Camel Valley Vineyards. It went down great whilst sat on the terrace on that sunny evening, looking out onto the surrounding Cornish countryside.
Now back in the North-East on a bank holiday weekend and yes, it was raining, would we still feel the same about this sparkling wine?
Camel Valley Brut “Cornwall” 2011: Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc & Reichensteiner – Fresh apple with a touch of brioche. The acidity balanced well with the additional residual sugar in this fizz compared to the others that we have had this week. A slight bitterness on the finish but this is counter-balanced by a touch of creaminess. It certainly cheered up our rainy evening!
Retails at £24.95.
With Friday being so soon upon us and the weekend about to begin, we decided that there was no other way to welcome it in than by having a glass of pink English fizz from …
Hush Heath Estate
Balfour Brut Rose 2009: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – Salmon pink with good mousse and sparkle. Quite a light style. Hints of strawberries & cranberries on the nose that follow through onto the palate with the addition of cherries mid-palate and a touch of creaminess to the finish. Good acidic balance. We found leaving the wine to warm a little in the glass allowed the fruit to shine that bit more.
A tad on the pricey side, weighing in at £37.50.
After successfully hosting our first private tasting, our scheduled English fizz analysis became more of a celebratory one. However, being the “professionals” that we are, we didn’t let this detract away from our duty.
Tonight’s tipple came from The Bolney Estate, Sussex:
Bolney Classic Cuvee Brut 2007, Pinor Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay – This sparkler was a lovely golden colour with a soft pink tinge, revealing its Pinot Noir dominance, with persistent bubbles and a delicate, lasting mousse. Raspberries and apples stood out on the nose and palate accompanied by a creamy texture in the mouth. Even at 2007, we feel that this fizz is still evolving and would probably benefit from being stashed away, allowing the acidity to soften out, for a few more years yet.
We’d best get another bottle then!
Limited stock currently on offer at the Estate’s shop for £19.99.
Continuing on our English sparkling wine theme. We had on hand a chilled bottle of Nutbourne Vineyards:
Nutty Brut NV 12%: Pinot Noir, Reichensteiner and Chardonnay – Raspberry flavours were prominent on the nose with hints of cooked apple and elderflowers, these continued onto the palate with an added lemon zest and some creaminess to the finish. The bubbles fizzed out a little in the glass but overall, a very refreshing aperitif.
Retails at £20.
Wednesday sees us break this theme for a Burgundy tasting (more on this later). However, we shall return to English fizz on Thursday where we already have on chill, something from The Bolney Wine Estate…
We thought that this week we would indulge ourselves in a little decadence disguised as a tasting comparison of English sparkling wines. The task we have decided, is to try a different English sparkler each night of the week. We know, what a task… but hey… someone has to do it!
So, we began last night (Monday 19/8) with a bottle of:
Limney Estate Quality Sparkling Wine Bottle Fermented (2 years on lees) 2008, 11.5%, Pinot Noir & Auxerrois – Lots of autolytic aromas entwined with ripe pineapple and apple. Persistent, small bubbles. Colour was almost golden. The fruit carried on to the finish and was able to compliment the savoury, yeasty notes of this fizz. Good acidity. We felt that this particular sparkler had more years left in it and it would be good to try it again at a later date.
Retails at £22.75.
Limney Estate Wines are produced by Will Davenport.
A good start to the week…