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…
Our much anticipated tour of some of England’s vineyards stemmed from our growing fondness for wines from this part of the world and our quest to know and understand more about wine in general. We discovered that we have so many wine estates on our door step and as such, hoped that we would come away with a deeper awareness for what English wine is.
So after some careful planning and armed with our copy of Wine Tourism UK, 2011 Edition and A guide to the Wines of England & Wales and of course, a detailed schedule that Ruth had put together, we set off on our first tour of vineyards.
In order for us to really capture the essence of English wine, we felt that it was important to include terroir and by this we not only meant the actual place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made but also the surrounding area to that wine: that is the towns; villages; sights; sounds; countryside; local attractions; foods; other beverages and of course, the people. Sometimes, we feel that in order to really capture the essence of a wine, we need to also explore non-wine pursuits and as such, these will often include a drop or two of the stuff anyway. It never ceases to amaze us how versatile a great wine is!
For this trip, we decided that we would concentrate on wine estates in the Kent and Sussex regions, by doing so this would enable us to stay in one place with regards to our accommodation. We found ourselves a nice holiday cottage situated in the Kentish village of Tenterden. An ideal location for vineyard exploration.
We were given a warm welcome by the owners of Barden Cottage, who had left out a box of chocolates and a bottle of Mateus Rose … it would have been rude of us not to.
Our first evening we chose to walk into Tenterden and sample some of their local ales. The real wine trek would commence the following day.
We would like to present a snapshot of the wine estates we visited and highlight some of the wines that we particularly enjoyed (a complete list of all wines tasted can be found in our “Tasting Notes” section – this is currently under construction). Included in this snapshot are also some of that regions’ attractions, which we hope will express a sense of place.
This Estate promotes itself as “Kent’s oldest vineyard” dating back to 1969 and produces white, red and sparkling wines made from various varieties including Ortega, Reichensteiner, Dornfelder, Gamay and Pinot Noir. They also produce their own ciders.
There is a tasting area and well stocked shop. There are regular vineyard tours but you are also free to wander the vineyards unescorted, which we did taking with us a refreshing bottle of their estate made apple juice. Lunch was enjoyed at one the the picnic tables situated next to the vineyard.
The wine we most enjoyed was:
Gribble Bridge Rose 2011: Dornfelder & Acolon – lots of strawberries and cream with a hint of raspberry
In close proximity is The Kent & East Sussex Railway as well as The National Trust property of Sissinghurst. We took the opportunity to visit both.
We called upon Sissinghurst first. This was the home of the writer Vita Sackville-West, of which her family remain as tenants working with The National Trust. A recent TV series on Sissinghurst depicted this.
A great place to spend the day or just for a few hours as we did. The sun shone whilst walking through the wonderfully maintained gardens. Views afforded of the Kent countryside from the tower leave a lasting impression.
We then headed back to Tenterden to take in the Kent & East Sussex Railway. However, on this journey, we must have taken a wrong turning somewhere, though we were pleased that we did as we spotted a hand written sign at the side of the road advertising wine for sale. Curious as to who might be selling wine and where from, we decided to make a U-turn and take a look.
We pulled into the drive of what appeared to be a residential cottage and knocked at the door.
Soon afterwards, we were greeted by a man who informed us that he was the owner producer of the wines for sale and introduced himself as Laurence Williams of The Harbourne Vineyard. He explained that he and his family have been making wines here since 1979. Varieties grown ranged from traditional English types such as Ortega, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc as well as Pinot Meunier and Blauer Portugieser.
Laurence was very charming and happy to open a bottle or two of his wines whilst chatting about his wine making processes as well as life in general, where we did find ourselves getting a bit philosophical at times, which must have been down to the wine!
We came away with a bottle of his: Harbourne Orgtega Dry 2007, 11.5% and unchaptalised – Hedgerow with crisp acidity and floral notes, finished with a soft creamy mouthfeel
Afterwards, we retraced our tracks and found the right road back into Tenterden, where we called into The Kent & East Sussex Railway.
This railway, once part of the Southern Railways network, has always had a rural existence with Bodiam Castle as its backdrop. It played host to the many seasonal hop-pickers who used to travel to Kent each year by train from the surrounding towns and cities, now its main source of income is tourism. It is soon to regain more of its original length by rejoining back up with the nearby Rother Valley Railway, whose volunteers are relaying miles of track in order for this to be achieved. If you want very old vintage steam trains set within the rolling Kent countryside then this is a must.
Join us next as we take a ride to Bolney and Ridgeview Wine Estates …
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…
In May, we managed to get down to this year’s London International Wine Fair, held for the last time at ExCel before moving to Olympia next year!
It was great to see many familiar faces including the gang from Local Wine School, International Wine Challenge, Ribafreixo, Alentejo, Portugal and Kathy from Jordan Winery, Stellenbosch, South Africa. We also had the pleasure of meeting Virginia Wines producer Andrew Hodson, Veritas Wines, whose Petit Verdot 2010 we were introduced to at a recent NEWTS tasting and a rather top wine it was too.
We had the opportunity to try wines from new and far off places, Brazil, China, Japan, Georgia, India, Mexico, Peru, Ukraine but we were too late to try Thailand – already quaffed! It was great to see many English Wine Producers at the Hub’s pop-up tasting, including the multi-award winning Gusbourne Estate sparkling wine range (IWC, IWSC and Decanter).
However, it wasn’t all just tasting, there was learning to be done too! We attended Masterclasses and talks on:
- “Croatia’s Flagship Wine”, Graševina, with Joe Wadsack and Saša Špiranec
- Koshu with Lynne Sherriff
- “How to communicate with your customer” with the Knackered Mother herself Helen McGinn
- Languedoc-Roussillon Sud de France Top 100 Wine Competition Teaser Tasting with Tim Atkin
- Hungarian “Volcanoes and Vines” with Dr Caroline Gilby
As an interlude, we headed to The Cork and Bottle Wine Bar, squeezed between retail outlets in Leicester Square, quite retro 80s in feel, reasonable selection of wines, especially liked the Callabriga 2008 from Douro, Portugal. On the food front, the mixed platter was a bit of a let down but the chips were good.