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…
English wine (we say English as we have yet to visit vineyards in Wales) has come a long way, especially in the past 10-15 years, having moved away from the “hobbyist” culture that it was once perceived. It also has to be recognised that overall, the English wine scene is a recent phenomena that has around 60 years of practice under its belt – not a lot then compared to our counterparts where most have hundreds, if not thousands, of years experience behind them. Yes, it could be argued that the Romans may have cultivated vines, followed by monks and finally, some early attempts to re-establish viticulture in the early part of the Twentieth Century. However, we would argue that today’s culture has it origins in the 1950’s.
So, we would like to say at this point, haven’t we done well! Not only are great wines being made but internationally award winning great wines and with this emphasis, we need to be far kinder about this produce than often we are.
We still find introducing English wines a bit of a challenge, particularly with those who claim to enjoy wine. Often, English wine is still perceived as dull, acidic, expensive and no where near to being on par with its foreign counterparts. Then there is the choice of grape varieties that often have their pedigree linked to memories of a bland, acidic oxidised wine that was often the norm between the 1970 – 1990’s – and who can blame folk for thinking this way. However, it is time to shake off this perception. Yes, there will probably always be wines that resemble this description (and this can be said for wines produced in other countries – France, for example, can produce some terrible wines as well as some of the worlds most outstanding) but we think that this image no longer has any real credibility.
Wine making and production still remains in the embryonic stages of development and with this should be seen the advantages, such as the ability to experiment. This can include anything from vineyard management, the chosen varieties, sourcing and winemaking to mention just a few. We have already seen on our travels some great thinkers and innovators that we are sure will become leading figures in the British wine industry. From here, it would be hoped that we can now begin to define our wines and terroir.
We never cease to be amazed at how good English fizz is and have tasted some especially outstanding examples on this current jaunt. White wines are also beginning to come into their own and again examples can be drawn from many producers of well made wines at reasonable prices that are on par with their European equivalents. However for us, the jury is still out on English reds. We would describe most that we have tasted over the years as “all boob tube and miniskirts” – all up front as well as low in acidity and tannins. Some recent reds do seem to be showing improvement, especially in the length and finish and we have had a good example of a Pinot Noir. Time will tell we suppose and this will not prevent us from continuing to sample and taste.
A particular bugbear that we thought could be easily remedied is that of communication between potential customer and producer. Far too frequently did we come across websites that were out of date, giving the wrong information and often omitting as to whether they were linked via Facebook or Twitter, as well as emails and telephone messages not responded to. Poor signage as to the location of wineries that are advertised as being open to the public doesn’t help create a positive impression for the growing wine tourism industry – you know who you are!
Another is price versus quality. Most wines we encountered on our recent trip came into the £10 – £25 bracket, which isn’t bad at all when you compare this to wines from around the world and we would also say that the quality often matched this. English wine production is small-scale and often includes labour-intensive practices from just a few people, this will push up prices and should be taken into consideration. However, there are still one or two producers whose pricing vis-à-vis the quality of their wines simply does not add up and this will sadly reflect on people’s perceptions and give an excuse not to buy English. It will be a hard push to persuade anyone to buy a bottle of mediocre wine anywhere from £20 to over £50, when there are such great wines at more reasonable prices from other countries that are also not from high-output, mechanised producers – come on… we can do better than this!
However bugbears apart, this should not deter anyone from searching out or becoming more familiar with English wines – it would be a real shame not to and we should be proud of our producers and the commitment that they have made to making some very wonderful wines that we can call our very own. Go get……..!!!!
Kelvyn hopes to inspire your taste buds with his recommendations during the month – July.
Eastcott Estate 2009, 11.5%, IWSC Silver Medal Award Winner 2013, made from 100% Seyval Blanc. Think strawberries and cream, strawberry bonbon, with a hint of apricot and brioche. Perfect for our current English summer. Go get some at Eastcott Vineyard.
Herbert Hall Traditional Method Brut 2010, 12%. Lovely mousse, apple citrus freshness entwined with biscuity aromas and flavours. Check for stockists at Herbert Hall.