11:07 21 December 2010
Vineyards across the South Downs are now producing world class wines that beat even the finest champagnes in blind tastings across the world. Climate change, ideal soil conditions on the slopes of the Downs and a greater level of education on the part of wine growers are key factors in the revival of English wines after the era in the early 1960s when attempts by a fledging industry to produce Germanic sweet wines led to widespread distrust of anything English.
Those German vines were eventually replaced with champagne varieties. Specialists were brought in to provide the expertise, and now English wines, especially those from vineyards spread along the South Downs, are regularly beating the best labels from Australia, California, Chile, France, Italy and New Zealand. At the 2010 International Wine and Spirits competition (IWSC), the most prestigious blind tasting competition of its kind, England's finest from the South scooped up no fewer than 12 major awards.
Five of these went to the 30 acre Ridgeview Estate close to Ditchling, the highest point of the South Downs. Here, winemaking is very much a family affair where founders Christine and Michael Roberts have picked up more than 50 awards since starting their vineyard in 1994. Having gained a DEFRA grant to expand production from 50,000 to 200,000 bottles a year, Mardi Roberts, Ridgeview's Australian sales director, explains that much of their success is down to location as much as hard work. The conditions in this area of the South Downs are perfect for sparkling wine. We have hot summer days and cool nights. The most important thing is to produce the right balance between acidity and sugar levels, and the uniqueness of this micro climate makes this possible.
Indeed, thanks to global warming, grapes here now ripen two weeks ahead of the champagne region of Epernay. It is this warmer weather along the South coast that has done most to increase grape production and improve the quality of the wine. The rich mixture of chalk and clay mirrors the soils found in the French region 80 miles to the south, and the shelter and good drainage afforded by the English Downs help the vines to flourish.
At the 2010 IWSC competition, Bookers Vineyard at Bolney was one of three to be shortlisted for the IWSC UK Wine Producer of the Year 2010 Trophy. Owned by Sam Linter, this 20 acre vineyard has ten varieties of grape, including Merlot, and specialises in producing quality red wines including Antares 2008, which was one of the winning labels at the IWSC awards.
Plumpton College Estate, which runs a BSc degree course in viticulture and oenology as well as foundation degrees in wine business production, also won two awards for their The Dean NV and The Dean Blush NV labels. These are among the award-winning English wines stocked by Waitrose, which takes pride in stocking more regional wines than any other supermarket.
Chapel Down, just across the Sussex border at Tenterton in Kent, also picked up two awards: a silver medal for their Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004, and a bronze for their Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2009 produced exclusively for Marks and Spencer.
Denbies, Britains largest vineyard at Dorking, Surrey, which produces 400,000 bottles a year, also picked up an award for its Denbies Greenfields 2002 vintage.
Two other great Sussex vineyards are Nutbourne Manor and Nyetember, which neighour each other on the southern slopes of the clay-based Weald and the chalky South Downs near Pulborough, and are also at the forefront of England's wine making renaissance.
Nutbourne's Nutty won the International Sommelier blind trade tasting award in 2010, while Nyetimber's Classic Curvee has won Royal patronage as a firm favourite of Her Majesty, The Queen.
The small, four acre Limney Estate at Rotherfield is also punching well above its weight. Their 2005 vintage quality sparkling wine comes highly recommended by Matt Thomas, the head wine buyer at The English Wines Centre at Berwick which stocks more than 140 varieties and tastes all the top labels. Not only that, but they have a first-class restaurant serving menus to match their wines. Brian Lockie, their English Wine tutor, is a keen advocate. It may surprise some, but England produces world-beating wines, particularly in the sparkling wine champagne varieties, he enthuses.
Aly Englefield, with her husband Paul, owns Highdown Vineyard and wine shop near Angmering, and also stocks a wide variety of local wines. We specialise in boutique wines from the smaller vineyards like the Limney Estate and Nutbourne. We have come such a long way in wine making over the past 15 years Sussex sparkling wines in particular are as good, if not better than anything in the world. The big advantage we have in England over other traditional wine growing regions is our Indian summer. While others are picking their grapes, ours enjoy a longer ripening period which gives the wine a much bigger taste.
As the reputation of English grapes continues to mature, more people are abandoning their prejudices. As an Aussie, I didn't even realise England was a wine-growing nation, says Ridgeviews Mardi Roberts. Its more of a challenge producing wines here, and its on a much smaller scale to the big vineyards back home, but I believe we can make much better wines here than in Australia.
Eight of the Best
Tasting notes by Brian Lockie, wine tutor at The English Wines Centre at Berwick
- 2005 Hush Heath Balfour Brut Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinto Meunier grapes
Gold medal winner International Wine & Spirit Challenge 2009.
This limited edition salmon pink wine is a world class sparkling English Ros. This classic blend of traditional champagne grapes is racing with the lasting flavours of strawberries, raspberries and subtle yeastiness.
- 2005 Nyetimber Classic Cuve Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier grapes
A classic blend of the three traditional champagne grapes brought together by this world class and world award winning Sussex vineyard. A close cousin of Nyetimber's famous Blanc de Blanc, Gold medal winner of the International Wine & Spirit Challenge 2006. This vintage has good balance, intensity, and length and promises to continue to develop more complex biscuity flavours.
- 2004 Denbies Greenfields Cuve Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay grapes
Gold medal winner UK Vineyard Association 2006
Made in the traditional method using the favoured champagne grapes, this mature wine is fully flavoured with yeast and stone fruit aromas.
- 2008 Bolney Antaries Sparkling Red Dornfelder grapes
Bronze medal winner International Wine & Spirit Challenge 2010
Vintage traditional method quality red sparkling wine with aromas of red stone fruits, especially red cherry, and sweet blueberries. It leaves in the mouth a wonderful creamy richness and full-bodied mousse, packed full of summer fruits. Almost like a summer fruit pudding with cranberry coulis and slight hint of spiciness delicious!
- 2006 Ridgeview 'Grosvenor Chardonnay grape
Decanter Magazine Gold medal winner 2006 Best of 90 wines 2006
The 2004 vintage was selected to toast the Queen at her 80th birthday lunch at Mansion House. This latest vintage beat traditional champagnes from Tattinger, Moet and Charles Heidsieck in the Decanter Magazine tasting. Light gold in colour with a very fine creamy mousse, this Chardonnay sparkling wine benefits from the soft acidity of soil at this Sussex vineyard and will develop over the next two or three years.
- 2007 Ridgeview Fitzrovia Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier grapes
Winner of the Jean Fereau trophy for Best International sparkling rose with 2005 vintage.
Word within the wine world is that this latest bottling is even better than the 2005 vintage. The classic blend of the three champagne grapes provides a sparkling wine with a delightful salmon pink colour, disgorged after 18 months to keep its youthfulness and retain the flavour of summer fruits. The Chardonnay brings finesse to match a fine mousse while the Pinots add depth to the palate
2005 Limney Estate quality sparkling wine Pinot Noir & Auxerrois grapes
Winner of the Montague Trophy for the best presented bottle in the 2005 UK Vineyard Association wine of the year competition.
Pick of the year from Matt Thomas, head wine buyer, English Wine Centre.
Now in regular production at the new Limney Vineyard at Rotherfield, this wine is made from 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Auxerrois grapes. It has a strong Pinot character and a crisp dry balance of fruit and yeast flavours.
- 2008 Nutbourne 'Nutty Reichensteiner, Chardonnay, Pinot grapes
Gold medal winner, International Sommelier blind trade tasting 2010.
A traditional method bottle-aged sparkling wine from grapes grown on the Nutbourne Estate. The blend of Reichensteiner Chardonnay and Pinot Noir combine to make a soft, dry, balanced wine with a good fruit flavour.
Gay Street, Nr. Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 2HE
Tel: 01798 815 196
Gay Street, West Chiltington, West Sussex, RH20 2HH
Tel: 01798 813989
Plumpton College Estate
Tel: 01273 890454
Chapel Down Winery
Small Hythe Road, Tenterden, Kent, TN30 7NG
Tel: 01580 763033
Denbies Wine Estate
London Road, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6AA
Tel: 01306 876 616
Hush Heath Manor
Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 2NG
Contact: Sheila O'Hare
Tel: 020 7479 9500
The English Wine Centre
Alfriston Road, Berwick, East Sussex, BN26 5QS
Tel: 01323 870164
South Downs Cellars
100 High Street, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, BN6 9PX
Tel: 01273 833830
Highdown Vineyard and Winery Shop
Littlehampton Road, Ferring, Worthing
West Sussex , BN12 6PG
Tel: 01903 500663
Limney Farm, Castle Hill, Rotherfield
East Sussex , TN6 3RR
Tel: 01892 852 380
English Wine Producers
PO Box 5729, Market Harborough
Tel: 01536 772264
Email: Julia Trustram Eve - Marketing manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Waitrose Wine Direct
Tel: 08456 049049