On a sunny Friday evening before St George's Day, a group gathered at the picturesque Richard Jefferies Museum to sample English wines.
The first wine was an English sparkling brut wine from Kent vineyard, Chapel Down. The group were shown how to look, smell and taste the wine, and also about the significance of the bubbles and mousse in terms of quality. We spoke about the "champagne (traditional) method" of making sparking wine, and the ratio of the three main grapes - pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.
Unanimously, the group were enthusiastic about the bubbles.
Next stop was Cornwall. The Camel Valley winery was founded in the 1980s by an ex-RAF pilot looking to change his career. Having bought a plot of land near Bodmin, Bob Lindo and his wife did some viticulture courses, read lots of books and gave it a go. Thirty years later and not only have they won awards, but their son is now winning competitions with his wines. We tried the Bacchus - a crisp dry white wine, which was a real hit. The Bacchus is a German grape, which grows well in Britain due to its hardy nature and ability to withstand a cooler climate. The wine is available from Waitrose, who have an impressive selection of English wines.
Our third wine was from Wiltshire. The A'Beckett vineyard is nestled in the hills outside Devizes and their wines are now being sold in the Three Trees Farmshop in Chisledon. I'd selected their chardonnay, which is being sold under the brand "Two degrees West" (the longitude of the vines). A'Becketts don't have their own winery to process the grapes, but take them to Furleigh Estate in Dorset to be made into the wine. The guests weren't so keen on the chardonnay; the consensus was that the Bacchus was more enjoyable.
After a cheese course, we enjoyed a Marksman rosé fizz. From Ridgeview - a large (by English standards) vineyard and winery on the South Downs. The chalk and clay soils of the South Downs have proven to be a fantastic location for growing the classic varieties of grapes used for sparkling wine. The cool climate enables the grapes to retain high levels of natural acidity when they are fully ripe, which is crucial to producing full flavoured sparkling wines.
We discussed the production of rosé; allowing the base wine contact time with the skins of the black grapes. The rosé is very pale in the bottle, but when poured, becomes even clearer and could almost be mistaken for a white sparkling wine. This wine was the most expensive of the night, costing £28 at M&S. Some of the tasters would buy it for a special occasion, but others didn't think it worthy of its price tag.
Staying with the rosé, we switched to a still rosé from Denbies, the UK's largest vineyard. We had tried this at earlier tastings, and the wine had always gone down well. Whether this was a different vintage, or didn't mix well with the blue cheese, but the majority of guests weren't keen on this example from M&S.
Our final wine of the night was a red from the Three Choirs vineyard- from Gloucestershire (they also have a sister site in Hampshire). The vineyard produces a variety of white wines, but I went for the red Ravens Hill to see what the group would make of something described as having "A deep, ruby coloured red wine full of ripe blackberry and cherry fruit".
Ravens Hill is made from the Regent grape, another German grape that is hardy and grows well in the UK.
The wine was well received.
A wide range of Three Choirs wines are stocked at the Three Trees farm shop in Chisledon, and the Ravens Hill from 2016 is one of them. You can also buy it on the Three Choirs website - £11.85 (but would be subject to delivery charges).