We all went.  Friends of ours, Ruth and I and the daughters.  We piled into the cars and headed off from Hastings for what turned out to be a very good day.

After the bucketsful of rain of the last few weeks the weather miraculously held and the ambling around Glynde Place with its beautiful rural, posh-life charm was unexpectedly magical.

I am not sure if the wine tasting glasses that we received when we arrived were a gift for us to take home with us – in any case little Dolly broke one of them – but the one remaining is a nice memento.

John Torode said good morning.  Not sure if it’s because he reads the blog (!) or because he’s broken the mould as a nice polite Antipodean.  There was a Masterchef winner there (apparently) doing tasty pork bites.  A Dosa wrap van that had me going back for a naughty wallop of seconds, but there was also a goodly turnout from local producers in the wine marquee.

I didn’t manage to get to listen to Stephen Skelton. Maybe next year…

I had thought that I might go and listen to Stephen Skelton wax lyrical in one of the tutored tastings, but as we had come en famille that felt a bit rude, so Kirsty and I took one for the team and went to do a comprehensive tour of the tent – to check out what was on show, whilst the other halves were keeping the children occupied.  [I paid for it, mind.  I waited hours in the queue for the bloody face-painting afterwards.]

So we started talking to a nice Northern chap who was fronting the Bluebell Vineyard stall.  His Seyval Blanc sparkling has apparently done superbly well at the recent UK Vineyard Association awards.  It was fresh, but the mousse was quite explosive and too much would I think have given me wind.

Next came the well-met Breaky Bottom.  It was great to chat to Peter Hall, the winemaker, who was extremely complimentary about my aftershave (and made me realise what an amateur taster I still am – true professionals would have eschewed any parfum that morning in order to keep the aromas in the glass as pure as possible).

Peter was showing a Chardonnay from 2008 which smelt for all the world of oysters and seaweed; a Seyval Blanc (which he reckoned to be in the same league as the 2006 Breaky which I bigged up in the previous post, and which Kirsty adored) and a Chardonnay-Seyval Blanc blend which was much gentler in respect of bubbles, but forgettable.

I was so taken with the bottled smell of the sea that I bought a couple of the Chardonnay.

In fact Peter’s were the only purchases of the day.  The wines from Upperton vineyard were nice – the sparkling white on offer was minerally and fresh with a nose of pencil shavings.  And their sparkling pink had dairy notes, but just didn’t sway me sufficiently from BB’s C.

And then, as soon as it was begun it was over.  And we were back in the car – all brownied-up and story-told-out with smeared face paint and rosy cheeks.

A fun day, worth putting in the diary for foodies everywhere!


Breaky Bottom tops my personal chart over the past few weeks

So I’m back at the frontline of hyperlocal drinking after the May elections, chicken-poxy children and a bout of holiday had almost seen me off.

I’ve been remiss. 

English Wine Week has passed by this year without a mention.  And I have killed off the Wine Guru in the Hastings & St Leonards Resident.  But hopefully this will give time for spontaneous musings here, and a bit of space to seek out more interesting and indigenous local libations.

Over the past weeks I can recall three family occasions for bubbles which I should have recorded in much more detail for posterity…

There was a wonderful biscuity offering from Breaky Bottom.  A muscular Kentish lad of a wine from Gusborne, and Ridgview’s 2009 Bloomsbury, which was extremely nice with chocolate cake.

But it was the Breaky Bottom that won my heart.  I can’t wait to get to the Glynde Food & English Wine Festival on Sunday to try some more…

Ian Jarman is still going great guns up at the Ivy House Lane industrial estate.

If you’ve not yet been up to Cooden Cellars’ Hastings hub, then I suggest you get yourself up there.

Not only does he have a wide range of wine – geographically and budget-wise – but he has time to talk to you about what kind of wine you like, and that’s something you don’t get at the supermarket.

Given that I generally try to give value for money tips in this column, I was keen to know what he feels is his best offer of the moment. And I have to say that he came up with a corker.

Pinot Noir Viile Timisului 2011, a Romanian wine made by the wine house Căluşari, is currently retailing at £6.50 but if you take your copy of The Resident with you, then Ian will give you a 10% discount.

To be honest, Pinot Noir isn’t my favourite grape, so I had a bit of heart-sink when he recommended it, but boy was I wrong.

This pale ruby wine is unexpectedly complex on the palate.

Tobacco, licquorice, nectarines, peaches. All these flavours melding with aromas of sour cherry and caramel. Quite extraordinary. And the finish just goes on and on…

We spoiled ourselves and drank it with a takeaway from the Jali restaurant at Carlisle Parade. The match was pretty darn perfect.

Julia Trustram Eve is i/c EWP!

Thought I should record a few reflections about the tasting that I went to with my friend James at WSET’s headquarters on Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge, on Thursday.

A pleasant surprise was that we were tutored by Julia Trustram Eve who is the head honcho of English Wine Producers – the marketing arm of the English Wine industry – http://www.englishwineproducers.com/

Julia was formidably knowledgeable and gave a whistlestop tour of the history of the industry, with us tasting eight wines along the way.  But more than the history, she was keen to talk about the future of the industry which, as most people will agree, has changed out of all recognition over the last decade or two and looks decidedly rosé.  (I can’t claim that gag as I my own, but was one of the better ones from the nice man from Yorkshire sat opposite me who enjoyed his one-twos with the tutor probably more than anyone else.  You can judge for yourself what the other gags were like).

I can’t be bothered to relive the tasting moments but I diligently Tweeted them as they exploded onto my tastebuds.  Perhaps you’d be so good as to go and look over the other side of the blog?!

Only one Sussex wine on the list though.  Boooooo Julia.

But credit where it’s due, probably the wine of the night was the Camel Valley Darnibole Bacchus 2010.  It was utterly goosebericious.  And as we commented on our table, quite different from a Bacchus you’d taste at Chapel Down.  Camel Valley’s rendition was much weightier and had a smokier complexity.  Yum.

Most interesting industry fact I gleaned was that last year EWP decided against any sort of regional or quality descriptor for English sparkling wines.  No truck was had with Ridgview’s order of Merret, or Coates & Seeley’s Britagne or Mark Driver (at Rathfinny)’s ‘Downland’ soubriquet

The word from JTE was that she didn’t think that the industry was ‘quite at that point’.  The subtext, I would hazard a guess, is that the big English sparkling brand names are quite happy promoting themselves thank you very much and don’t see the need to follow the Champenois or the Bordelais and market a regional brand.  They want to stake out a share of the premium market for their own label. 

How butch.

I have been beguiled by the Co-op’s Fairtrade selection again.

This time I was in the Bohemia Road store, but I am pretty sure the Ore Village, Central St Leonard’s and Silverhill ones will have it too…

Over the last year or so I have been trying to broaden my experience of white wine grapes. And one of my favourite new finds has been the Torrentés grape from Argentina.

The Co-op’s own Fairtrade Torrentés Chardonnay blend (2011 vintage) has been made from grapes grown in the La Rioja valley, which as I am sure you know nestles between the Velazco mountain range in the East and the Andes in the West.

This is a solidly lemon colour in the glass with white grapefruit and minerals on the first nose – like a wintry sea breeze. After a swirl , the aromas are more of white spring flowers.

Dry and with high acidity – it really got my saliva glands working – the alcohol is not too fierce in the throat and it has a lovely silky body which at £4.99 is pretty darn impressive.

Flavours of green apple and a herby, lightly fennel-y twist make this possibly the best value white wine I have tasted for a good while.

Not that I have them much, and with Valentine’s Day a fading memory, this would have gone beautifully with fresh oysters. A trip to Rock-a-Nore beckons…

Lidl on Bohemia Road’s turn this week for a rummage through its wine section.

The best variety and quality was, to my mind, among the Spanish wines available. There was an interesting young Rioja (Joven) at £3.99 and a weightier looking wine from Tarragona, but I opted to try the Barceliño 2009 from Catalunya at just shy of a fiver.

This wine is produced 40 miles south of Barcelona and is a typical blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha (or Grenache to you French-speakers).

Ruby red in colour, the first aromas were floral and light – red fruits definitely to the fore: cherries, and the waxy skin of a red apple.

But as the wine swirled in the glass there were more strawberry jam notes. Very perfumed, it was evocative of some of the Northern Rhone blends, of Syrah and Viognier, but was much less dry on the palate.

The oak barriques that the wine is aged in for three months have left their mark. There is a certain smokiness, and soft vanilla flavours in the mouth. Plums, leather, this is an interesting wine that is comfortable being paired with spicier food: we had ours with a home-made Thai noodle soup.

The length of the aftertaste was what was particularly impressive for me, given the price. A smooth, tobacco-ey taste which was lovely to savour. I’m glad I popped in!

When my grandfather passed away a couple of years ago, I ended up inheriting from him a share in the Wine Society – this is the John Lewis of the wine world: a mutual that ploughs its profits back into making good wines available at decent prices. If you are interested to know more, just have a look online.

Before Christmas, a friend of mine and I went to one of the Society’s tastings in London – exploring the wines of Portugal. It was interesting and informative – primarily because there are lots of indigenous Portugese grapes that I had never heard of. There were also a wide range of Madeira wines and Ports to try.

Verdelho is one of the four main grape varieties grown on the island of Madeira, and it is famous for making a medium dry fortified wine. So it caught my eye on the label of a South East Australian dry white on offer in Morrisons at the moment.

Rosemount, one of the bigger Australian producers, has created a (2009 vintage) Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay blend. It is less than half price at £4.99, until 26 February.

A medium lemon colour, the wine has immediate aromas of pear drops, apples and lychee; and after a swirl in the glass it has real cleanliness and freshness, and a bit of a tropical fruit rush.

It is a well-balanced wine in respect of alcohol and acidity with limey citrus flavours, and is evocative of fresh cut grass and summer days. Even though it’s the middle of winter, it’ll go beautifully with your favourite fish pie.