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Posts Tagged ‘Bacchus’

There are many lovely things about Sussex: fairy-tale castles; stunning cricket grounds; sheer, beautiful cliffs and coastlines.  But in my view, one the very loveliest, is the knowledge that wherever you are – East or West of this once-enormous county – you are never far away from a vineyard.

Bolney started as Bookers Vineyard back in 1972

Bolney started as Bookers Vineyard back in 1972

Sadly (due to the length of the journeys required, and with small children inevitably in tow) I have not yet been able to get to as many in the West as our native East, but last weekend, combined with a family camping trip in the new-to-us campervan, we managed to squeeze in a corker.

To tell the truth, I am not a brave camper.  And the Bongo – whilst being her very own dream come true – has been Ruth’s canny attempt to coax me ever-so-gently out of a stubborn resistance.  The resolve is definitely weakening, and it was not even by connivance that, left in charge of the campsite choice, I chose one a spittoon’s distance from Bolney Estate.  It was all just a happy coincidence!

So let me say first of all that for any reader needing to camp somewhere near Henfield, Blacklands Campsite – http://www.blacklandsfarm.co.uk – is a very welcoming place with good hot showers, a playground and a well-stocked shop!

And to add to its general acceptability to anyone with a passing interest in wine, it is a ten minute drive from Bolney Estate – one of the best-marketed wine brands in Sussex.  Their email newsletter is always jaunty and warm, and worth signing up to via http://www.bolneywineestate.com.

But wow.  I had not really been expecting the Estate itself to be so beautiful.  Diversified certainly – besides the viticultural buildings, machinery and paraphernalia there is a café, a function room and (would you believe it) a Post Office – but also incredibly manicured: the photos don’t really do justice to the way that the vines and vegetable gardens are kept.

The vines were manicured to a level that I have not seen before in Sussex

The vines were manicured to a level that I have not seen before in Sussex

We were lucky to visit on a wonderfully sunny July day, but I am sure the beauty of the site – ‘on a hill which was part of the Butting Hill One Hundred, listed in the Doomsday Book’ – would command attention whatever the weather.

When we arrived there was a group of wedding-dressed revellers enjoying what looked like a buffet lunch and a tasting.  There were folk sitting outside, relaxed under umbrellas, tasting.  And there was a busy but small staff team trying to do their level best with the assortment of paying guests and off-the-street browsers that arrived in the vineyard shop.

Amidst all this I managed to score a taste of their Pinot Gris, their Bacchus (2014), their Cuvée Rosé (sparkling, 100% Pinot Noir, 2010) and a slurp of their Bolney Bubbly at the end.  Sadly, I didn’t write notes, but suffice to say that I remember the Pinot Gris being much more mineral on the palate and less aromatic on the nose than I had expected.  Conversely, the Bacchus was much more stone-fruit and succulent – a beautiful off-dry apéritif for a summer’s day.  (I bought two bottles).

Nicely stocked shop, but the layout doesn't help staff to mingle with customers

Nicely stocked shop, but the layout doesn’t help staff to mingle with customers

The still whites were in my view significantly better than the sparkling wine that I tasted.  Not that the sparkling was unpleasant, at all, but it just didn’t have the same depth of quality.  The rosé was startlingly pale – not sure if it was bled or pressed – and had a biscuity Pinot nose, but the palate was much thinner by comparison.  And the Bolney Bubbly?  Very drinkable, but without any punchy, memorable features.

The Estate website says that they consider themselves ‘specialist red wine producers’ and I saw a still Pinot Noir and I think a sparkling red as well, neither of which I tried.

But when you go, perhaps you will, and you’ll let me know what you think?

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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.

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Wonderful day had on Thursday!  Irma from Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard rang early in the week to see if I was available to come and help with the harvest and I jumped at the chance.

Early start required and we pickers were all at the vineyard just before 8am.  I was very excited to be picking at the Bodiam Castle vineyard – this could be one of the most beautiful views for grape-pickers in England!  We arrived in convoy, and early in the morning the Castle is absolutely breathtaking.  Misty and magical.

No doubt that I should have brought the wellies though.  The grass and the nettles that relax among the vines were extremely dewy and made my old trainers sodden.  Wet feet all day is not what the doctor orders, but I seem to have got away with it.  Many thanks to Kiwi Giles who leant me some waterproof trousers.

And amazingly, I didn’t cut myself with the secateurs.  They were bloody sharp.  But it’s interesting: you definitely get into a rhythm when you’re cutting. 

Inge gave me some good tips at the beginning, and then you just settle in to the clipping and catching.  Two or three small bunches of Bacchus grapes collected in one gloved hand as the other snips.  Reminded me that I need to get back to the surgery and ask about the vasectomy.

And before I knew it, we were stopping for morning break and a quick cup of coffee sat with WOOFER Elizabeth (that’s ‘worker on organic farms’ for those of you who, like me, didn’t know the lingo).  It’s so lovely- when it’s a choice, and you’re not doing it every day for a pittance – to be able to do some manual work instead of sit in front of the computer.  The clipping became quite meditative and was punctuated by little bursts of conversation with your picking partner – because you go down the vines in twos – one either side, so as to be quicker and not miss any grapes.  And we talked a bit about our lives and interests, and a Julian Barnes novel or two.  Very civilised.

And then, before I knew it, we were stopping for food.  And a sit at the top of the vineyard overlooking the castle munching my packed lunch of oatcakes and cheese and apple, with the clouds scudding by and the sunshine warming the face – and the soul.

The afternoon’s work was a bit different, and saw us trundling a rough-hewn cart up and down the vines collecting the crates of grapes in a way which felt quite appropriately medieval given the context.  The wasps were having a field day: purring drunkenly as we hoiked the crates and stacked them on the trailer behind the tractor at the bottom of the field.

And in a flash, it was time to down tools and get back in the car and head up to Sedlecombe to pick up our liquid earnings. 

A thoroughly magical day collecting the Bodiam Harvest.  I will drink my next bottle with just a little bit more pleasure!

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I said that I’d come back to the wines that Dave offered to us for tasting on Sunday…

I can’t really fault him on the tour, I have to say.  The content was really well judged in respect of being accessible and interesting whatever your level of wine knowledge.

We tasted six of the Chapel Down wines.  And I had a slurp of the Chardonnay 2009 as well, just before I bought some – at £12.99 (12.5% vol) – which is a bit more than I’d usually pay for white wine.

Dave’s best of the six – just so you know – were the English Rose and the Trinity 2009 red; both of which we tasted.  But we started with two whites – Flint Dry 2010 and Bacchus 2010.

Chapel Down provided their own tasting notes alongside the basic details of the wines and I didn’t have any violent disagreements, so here they are for you:

Flint Dry 2010, £8.50, 11.5% vol
[This is a blend of Chardonnay, Huxelrebe and Bacchus -] ‘England in a glass.  Dry, unoaked with crisp balanced acidity which has hints of apple and greengage on the nose’.  I also had a big green apple flavour going on, on the palate.

Bacchus 2010, £10.99, 12% vol
[Single varietal – Bacchus] – ‘A classic expression of Bacchus grown in the South East of England.  The wine shows grapefruit, gooseberry, passionfruit, floral and mineral charaters on the nose with tropical fruits, nettles and crunchy acid on the palate’.  I agree that those flavours were all there – the minerality particularly – but they were subtle.  The passion fruit wasn’t as pronounced as a high-end Pessac Léognan from the Graves region of Bordeaux, which is usually Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon.  Nor was the ‘tropical’ of a southern hemisphere intensity.  The flavours were delicate.

Next came the rosé.  This is sold, I gather, by Marks & Sparks and is, Dave says, a blend of red and white wines – Rondo, Schonburger and others – not a bled or pressed wine. 

English Rose (not Rosé) 2009 , £9.99, 12% vol
‘A blend of English varietals from the outstanding 2009 vintage.  Fresh strawberries, pear with a touch of cream on the finish’.

Then came two sparkling wines – both white.

Vintage Reserve Brut, £17.99, 12% vol
The name is a bit confusing, because this is a non-vintage wine (meaning that it is a blend of wines from different harvests, not just the one year) – ‘Pale lemon yellow in colour, the nose is slightly floral with some citrus. A well-structured wine with hawthorn, citrus and yeasty flavours and a hint of blackcurrant leaves’.  Not sure I have a sophisticated enough palate yet to get the Hawthorn, but there were bucket-loads of blackcurrant on the nose, which was interesting for a white sparkler…

Pinot Reserve 2004, £24.99, 12% vol
This, as you committed bubbly drinkers will know,  is the same sort of price as a high-end brand, non-vintage champagne (on offer!), but it definitely has the hallmark characteristics of vintage.  Very honeyed as far as I was concerned.  Too much for my taste.  Chapel Down says – ‘Pale gold in colour with pink highlights and an attractive sustained mousse [that’s the frothy bit when you pour it, and also the experience of the bubbles in your mouth].  The nose is rich and complex.  Hints of redcurrant, strawberry, and baked apple on the palate’.

And the last wine we tasted was the Trinity red.  But I’m going to open that tomorrow night for a friend who’s coming to dinner.  So I’ll do my own tasting note and compare with theirs – and then post!

In the end I spent too much in the shop.  I bought a bottle of the Bacchus 2010; the Rosé Brut (Pinot Noir) that has just won a gold medal.  The English Rose sparkling – which Dave said is a white wine with a dosage of Pinot Noir; and the Chardonnay, because I’m a white Burgundy fan, and I wanted to compare the English equivalent.

If you try any of the above, please let me know what you think…

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