Bottoms Up! The incredible rise of Sussex wine
Possibly even as little as 15 years ago, anyone worth their weight in Beaujolais heard praising the virtues of wine in Sussex would’ve been laughed out of the bar. Not so now. With more than four million bottles being produced across the UK annually, wines from all over the country are triumphing at blind tastings and gracing the wine lists of top European eateries. We spoke to some local experts in the field to find out why Sussex wine really is sparkling.
Sussex wine is so good right now, in fact, that everyone from casual Friday night drinkers to veritable wine buffs are flocking to tastings and tutorials to learn more about it.
“Sussex has seen dozens of new vineyards and wineries open up in the last 30 years since Nyetimber and Ridgeview set the ball rolling in the 1980s, and it now has more of both than any other county in England,” says Jonathan Gibson, owner and tutor at the Sussex Wine School. “The climate and soil in Sussex is helpful, and, as vines become older and wine making techniques improve, so we have started to enjoy an ever increasing range of better quality sparkling and still wines on our doorstep. What began as a trickle of awards has become a flood and not a month goes by without a Sussex wine estate celebrating another international success or high profile listing. More recently, as reserve stocks have built up, we are now seeing the launch of several non-vintage rather than single vintage sparkling wines. There is a more interesting choice of still white wines than ever before and rose wines and red wines are improving in quality with every vintage.
“At Sussex Wine School, we help people learn about wine by tasting it in a fun and relaxed way. We run tastings and courses for wine lovers in Brighton, Lewes and Tunbridge Wells, as well as regular private and corporate tastings,” explains Jonathan. “Our tutors are professionally qualified to WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 or WSET Diploma level and have all been chosen for their great communication skills. Beginners can choose from a Saturday ‘Introduction to Wine’ course with lunch; an ‘Introduction to Wine’ evening; or an eight-week ‘World of Wine’ course.
“More in-depth four-week courses on a country or region will take your knowledge up a level and there are plenty of food and wine pairing tastings to choose from too including cheese and wine, chocolate and wine, tapas and Spanish wines, or steak and wine. Experts and wine enthusiasts can enjoy specialist fine wine, or region-specific tastings, or join one of the internationally recognised professional wine courses that we run – WSET Level 2 and Level 3 courses, and Wine Scholar Guild’s French Wine Scholar courses.
“We have lots of courses to suit all levels of wine enthusiast happening throughout the year at Sussex Wine School and have noticed a marked increase in the amount of people – Sussex-based and beyond – who have shown an interest in learning more about the fantastic array of wines on their doorstep,” adds Jonathan. “WSET are the world’s leading wine and spirit courses and over 72,000 students took a WSET course in 2015 in over 60 countries. Sussex Wine School is the local approved programme provider (APP) in the Brighton area and we run the Level 1, 2 and 3 courses regularly throughout the year. Local Wine School, of which we are a part, won the WSET 2015 ‘Riedel Wine Educator of the Year’ award in recognition of its excellence in delivering WSET courses and our courses are well taught and good fun, plus you don’t have to travel to London.”
We asked Jonathan Gibson from the Sussex Wine School to let us in on his top five favourite Sussex wines…
Albourne Estate, Estate Selection 2014
“With an extremely low fruit load, yielding just 1.5 tonnes per acre, our Pinot Gris produced some lovely clean and ripe fruit this year. We have therefore made this the main component of our 2015 Estate Selection blend (48%), backed up by Pinot Blanc (29%) – last year’s dominant player – and Bacchus (23%). Showing impressive texture, fullness and length, the Estate Selection offers a refined and distinct mineral quality with subtle aromas of stone fruit, citrus, pineapple and mango. Great as an aperitif or with seafood, cheese, salads and poultry.” (Winemakers notes, available at www.courtgarden.com)
Court Garden Blanc de Blancs 2010
IWC 2015 ‘English Sparkling Trophy’ and ‘English Vintage Trophy’ winner. ” Pale lemon-green, continuous tiny bubbles and tight cordon; ripe peach and apple fruits with smoky-toasty autolysis; noticeably off dry, crisp and balanced, mid-weight, well-integrated and excellent concentration and length, with a savoury finish. The perfect welcome drink; good on its own or accompanied by canapés.” (Winemakers notes, available at www.albourneestate.co.uk)
Ridgeview Cavendish 2013
Cavendish is Ridgeview’s traditional blend, dominated by the red fruits of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and supported by crisp Chardonnay notes. “A rich golden colour with exceptionally fine bubbles. The nose is expressive with hints of red fruits. The Pinot dominance brings depth and complexity to the palate with a long-lasting finish, while the Chardonnay adds finesse and freshness. Drink now or age for two to three years. The richness of the palate and the good acidity make Cavendish a great food wine; a wonderful accompaniment to seafood or canapés featuring duck or beetroot.” (Winemakers notes, available at www.ridgeview.co.uk)
Bolney Pinot Gris 2015
“Made from 100 percent Pinot Gris grapes, this award-winning dry white wine has a fragrant aroma of rose, jasmine and conference pears, which follows through into the palette with a wonderful richness & slightly honeyed character,” says Jonathan. “The wine has a lovely creamy freshness about it. It’s excellent with sushi, shellfish and most fish dishes and some of the more delicate Asian dishes. If you can find the 2013 vintage still available, buy it.” (Available at www.bolneywineestate.com)
Davenport Vineyards Horsmonden Dry White 2014
“Made from a blend of five grape varieties grown in our original vineyard plot, this wine has been made every year since 1993 and has won many accolades since then. The wine has been likened to a Sauvignon Blanc in style and is often mistaken for a New Zealand wine, but with a mineral underlying structure. 2014 is soft, aromatic and fruit driven. Perfect for a summer afternoon, or for drinking with white meats, salads and even quite spicy food.” (Winemakers notes, available at davenportvineyards.co.uk)