Ridgeview Estate, Sussex, England

For some time Ridgeview Estate has been near the top of the English Sparkling Wine game.  Along with Nyetimber, it was Ridgeview that ignited my passion for English wines. The wines of Ridgeview tackle the wines of Champagne head on and impress across the range. The Estate is situated on the chalk soils of the South Downs, just north of Ditchling, with easy access from  the A23.  The tasting room sits above the winery, and from the tasting room you can enjoy beautiful views across the vineyards. Everyone that attended the trip to Ridgeview promptly lost their tasting notes, likely due to the subsequent 8 bottle tasting of Bordeaux.  As such I will have to keep my the comments about the wine more general that the usual articles.

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During our visit we tasted 5 wines from the range and these were presented by a knowledgeable hostess. I am pretty certain it was only the Blanc De Noirs we missed out on tasting. Ridgeview is one of the few wineries I have visited where every single wine has impressed and I suspect this is due to keeping a narrow focus on English sparkling wine using the traditional Champagne grapes. The fine quality of the glassware is also noteworthy in keeping with the status of Ridgeview as a top producer and demonstrates attention to detail across the board at the estate.

I would recommend the wines of Ridgeview as a noble alternative to Champagne rather than a substitute. My preference within the range probably tends towards the Cavendish, a very reasonably priced Pinot dominated blend. The greater proportion of the Pinot grapes tends towards a fuller and richer style in keeping with my preferences in Champagne.  I am not being patriotic in commending the wines of Ridgeview – this estate is undeniably producing world class sparkling wine.

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Tasting: Tasting at Ridgeview is free of charge – prior reservation preferred for larger groups. We felt under no obligation to buy wine by the bottle but the quality of the wine sold itself. I think almost all of our party came home with a bottle or two.

Tours: Ridgeview also offer tours of the vineyards – contact them for further information. If you are new to the world of wine and visiting wine estates I would strongly recommend a few tours to build your understanding of the wine making process.

Sales: At the time of press Ridgview is open Monday – Sunday 11am – 4pm.  The full range of wines are on sale, including some aged offerings from previous vintages and larger formats.

Stockists: The wines of Ridgeview are widely available at wine merchants and supermarkets across the UK including Waitrose and Marks & Spencers.

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Conclusions: If you live in Sussex with even a passing interest in wine you need to visit Ridgeview.  If you have not tried the wines of Ridgeview yet I would advise going tomorrow or as soon as physically possible.

Sharpham Vineyards, Devon, UK

Continuing my tour of British vineyards I made my way to Sharpham Vineyards on the river Dart for a delightful summer afternoon.  Sharpham Estate is known in equal measure in the local area for their efforts in wine and cheese.  A few years ago I tried the Summer Red after friends visited the vineyard so it was great to get back and sample more widely across the range.  Sharpham Estate offers wine tasting, cheese tasting and walking trails by the river and through the vineyards.  If you are here in time for lunch then there is also a small cafe serving locally sourced produce and seafood.

Several of the whites are based on the unusual variety of Madelaine Angevine which makes interesting whites here in the UK.  At nearby site Beenleigh, the Sharpham team also make a Cabernet/Merlot blend under polytunnels, but this was not available for tasting.  I came away with a hearty cheeseboard and a bottle of the Barrel Fermented White which proved a delicious partner for a summer BBQ.

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Price: £6 for a flight of 4 wines, £2.50 for a flight of 3 cheeses.  Prices for wines listed below are based on the website but I believe they are slightly cheaper if you purchase them in the vineyard shop.

Impression: A delightful spot on the edge of the river Dart.  Well worth a visit if you are in the South Hams area of Devon and have even a passing interest in wine and cheese.

Wines Tasted: Sharpham Sparkling 2013, Sharpham Estate Selection Dry 2014, Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve 2014, Sharpham Valley Barrel Fermented 2013, Sharpham Red 2014, Sharpham Pinot Noir and Précoce 2013.

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Even if wine is not your thing the cheese is well worth the visit.

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Nutbourne Vineyards, Sussex, England

I was looking for somewhere to take my Grandfather on a May afternoon, and I could not resist making it a vineyard. I knew very little about Nutbourne Vineyards before visiting but it transpired to be a gorgeous spot on the South Downs.  The wines are not to be scoffed at either with Nutbourne producing a full range of wines from English sparkling to a still Pinot Noir. The quality of English sparkling wine seems to rise year on year and Nutbourne were among seven UK producers receiving Gold Medals at this years IWSC competition.

Nutbourne Vineyards was founded in 1980, with a new modern winery completed in 2010. The wine is currently made by ex-Chapel Down winemaker Owen Elias, who has a host of awards in his name, including quite a few whilst at Nutbourne.  The wine shop and tasting room are based around a disused mill with covered seating and the opportunity to walk between the vines. The member of staff that served us was courteous and knowledgeable making the visit a very enjoyable afternoon. Nutbourne Vineyards also provide guided tours/tastings of the vineyards and winery with prior reservations for a cost of £15.

Wines Tasted: Nutty Brut 2013, Sussex Reserve 2014, Bacchus 2013/2014, Chardonnay 2013, Hedgerow 2013, Nutty “Wild” N.V., Pinot Noir 2014

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The range of wines at Nutbourne – the illustrations on the labels are gorgeous.

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Bodegas Roda, Rioja, Spain

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I continue my series on travel to Rioja with another modern powerhouse of Rioja: Bodegas Roda.  We visited the Roda Wine Bar in the station district of Haro, a short stumble along the road from R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta and Gomez Cruzado.

The station district in Haro boasts a ridiculous density of top flight wineries – if you only have time to make one stop in Rioja this should be it.

Bodega Roda is really the new boy on the block in Haro’s station district – founded in 1987. Roda keeps things simple making only red wines. The entry level red Roda Sela is already of a phenomenal standard and this is followed up with a pair of fascinating reservas: Roda and Roda I.  The reservas are blended on the basis of the fruit characteristics of each barrel, creating the red fruit dominant Roda Reserva and the black fruit dominant Roda I Reserva.  Forming the vanguard is the flagship Cirsion which unfortunately was not available for tasting.

The tasting room at Roda is a modern affair, serving the wines by the glass and very reasonably priced plates of local cheese and charcuterie. Rounding this off with some bread and their superb olive oil makes a delicious snack or even lunch depending on your appetite. Under the tasting room lies a 19th century cellar and this environment is the perfect place to finish off any remaining wine sheltered from the midday sun.

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The wines of Roda and a light lunch of Charcuterie, Bread, Oil and Cheese

Wines Tasted: Roda Sela 2012, Roda Reserva 2010, Roda I Reserva 2007, 2008

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Bodega Contador, Rioja, Spain

Bodega Contador is located in the town of Sin Vincente de la Sonsierra.  The bodega is most famous for the flagship Contador, one of the most expensive wines from Rioja, and the first Spanish wines to be awarded 100 points by Robert Parker. Benjamin Romeo of Contador began production in a rock hewn cellar under the castle of San Vincente although production has now moved to a modern winery in view of the castle. Contador makes modern Rioja with an methodical and rigourous approach to winemaking, as proudly shown by the data sheets provided on their website.

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Rock-hewn Cellar under San Vincente Castle

Visits to the Contador winery are by appointment and can be tailored to suit your needs. Alternatively for those on a tighter schedule La Tercera Estacion wine bar in the town of San Vincente sells the lower half of the range by the glass, and the rest of the range by the bottle. We opted for the latter option as a break for lunch due to the large number of visits we had planned for the day. I have included some brief tasting notes below.

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Meerlust Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Prior to visiting South Africa I had already tasted Meerlust Rubicon, and this wine helped set the yardstick to judge against. The visit to Meerlust came towards the end of the trip so I felt a certain trepidation for how the wines of the estate matched both expectation and memory.

Wine has been grown on this estate to the south of Stellenbosch since 1756. The estate has been recognised as a national monument since 1987, although we did not stop long enough to see more than the tasting room. Meerlust has been long recognized as one of South Africa’s top estates. The range at Meerlust is simple: 4 varietals (1 white and 3 red) and the flagship Rubicon (a Bordeaux blend). Here in the UK I have also seen an entry level Meerlust red although this was not available for tasting.

We travelled to Meerlust Estate from False Bay having followed the stunning R44 along the coast around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. False Bay is still visible from the turning into the estate and this proximity to the sea is key to the wines. A sea breeze and mist keep the vineyard temperatures in check through the summer permitting a longer ripening season. This translates into a great intensity and permits elegance in the wines.

The tasting room and shop are in one of the estates historic buildings and are accompanied by an exhibition of photography and articles about the cape and the estate.

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 09h00 – 17h00, Saturdays 10h00 – 14h00.

Tasting fee: R30 per person refundable on purchase of wine.

Stockists in UK: The wines of Meerlust are relatively easily found in the UK.  The price disparity across the range is less here than in South Africa and so Rubicon is relatively more keenly priced.  I have included a link for each wine as some are slightly tricky to find.

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Wines Tasted: Meerlust Chardonnay 2014, Meerlust Pinot Noir 2015, Meerlest Merlot 2013, Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Meerlust Rubicon 2012

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Iona Winery, Elgin, South Africa

When we were recommended Iona it was with the caveat that it was somewhat difficult to find. We happened upon the sign to the winery on the main road and took a chance detour.  After following a dusty dirt road approximately 7 km uphill we arrived at the gates. The winery was empty and the tasting manager was out on other business.  Luckily the accountant was on hand and was kind enough to present the wines free of charge. It is great to see all members of the team engaged in the product and eager to show off the wines.

Production at Iona is not diluted by too many different varieties or cuvees –  they only list 4 wines – and it would appear this allows them to focus.  Compared to other wineries this was a no frills tasting experience.  There is no restaurant, art gallery, delicatessen: the wines are allowed to speak for themselves   Hell, they don’t even need a paved road.

Pride of place in the tasting room goes to a vintage Porsche, owned and renovated by the proprietor.  The car and wines both had a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi‘, the sense of something classic, elegant and refined.  I suspect much is of this is the result of cool climate and high altitude as well as diligent winemaking practice.

I would certainly visit again if in South Africa, and I will certainly be getting hold of some of the wines of Iona here in the UK.  Indeed, based on our pretty small sample, the wines of Elgin include some real gems at very competitive prices. Unfortunately the Chardonnay was out of stock at the time of our visit, although I understand it is also very well regarded.

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Wines Tasted: Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Pinot Noir 2013, One Man Band 2010

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