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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Why Can’t Great Britain make Great Reds?

Nestled within the heart of the Stour Valley, approximately 15 minutes drive north of Colchester lies Dedham Vale Vineyard, a small, 40 acre property which has planted grapes since 1990. The father and son team of Ben and Tom Bunting take an eco friendly approach to wine making, generating all their own electricity, drawing fresh water from a well and treating their waste-water in a reed bed they then mulch and use to fertilise the vines with.

British wine struggles from a lack of warmth and sunshine and can often leave the grapes struggling to ripen. As with a lot of British vineyards at Dedham Vale they have planted large amounts of modern (predominantly German) cultivars as these can tolerate our slightly harsher and cooler climate. I am a big supporter of British produce and so I was hoping (albeit with a degree of trepidation) for a real gem here.

Dedham Vale Reserve, East Anglia, England, 2013

20160402_185219Red Blend (Rondo, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder and Pinot Noir)
Limousin oak barrel aged
Alcohol 10.5%
£10 Dedham Vale Vineyard

From the bottle I was greeted by a delicate ruby red wine. On sitting there was a reasonable amount of effervescence which is often seen with wines bottled in cooler climates. On the nose was a pungent and somewhat unusual aroma that couldn’t help but remind me of stewing plums and a hint of cinnamon added for good measure. I will admit this was initially somewhat off putting. Its initial taste was disappointingly thin, with some flavours of liquorice and sweet berries coming through, but lacking that acidity and tannin to really develop the flavours on your palate. I can certainly see where the winemakers were going with the wine, but unfortunately I can’t help but feel this wine has suffered heavily from under-ripening – the Achilles Heel of British wine, which considering 2013 was actually quite a hot, sunny summer for the UK does not necessarily bode well for the short term future. Roll on global warming!

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t pair this wine with most meat dishes. At a stretch I would suggest a light chicken or fish dish, though slightly chilled I could see it working well with barbecued meat (in a similar vein to some Australian reds). Its light nature lends itself well to drinking on its own, or with (dare I say it) summery salads (although you’d want to avoid too vinegary a dressing)!

Making red wine in the UK is a thankless task, and with a great deal of regret I have not yet tasted a single British red wine that I would drink again. Perhaps that is a somewhat harsh assessment, but whilst we produce some of the finest sparkling wines in the world (if not the finest), we still struggle with still wines, especially those of the red variety. Needless to say, I will be keen to try their white and sparkling offering at some point as I am convinced this wine does not do the vineyard fair justice. 70 points (MI)