Sussex Wines Sparkling Amongst The Best
Waiting at the bus stop at Steine Gardens with my dad, I recalled the ‘magical mystery tour’ adventures he would take me on as a child. Back then the bus could transport me on any manner of exciting adventures, and the Sussex Wine Bus Tour we were about to board rekindled those memories.
At 9.30 on the dot, our buttercream vintage bus with a racing-green trim arrived. Built in the 1960s, before suspension was common, meant the ride was going to be a bouncy one until we returned back at 6pm. This was a much earlier start to my typical Saturday, but the promise of generous wine tastings, lunch at a country pub and cheese and biscuits on a sunny day made it worthwhile.
Before setting off, we were offered freshly baked croissants and apple juice and despite having had my breakfast already, the temptation of the light crisp pastry was too much to resist.
Bolney Wine Estate
Our first stop was Bolney Wine Estate, established in 1972, in the heart of Sussex and a mere 10 miles from central Brighton. Our tour was full of facts and I was delighted to learn English wine growers focus more on competing with the best wines than cheap and cheerful ones. Despite the challenges of a cool climate English wine has won numerous awards and the attention of Champagne houses, which are beginning to invest in English land, since seeing the success.
After a sneak peak of the winery and vineyard tour where we saw young vines and the first grapes of the season coming to fruition, it was time for the all-important part of the day – tastings. This comprised of three still wines in our preferred colour each. Between us we tried two reds, a 2013 Lychgate Red – £13.99 and a 2014 Pinot Noir – £16.99, one white, the 2015 Bacchus – £16.99 and one rosé, the 2014 Bolney Rosé – £13.99.
Not being a big red drinker I was surprised how much I enjoy the smooth Pinot Noir. Lightly oaked and medium bodied with flavours of cherry, bacon and hints of cedar wood, it was very easy to drink and would be even better alongside a smoked fish or ham dish. I was also partial to the Bolney Rosé, a medium and fruity wine, with strawberry, raspberry and pear flavours running through.
I thought the wines were wonderful but wine is a very personal and individual taste – so never feel embarrassed if you don’t agree with the room on a tasting.
In hindsight, it was a shame that none of Bolney’s sparkling wines were offered to taste. And although our guide explained sparkling wines would be offered at Ridgeview, I would have been keen to compare one against another.
Half Moon Pub
The Half Moon, an 18th century freehouse with a large pub garden, is just ten minutes away in the picturesque village of Warninglid. Lunch began with a choice of real ale or a glass of white wine, paired with the cured meats and cheese. The platters were a real local feast, with a fennel salami, hot smoked chorizo, cured ham and air-dried biltong from Calcot Farm in West Sussex. Olives, stuffed peppers & artichokes from Chichester and cheeses, Sussex Charmer from Rudgwick & Sussex Slipcote from Highweald.
Ridgeview Wine Estate
Our final stop was Ridgeview Wine Estate in Ditchling. A family owned and run business, which has won numerous awards for its wines. One of the most remarkable stories shared on the tour is the how the Estate wards off frost from the vines. In the middle of the night, the staff will rush down to the vineyard and light more than 2,000 boogies (giant candles) along the rows of vines to ward off the frost. An expensive but essential task, especially when there’s a threat of a bad vintage as there was in 2012 and just 25% of Ridgeview’s wines were produced.
The finale of the tour was a pairing of Cave à Fromage cheeses with five of Ridgeview’s sparkling wines. Just days before I had been at a Comté cheese and sparkling wine tasting and had one of Ridgeview’s very special sparklings – The Rosé de Noirs – £40 and I fell in love. Not available at supermarkets it’s a more exclusive wine, but it can be bought either direct from Ridgeview or from specialists like Butler’s in Brighton.
If the rosé is out your price range the white Bloomsbury – £27 isn’t any less a wine, although if your budget will stretch or you’re just buying for a special occasion go for the Blanc de Blancs – £45, which scooped Gold at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2010 and 2011. This sparkling is made from 100% single estate Chardonnay grape from Ridgeview’s original vineyard.
RATING: Must Go | Worth a try | Give it a Miss
This is a must-go for any wine lover or local. Although at first, the price seems steep, the quality of the wines, cheeses and lunch make this a more than fair price tag for the tour.
Need to Know
The next tour date is the 20th August but it’s already sold out. Unfortunately, there are no more tours until Spring next year but do keep an eye out on the Brighton Food Festival website: http://brightonfoodfestival.com/sussex-gourmet-and-wine-bus-tours/ for the new spring dates and to book.
Disclaimer: I was invited to review the Sussex Wine Tour by Brighton Food Festival and as a result my tickets were complimentary, but as always, my opinion isn’t swayed by freebies and you are getting my honest opinion on the whole experience.