It wasn’t so many years ago that English wine was considered, at best, a novelty addition to the sommelier’s list.
It may have been almost undrinkably fruity and sweet but at least it was patriotic.
How all that has changed.
Today, English wine is regarded as some of the best in the world - and of that the many vineyards in Sussex and producing some of the best.
Only this month, the UK Wine Awards unveiled its star performers - and from Sussex, Bolney Wine Estate took home two of the eight trophies, while Bluebell Vineyard Estates and Chapel Down both received gold medals.
Four weeks earlier, one of France’s most prestigious champagne brands Taittinger planted its first vines on English soil across the county border in Kent.
Ockenden Manor Hotel and Spa at Cuckfield in West Sussex - which already lays claim to one of the most extensive Sussex selections in its cellars - has added to the celebration during English Wine Week (28 May – 5 June).
In showcasing Sussex wines, it has not just wanted to give visitors the chance to taste and learn the secrets behind local labels, more importantly it has wanted to show how local wine can be exquisitely paired with local produce elegantly served by one of the county’s finest chefs.
Local winemakers from a handful of Sussex vineyards each hosted an ‘apéro-hour’ at the hotel before dinner during the week. Guests learnt what made HM The Queen serve Ridgeview Wine Estate’s Blanc de Blanc at Buckingham Palace.
On Friday, the Albourne Estate launched its first Blanc de Blancs for the occasion.
Mat Brass from Albourne said: “We originally planted in 2010 and the first vines came to maturity to produce fruit in 2013 and we initially launched our still wines from that vintage. However, we have been making sparkling wines since then but the first one to the market has just come out this week - so four years in the making.”
Not surprisingly, Albourne featured prominently in the tasting dinner that followed. Its Late Harvest Ortega 2014, not only gave great Sauternes a run for their money, it was a rarity. Just 1,000 bottles produced and each of them numbered like an artist’s lovingly limited print.
We enjoyed a glass from bottle 263 which complemented the fourth course - Barkham Blue cheese served with biscuit, apple sticks and walnuts.
That mellow softness was also to be found in Albourne’s second offering - a 2013 Chardonnay. It was paired with a hand dived scallop, Jersey Royals, and English asparagus. Assistant sommelier Archie told us that Ockenden had rated the vintage so highly it had bought the entire stock to serve in the hotel.
The Wiston Estate and Ridgeview were also represented on the flight of wines. The award-winning Bolney took pride of place. Its 2015 Foxhole Vineyard pinot noir was served with the braised and roasted Trenchmore Farm beef. This is a wine that is light and fresh but disguises its youth with some subtle sophistication.
Finally, the great Nyetimber sparkling demi-sec paired perfectly with a pineapple souffle and coconut sorbet.
James Lowe, the sommelier, who is from Sussex commented: “Whenever you go to another country where they are using local food you open the wine list and it’s all local wines. You go to Burgundy, the wine is all from Burgundy. The same in Bordeaux. So it is really nice here for people to pair local Sussex wines with our local food.”
Ockenden’s kitchens are at the top of their game. Their food has never been bettered in the 25 years we have been visiting. The addition of Sussex wine is the ultimate accomplishment.
Winemakers evenings for residents and dining guests. Six course tasting menu with wine flight is £140 per person. Menu must be ordered by the whole table. Overnight stays at Ockenden Manor Hotel & Spa are from £199 per night, based on two sharing a Standard Room, mid-week, on a B&B basis. To book: www.hshotels.co.uk; 01444 416111
The Restaurant Inspector was invited to the wine evening which was hosted by Ockenden Manor. Our reviews, however, are independent and not linked to any advertisement.