I love reading about wine but it also bores me. Like most experiential things, wines are “you should have been there” moments, not best suited to fumbling around trying to communicate ‘what it is’. Saying that, midsummer has just passed and the weather is perfect for a vineyard visit. To those who don’t regularly go to vine country, it may seem fanciful. But you’ve been meaning to get out into nature more often so why not nature that’s got sparkling wine?
I swear opening a bottle of The Grange brings the windswept sweetness of the Hampshire breeze smack into the bottle itself
The World of Fine Wine’s Andrew Jefford recently encountered a bottle of Gusbourne 2014 BdB, proclaiming, “So, we opened it—and found England.” Adorable, but I can taste England all over the place. For example, one of my favourite vineyards is The Grange. (Gusbourne and The Grange are not unknown to each other – and yes, Gusbourne has purchased vineyard acreage in West Sussex too, yes I know.) You can accuse me of being obsessed. I accuse me of being obsessed but this vineyard sings to me in ways I can’t quite grasp. It’s not just the enthusiasm, professionalism, sleek functionality and a wine vehicle that is a beautiful Series One Defender. I love the smell of the place, the look of it, the countryside stretching without interruption, the trees and the rolling hills. It’s a place of serenity, for me as a visitor at least.
Like many vineyards, The Grange is giving tours throughout July and September and The Grange’s Zam will have you understanding, experientially, first hand, why this wine really does taste of where it’s from. I swear opening a bottle of The Grange brings the windswept sweetness of the Hampshire breeze smack into the bottle itself. My favourite – the favourite of many – is the rare vintage White From Black 2018, a Meunier-only white sparkler from that year’s extraordinary crop. This tastes of white stone and orchard fruit, condensed but fresh. Made from 4 different Meunier cuvées, with just a touch of oak, this is an exceptional bottle. And if you drive out to the vineyard, you may still be able to get one of their still rosés, available solely on site. While I prefer sparkling – as PeeWee Herman once said, “All my friends have big buts” – The Grange’s Still Pink 2022 is my big but. But it’s a still I like – and it is just like that south of France rosé that tells your mouth you’re on holiday. This one is English, just as summery and uplifting and you’ll drink it all at once. Both of these wines have won Silver medals at 2023’s WINEGB Awards, just two more in bulging trophy case at The Grange.
Not very far away is yet another stellar rosé that I’ve been waiting for. From the oldest English vineyard, established in 1952, comes the luxurious amber-ruby Hambledon Vineyard’s Premiére Cuvée Rosé, a bottle which blew the doors off 67 Pall Mall when it appeared at this year’s annual Vineyards of Hampshire tasting. Only available now, this is soft and subtle yet still brimming with full flavour. And it is designed as a dinner wine – one that pairs well with summer foods. Floral, almost rose aroma, it is made by the saignee method with 87.5% Pinot Meunier. It’s the year for this grape’s beauty to be released so don’t miss out. For those, and I count myself among them, who love Hambledon’s Classic Cuvée Rosé, this one is more distinctive, more grown-up and serious – an elegant wine which, once tasted, will have you take note. Hambledon, just outside the charming village of Hambledon, is a great vineyard visit. The staff are relaxed and very knowledgeable, and a visitor feels very much at home. Of course, you’ll want to taste everything and so you should. Note the difference between the crisp notes of their Classic Cuvée and the Premiére Cuvée and you’ll be well on the way to understanding the rise and rise of the great English Sparkling.
Of course, if you really can’t – really, honestly? – get out to the country there are some champagne and sparkling notes to the capital of late. Of course, everyone knows about the new National Portrait Gallery. Upon its late opening hours two nights a week, the café on level -3 suddenly bursts into a speakeasy called Larry’s (after Olivier) with cocktails along with Champagne Piaff NV Brut and Nyetimber by the glass. A coal cellar from 1896, there are outside tables on the lower ground where you can catch a glimpse of the top of St Martin In The Fields. But the real find this week in London is local favourite Soho Joe’s on D’arblay Street. Lebanese fresh small plates, adorable service, good honest non-franchise food and a champagne list with popular bottles of Lanson, Bollinger and a magnum of Pierre Jouët Grand Brut at sensational prices. And yes there will be a glitter ball sparkling when you get there. C