Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sauvignon Blanc - going back to its roots

Sauvignon Blanc is riding on a tide of popularity. It’s become the default “glass of dry white wine”, a safe haven for wine drinkers scrutinising wine lists from the biggest of chains to the most exclusive restaurants. This has led me to ponder on its popularity – what do we like about it so much?

My theory is that Sauvignon Blanc is a positive style of wine – it doesn’t lack personality, often has pungent, cut grass and gooseberry aromas and its crisp acidity makes it finish with a flourish. There’s an element of “you know when you’ve been Tangoed” about it.

It also suits the British style of drinking – and it won’t surprise you to learn that I have a theory about that too.

We may ape the sophistication of the warmer Mediterranean nations, with our (relatively) newfound love of wine and café culture; but underneath that civilised veneer we are Viking beserkers at heart, beating our chests, chewing on our shields and downing alcohol in copious quantity before getting stuck into battle. In France, the locals at a bar will make one drink last an hour or more (and at those prices, who can blame them?). Whereas you can always spot the Brits at the pavement cafés: they’re the ones downing those enormous litre-sized vases of beer, determined to make a night of it.

Anyway, back to the Sauvignon Blanc story. This most ubiquitous of varieties is nowadays best known in its New Zealand incarnation, as pungently fruity Marlborough Sauvignon. But ‘twas not ever thus, for Sauvignon Blanc has a long history behind it.

It seems to have its origins in the Loire Valley, first documented there in the 1500s. From there it journeyed south to Bordeaux, where it had a fling with Cabernet Franc which produced that region’s calling card variety: Cabernet Sauvignon. Later in its life it made the much longer trek to New Zealand and at Cloudy Bay winery produced a wine of such lusciously juicy fruit character that it spawned a whole new style of wine, Marlborough Sauvignon.

This style is not to everyone’s taste: Hugh Johnson, one of wine’s most acute and literary writers, described it as “Sauvignon with the volume turned up” and I don’t believe he meant it as a compliment. However, he also astutely noted that “It could recruit drinkers who had scarcely noticed wine before, and it has.”

If you like your wines to be a bit less strident and more restrained, then a (virtual) trip to the vineyards of the Loire will be rewarding. In the areas of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, which face each other across the Loire river due south of Paris, Sauvignon Blanc makes its most compelling argument to be regarded as a world class variety.

Recommended Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre, Pouilly and around:

Domaine Franck Millet
Franck makes a very traditional style of Sancerre, focused on balance, aroma and elegance. The 2013 vintage is available at D&D wines (and other independent merchants) for £14. Aromas of damp earth, lemon and flowers lead onto a palate with a mix of tropical and citrus fruits and a whiff of elderflower.

Domaine Vacheron
This domaine, right in the heart of the dinky hill town of Sancerre itself, was one of the first I ever visited, many years ago. In the intervening years, not much has ostensibly changed in the rustic, sometimes downright grubby-looking cellars. In the vineyards, though, there have been changes: Jean-Dominique Vacheron is a passionately committed organic grower and, since 2004 all their vineyards are also biodynamic. Their wines could never be described as undersold, but even their “basic” Sancerre 2013 delivers the goods: aromas of elderflower and a hint of citrus pith and depth of flavour balanced with delicacy (£17.99 at Majestic, £19.99 at Waitrose). Also look out for Vacheron’s Sancerre La Reine Blanche 2013 ( £16.50 at The Wine Society).

Some branches of Majestic also stock Vacheron’s single vineyard Les Romains 2012 (£27), a seductive wine with rich aromas of peach and pineapple, broad and generous on the palate. Fantastic with seared scallops.

Domaine Seguin
Across the river from Sancerre is the village of Pouilly, surrounded by the vineyards which produce Pouilly Fumé – fumé means smoked and may refer to the smoky character that results from wines made from the flint-based soils which are highly prized both here and in Sancerre.

Domain Seguin’s Pouilly Fumé 2013 (£12.50 from The Wine Society, also at Lea & Sandeman) is a beautifully understated wine with mineral earthy notes, incisive acidity and lingering flavour – focused, textbook Pouilly Fumé.

Dotted around their more famous neighbours are a number of small, satellite appellations, where wines are also made from Sauvignon Blanc and where a rise in quality in recent years has resulted in good value for money wines. Look for white wines from Quincy, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon and Côteaux du Giennois.

Marc Thibault at Domaine Villargeau in Côteaux du Giennois is a case in point: his 2013 white, 100% Sauvignon Blanc with attractive floral character and a touch of the region’s minerality is £8.50 from The Wine Society.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Dry January

Here we are again, it’s early January and the idea of giving up the booze for a month seems not just possible, but almost attractive: no hangovers, cutting down your calorie intake and staunching the flow of money from your wallet to the pub or wine merchant; you can see the appeal.

However, as well as being the launchpad of New Year resolutions, January is the longest month of the year. I know, other months also have 31 days, but they just aren’t as long as January – fact.

In recent years the notion of Blue Monday, falling on the Monday of the last full week of January, has taken hold. This is supposedly officially the most depressing day of the year.

By my calculations, this will fall on Monday 26th January this year - though it might depend whether you count Sunday as the end of the week, in which case Blue Monday will be on 19th January. It matters not; the whole thing is almost certainly entirely spurious and at best a bit of pseudo-science. But it doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate how the combination of short days, cold weather and a general feeling of, how shall I put it, being skint, will tend to weigh on one and contribute to a general feeling of misery.

Whether on Blue Monday or not, many people who had begun January with the intention of staying off the demon drink will fall off the alcohol-free wagon before the month is out. In case this could be you, would you like some good news?

I don’t think anyone should worry about not managing to lay off the drink for a month. There is no firm medical evidence that an entire month of abstinence is the best way to boost your liver health. Our livers need time to recover from alcoholic (and rich food) over-induglence. But even the most sorely abused livers have done all the recovering they are going to do in 3-5 days. Abstaining for a month is much more about proving to ourselves – and others – that we can do it. Might it also even be just a teensy weensy bit macho?

But the smooth running of the universe hangs on the premise that where there is good news, there is also bad news: dear reader, our livers would appreciate a few alcohol-free days, not just every month, but every week.

I’m not dissing the idea of dry January – and anyone who has signed up to Cancer Research UK’s month-long Dryathlon and will raise money for charity as a result of their temperance is to be congratulated. However, I don’t think those of us who still have a drink or two in January should be made to feel like failures. I’d like to promote the idea of a light, rather than completely dry, January. Perhaps it should be damp January? Or perhaps not.

Non-alcoholic drinks I like:

OK, not the longest list in the world I admit, but here goes:

Lemonade punch
This is refreshing, not too sweet and feels quite healthy
2 pints of strong tea
Juice of 3 lemons
½ cup of sugar
Sprigs of mint
1 pint of ginger ale
Cool the tea and add the lemon juice, sugar and mint. Add the ginger ale just before serving. (Originally published in Vogue Cocktails, published 1982)

Mulled apple juice
It’s comforting to have a warm, and warming, soft drink in the winter months.
1 litre apple juice
Strips of orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
Sugar or honey, to taste
Put the apple juice, orange peel and cinnamon stick in a pan and warm gently for 5-10 minutes. Sweeten, or not, to your taste. (Originally published in Good Food Magazine, 2009)

For those aiming to stay dry this month, cheers and I’ll see you on the other side.


Christmas fizz - your questions answered

Should I buy ready made Bucks Fizz?
Nooooo! The pre-mixed bottles range from toxic to barely acceptable. And how hard can it be to pour fizz into a glass or jug and top up with orange juice? Don't consider putting anything grander in it than the most basic Prosecco or Cava - but do make sure the orange juice is top quality. Freshly squeezed, if you're up to it, would be the most delicious option.

What sort of fizz is best for Christmas Day?
If you are having a glass of something to sip while you open the pressies (I do, don't you?) then something tasty but not hugely expensive would be my preferred option. People will be busy with their presents, poring over the favourites and putting a brave face on for the more "interesting" gifts, so attention will hardly be on what's in their glass. And you don't want anything that you might cry over if it gets knocked flying in the mêlée.

As rosé is an ever-popular option these days, a fresh and flavoursome crémant rosé from the Loire might be just the ticket. Try Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire (£13.15 from and independent merchants). At the budget end of things, Lindauer Special Reserve from New Zealand has a reputation for being a cut above many New World sparklers, as well as great value for money at around the £10 mark at Majestic  and Waitrose. These two would also make great choices for party fizz over the festive period.

A pre-dinner aperitif needs to be light and preferably dry to get the appetite sharpened for the meal ahead. A Blanc de Blancs Champagne (or Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine labelled "traditional method") would be a good option here. If your tastes are for the really dry, then search out Champagne labelled Ultra Brut or Zero Dosage, the absolute driest ones available.

Pudding, whether the traditional steamed variety or other rich treat, should really be matched with something as sweet and weighty as the dessert itself - like an Oloroso Sherry or Australian Liqueur Muscat. But if you don't like that style of wine, or just want to contrast with something lighter and frothy, then a sparkling wine can make another appearance in the form of a Moscato d'Asti, with its featherweight grapey flavours and gentle sparkle. 

If buying fizz as a gift, does it have to be Champagne?
Well no, but there is undoubtedly a cachet attached to the real thing. And if you are faced with the awkward situation of giving a bottle of Champagne to someone who you think knows more about it than you do, what will impress wine buffs?

Billecart-Salmon Rosé is a classic Champagne lover's pink fizz: elegant, restrained and dry (£56.99 from Adnams; £60 from Berry Brothers, Laurent-Perrier Rosé is a bit more bling, but its easy charm means it's sure to be welcomed (£44.97 as part of Majestic’s Mix and Match offer, £40.72 at

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (£42 from Berry Brothers; £36.05 from has long been a favourite amongst wine insiders and they are right back on their best form now, fine and full flavoured in style. One word of warning, there are many Heidsiecks in the Champagne world, so make sure you've picked up the right one.

A non-snobbish Champagne lover would be happy to receive an award winning supermarket own label Champagne - Tesco and Waitrose have both done well in competitions this year and a little online research should point you in the right direction. I particularly liked the Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV (currently on offer at £19.99 and winner of a Gold medal at the IWSC and Bronze at the IWC) and Waitrose Brut Special Reserve Vintage 2006 (currently £26.99).

What’s hot in the world of Champagne?
Grower Champagnes have become hip this year, so choosing one shows you have your finger on the pulse. But what are they and how do you spot one?

The big name Champagne houses, the grandes marques, usually own some vineyards, but never enough to supply them will all the grapes they require, which they need to buy in from growers across the region.

An increasing number of these more than 15,000 growers are now making their own Champagne from their own vineyards, giving scope for a much more individual, artisanal and, some would say, authentic style of Champagne. But it can be difficult to tell the difference between one of these grower Champagnes, which will have an unfamiliar name on the label, and one of the profusion of unheard of Champagnes that populate supermarket shelves at this time of year.

The biggest clue is price - grower Champagnes are not going to be on offer for half price at £10-12. The concrete proof requires sharp eyesight and a good look at the label.

A bottle of grande marque Champagne will have the letters "NM" and some numbers printed in small type at the bottom of the front label, which stands for "negoçiant manipulant" – an organisation which buys in grapes or wine and makes Champagne. What you are looking for is "RM", for “récoltant manipulant”, meaning someone who harvests grapes and makes wines from their own vineyards.

There are so many offers on Champagne at this time of year. How can you make sure you don't pay over the odds for your Champagne?
A little light internet browsing is all that's required. Check out to see who is offering the best price for your chosen fizz and make use of their historical price chart to judge if a special offer really is special, or just par for the course.

Have a sparkling Christmas!

Time to talk turkey

For me, selecting wines to drink at this time of year is all part of the pleasure of the celebrations to come – but I know that’s not the case for everyone. For many, this is just another task on a very long “to do” list in December. So, if you’re looking for some helpful suggestions, here are my seasonal top tips.

Crowdpleasing wines
Wines for a crowd, anytime wines, wines for guests dropping in for a mince pie and a chat – you need a couple of go-to bottles that will please most palates. Here are some of my favourites.

Zarcillo Riesling, Bio-Bio, Chile - £6.50 from The Wine Society
I love the bracing, generous, limey fruit of this Chilean Riesling – and the price is pretty good too. You could also try Rolf Binder “Highness” Riesling 2013, Eden Valley, South Australia - £10.99 at Waitrose.

Domaine Salvard Cheverny 2013 - £7.95 from The Wine Society, also from independent merchants
This Loire white is mostly tinglingly fresh and zingy Savignon Blanc, with a small amount of Chardonnay which gives more body and substance. It’s one of my ultra-reliable wines that suits cold buffet meals and is great with goats cheese.

Pujalet 2013 Côtes de Gascogne - £5.49 from Waitrose
I enjoyed this crisp, floral, easy drinking white – but then Côtes de Gascogne whites are one of wine’s safe bets, so look for this on the label and you can’t go far wrong. The style is straightforward, widely appealing, the quality pretty uniform and the price very wallet-friendly.

Marquis de Saint Jean Carignan 2013, Vin de France - £6.99 at Waitrose
A dense ink-tinged Carignan which is smooth and fruity; perfect party red. 

Things that go pop
You can’t have Christmas without fizz. If it’s for mixing with orange juice, then choose a basic Brut Cava, which will have no discernible flavour of its own to make you regret making it into a cocktail.
Prosecco marches on, and that’s fine by me, for a quick, welcoming glass of something. For a drink that you might want a second glass of, or to have with food, I’d rather have a good quality sparkling wine or Champagne.

Château de l’Aulée Crémant de Loire NV - £12 from Oddbins
I have a soft spot for Loire crémants, from the Chenin Blanc grape. Most are made by large scale concerns around Saumur and represent great value for money. This one, though, is on a more artisanal scale, made from grapes from a single château. It has lovely, lively appley Chenin fruit, with a hint of honey, but is essentially dry.

Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Champagne - £24.99 and Waitrose Brut Special Reserve Vintage 2006 Champagne - £31.99
Supermarkets take pride in the quality of their own-label Champagnes so, if you’re not worried about sullying your festive table with the name of a supermarket, they make great choices at Christmas.  I enjoyed the delicate fruit with a hint of marzipan richness in the Blanc de Blancs, which would make a great aperitif. The 2006 Vintage has more mature autolytic characters and bready, appley spice – one for food.

Serious wines
Wines that can stand up to the big set piece meals of Christmas.

Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2013 - £18.99 from Waitrose
Chablis is an archetypally linear, mineral expression of Chardonnay, with none of the rich ripeness of wines from further south in the Côte d’Or or the Mâconnais – and it’s true I wouldn’t want to pitch this against the cornucopia of flavours of a traditional Christmas dinner. However, I do find 2013 Chablis relatively ripe and broad tasting, so it can make a good choice for lighter meals, or salmon-based starters and the like.

Albert Bichot Secret de Famille 2012, Bourgogne Chardonnay - £14.99 from Laithwaite’s
Buying Burgundy can be a quick way to blow a wad of cash on a disappointing wine. One strategy is to look for lesser wines made by reliable producers – and this is a good example. Plain old Bourgogne on the label, the négociant Albert Bichot has access to some parcels of good quality wines from across the region, resulting in satisfyingly rich, expressive Chardonnay with typical Burgundian character. There is also a Secret de Famille Pinot Noir worth searching out.

Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc Classique 2012 - £13.95 from Berry Brothers and various independent merchants
This is from the delightlfully named Pic Saint Loup area of Languedoc and is an unusual blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Marsanne and Roussanne. With all those varieties, there’s no shortage of flavour. Fruity enough to enjoy on its own; structured enough to cope with turkey and  - I’ve been trying to avoid saying this - all the trimmings.

 Abbots and Delauney Cumulo Nimbus Minervois 2011 - £16.99 from Averys
I know that you can pick up most Minervois for well under a tenner, but you can also get lots for your money if you pay more, such as this richly flavoured blend of Syrah and Carignan. Blueberry and black cherry flavours mingle with some bitter chocolate and good, balancing acidity. If you’re planning a meal involving roast beef or duck, perhaps, this would make a great partner.

Côtes du Rhône Cairanne, Domaine Richaud 2013 - £22.99 from The Wine Reserve Cobham and other independent merchants
Cairanne is one of the Côtes du Rhône villages which have been promoted beyond the standard appellation and are able to use the village name tacked onto the Côtes du Rhône bit. This is serious stuff but, as so often with the southern Rhône, never austere and always with the generosity and ripeness of Grenache from the warm south.

Laithwaite’s Domaine Martin Rasteau 2013 - £13.49, does the same sort of thing, in a more foursquare and slightly rustic way. Also keep your eye out for other southern Rhône villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Vinsobres.

I see that my list is overwhelmingly French – sometimes the French just do things better. C’est la vie!

Digging for gold in the Rhône

There’s a golden rule when buying internationally renowned wines: one third is good, one third is just ok and a third is pretty dire. The trouble is, it’s not necessarily obvious from the price, which of these three you might be faced with.

Wines which fall into this category include Rioja, Sancerre and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Anyone who’s ever spent twenty quid or more on a lacklustre Meursault from Burgundy has fallen foul of this golden rule. Its corollary is that, on restaurant wine lists, such wines are almost never good value.

The trouble is that such a recognizable name on the label enables lacklustre wines to sell at a price which far outstrips the quality of what’s actually in the bottle.

There are two ways to deal with this situation: one is to keep on buying the big names until you strike gold in the search for quality to match the price you’re paying – a long and possibly expensive process – though not unpleasant. The other is to do a bit of digging and experimentation and find the over achievers who live in the shadows of their more famous neighbours, but over deliver in terms of quality.

Actually there is a third way, which is just to carry on buying the big names, spending big bucks, but not worrying about it because you’re absolutely loaded. But somehow I don’t think you’d be reading this column if this is you – but hey, if you are, please get in touch, I’d love to come round and help you get through your extensive and well-stocked wine cellar.

But back to the more creative approach – how do you get to know who are the star Championship teams who could give many a Premiership side a run for their money?

Let’s take Châteauneuf-du-Pape as an example. At their best, these Grenache-based blends produce wonderfully weighty, intense wines of silky power – but at a price. In order to find value it pays to know a bit about how the French appellation system in the Rhône works. Look, It might be yawnworthy, but it could save you money…

There is a hierarchy of wines in the southern Rhône, a bit like a pyramid. At the bottom layer are wines labelled Côtes du Rhône, which can be made anywhere within the designated vineyard area. These are mostly fairly simple, easy drinking wines.

The next level up is Côtes du Rhône Villages, made from selected areas deemed to make higher quality wines. Often there is quite a step up in quality in such wines – an extra couple of quid will get you plenty more wine for your money.

After this come wines where specific villages are allowed to append their names to the Villages appellation, eg Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet. There are currently 18 such villages and they generally represent a sweet spot in terms of value for money, with ambitious and high quality producers making wine under such labels.

At the very top of the quality pyramid are the individual villages which have the right to use their name alone on the label. Châteauneuf is of course the most famous, but there are 15 more of these across the entire Rhône valley, 7 of them in the southern Rhône: Rasteau, Vinsobres, Lirac, Tavel (for rosé only), Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

Now I’m not saying that all the wines from all of these villages are every bit as good as Châteauneuf, or are even necessarily made in the same style. I don’t know about you, but I am innately suspicious of wine merchants who talk about wines made from grapes a “mere stone’s throw” from a more famous neighbour, implying that you can get Châteauneuf quality at Côtes du Rhône prices.

Gigondas is probably the best known village after Châteauneuf  and quality has been rising here for some years. Grenache Noir can make up up to 80% of the blend, with a minimum of 15% of Syrah and/or Mourvèdre.

In Châteauneuf, there are famously 13 different permitted varieties; though most wines are Grenache-dominated blends, with Syrah and/or Mourvèdre in support, but also frequently with Cinsault, which is light in colour but adds lift and perfume.

On paper these two villages make broadly similar wine, but if you were to visit the area (and I strongly recommend you do) you would see a dramatic difference in the terroir. Châteauneuf is broadly a flattish plateau close to the river Rhône, characterised by “galets roulés” or pudding stones; large, rounded stones formed by the action of rivers. 

Gigondas, meanwhile, hugs the side of the Dentelles de Montmirail, jagged outcrops of limestone which loom above the village, like the plates along the spine of a vast stegosaurus. Altitude and aspect clearly have a vital role in determining the style of wines made here. If Châteauneuf is all about suave power, Gigondas is more defined by density of fruit and a definite freshness.

Recommended southern Rhône wines

Domaine Maby, La Fermade, Lirac 2012 - £9.95 from The Wine Society
Unbeatable value for money, from a conscientious producer in a village across the Rhône from Châteauneuf. It conveys warmth and ripeness combined with refreshment.
Domaine Martin 2013, Rasteau - £13.49 from Laithwaite’s
Rasteau was elevated to village/cru status only in 2010, so now is a good time to find wines whose quality is on an upward trajectory, but where the lower profile means prices reflect good value for money. Full, rich and savoury.
Domaine du Grapillon d’Or 2012 Gigondas - £19.99 from Waitrose
A rich mix of Quink and black fruit, with good freshness, even at 14.5% alcohol.
Domaine Richaud 2013 Côtes du Rhône Cairanne – £22.99 from The Wine Reserve in Cobham

The highest price wine here is, in theory, a lower quality level than the others. Purity of fruit, intensity of flavour and elegant structure make this worth the price tag.

It was a very good year...

Autumn may well and truly be upon us now: the horrors of Halloween are past and the final squib of Bonfire Night has squeaked its last.  Before all that, though, Surrey’s vineyards were enjoying what may well be remembered as an almost perfect year.

What made it so good? It’s all about the weather. You might recall that we had an early and warm Spring this year, which coaxed the vines into budburst and there were no late snap frosts to damage this early growth. We did have quite a lot of rain too, but it came at about the right time to provide water during vine development. The early Summer was warm and sunny and, despite August being rather grey and cool, the sun came out again in the critical ripening period of September into October. 

To quote Nick Wenman of Albury Vineyard “If you can’t make good wine this year, you never will.”

Chris White, General Manager at Denbies, Surrey’s best known vineyard and the largest single site vineyard in the country, has even been quoted as talking of 2014 as “one in a century”. I think that kind of speculative hyperbole is best left to the Bordelais, who seem to announce the “vintage of the century” about once a decade.

John Worontschak, Chief Winemaker at Litmus Wines, who actually make the wine at Denbies does, however, confirm that they have harvested a “massive crop”, their biggest ever, of high quality fruit. In fact, as I write, the harvest is not quite finished, as some botrytis-affected (that’s the right kind of rot) grapes will be picked next week to make a late harvest dessert wine. They will also be making some still red from Pinot Noir, the only noble black variety which tends to perform well in the UK – when conditions are right.

The picture is broadly similar across England, with many vineyards reporting record harvests of, crucially, ripe and healthy grapes. In our marginal climate, achieving full ripeness is rarely possible – hence our success with sparkling wines, which require lowish alcohol and high acid grapes. This year, however, could mark a new high point for still wines of all colours.

Mike Wagstaff, co-owner of Greyfriars Vineyard on the Hog’s Back southeast of Guildford, reports a harvest of over 90 tonnes, getting on for double last year’s total. This kind of increase is driven primarily by the nearly 45,000 new vines planted since Mike and his business partner took over ownership of the vineyard in 2010. As well as the volume of grapes picked, he’s particularly pleased to see much higher levels of ripeness than in 2013 and good grape health – ie little in the way of the various sorts of rot which can bedevil English growers.

From this year’s harvest, Greyfriars will be making a range of sparkling wines: rosé from Pinot Noir and a classic cuvée blend. There may also be some still wines, which we can look forward to tasting next year.

Nick Wenman at Albury Vineyard has the additional challenge of using organic methods, which limit, for example, the treatments available to treat vines against rot. Professional pickers were busy completing the harvest in the sunshine when I visited on 22nd October and the quality of the bunches looked good. Nick will be producing organic Silent Pool still rosé and a range of organic sparkling wines: a classic cuvée blend, a rosé and a blanc de blancs made from Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc.
But Nick is nothing if not adventurous and curious wine drinkers may get the chance to taste a biodynamic “Petillant naturel” wine from Albury next year. This style of wine, called “pet nat” for short, is made by allowing fermentation to start naturally and bottling the wine before it finishes. In theory the continuing fermentation will result in the production of carbon dioxide, which will dissolve in the wine as it cannot escape, thereby making the wine lightly sparkling. This is far from an exact science, however. Too much carbon dioxide and the bottles can explode; too little and the wine can be disappointingly flat.

The harvest at probably Surrey’s smallest commercial vineyard, High Clandon, is a blink and you’ll miss it affair. This year it began on the morning of 9th October and was all over by lunchtime. Bruce and Sibylla Tindale tend this tiny 1-acre vineyard with loving care and attention and this year harvested a total of 3.6 tonnes of grapes, which should produce around 2,600 bottles of sparkling wine. Patience is required for would be drinkers of the wine though – it won’t be available until sometime in 2019.

Contact details:

Denbies is a visitor-friendly vineyard, with tours and tastings running every day, plus a restaurant and shop.
The other vineyards mentioned are open by appointment only: