ENGLISH WINE – ANOTHER VISIT TO DORSET!
Twenty two years ago (this week, actually) when I left the UK for a new life in Spain I certainly didn’t expect to be returning, all this time later, with a choice of top quality wineries to visit back in Blighty.
It wasn’t even possible to call English and Welsh wine production a nascent industry in the 90s when I left. There may have been perhaps 300 small producers at the time, a rather insignificant number anyway, and in fact it was seen largely as a hobby, a pastime, perhaps for rather idiosyncratic people. But there were those who persevered – perhaps they knew something then that most of the world didn’t, and indeed some deny to this day. Climate change was happening and was very likely to continue!
In the early years of the new millennium those producers who had been stoically making sparkling wines started to achieve some recognition, and success in various wine competitions. English Sparkling Wine competed with Champagne and other quality sparklers – and occasionally won! The wine world began to take notice – just as the British summers began to get hotter with more sunshine hours.
In 2004 Furleigh Estate, Salway Ash, Dorset, was established – and they haven’t looked back since! Their website (www.furleighestate.co.uk) tells of the dinosaur bones that helped make the soils of the rolling land in which their vines are planted, and it was this comment that actually made me choose Furleigh for this visit, from the several that had been recommended, thanks to my Twitter wine friends. And it wasn’t a coincidence that when we went home we watched an old Jurassic Park film!
Our excellent guide, Nick’s optimistic (we now know!) estimate of the time it would take us to travel from where we were staying, differed somewhat from Mr. Google, so we opted for a blend of local knowledge and technology. We were late! Never mind!
Furleigh Estate wines are made with originally German and French varieties – Rondo (unknown to me) but a black grape with coloured flesh, like SE Spain’s Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouchette); and white wine variety, Bacchus, the variety that figures in most English and Welsh wineries. And from France, of course, the Champagne triumvirate of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The soil, excellent for making sparkling wines, is largely sand and crustacean based (plus the dinosaurs!) – and it’s not only the vines which like it. Deer often roam freely over the vineyards, occasionally nibbling a few leaves, plus there are badgers and rabbits. In fact, the rabbits can be a problem, to the extent that Nick joked, that when we leave we can take away the Furleigh fizz glass, and a rabbit too, please! Funnily enough right on cue, one jumped out of the hedgerow as we left!
Furleigh has 23,000 vines planted over 18 south facing acres on site, plus a further 30,000 vines elsewhere in Dorset. The difference in the terroir of the two different vineyards gives joint owner (with his wife, Rebecca) and winemaker, Ian, more options when he is making is final blends.
The vines are trellised, all are in pristine condition, and are quite high – the growth is kept a little above the ground to avoid frost damage. Harvest has usually been in the second week of October, when more workers are brought in for the job, but in the most recent years harvest has occurred perhaps two weeks ahead of the expected schedule – you know why, it’s Climate Change once again!
The tasting room at Furleigh Estate has a lovely view over the surrounding land, lit up by beautiful sunshine when we visited. Dorset is such a delight!
Our first wine was actually my favourite of the session – an unusual, quite rare, in fact, white wine made from black Pinot Noir grapes, therefore a blanc de noir. This style has always excited me – most usually seen in sparkling wines, but still uncommon, it has the freshness of a chilled white allied to the depth and body of a red. Furleigh Estate’s White Pinot Noir 2018 had all of this plus some lovely citrus and baked apple aromas and flavour. Great start!
Our next wine, white again, was made with Bacchus plus just 4% Chardonnay. Lovely elderflower perfume emanated from the bottle the moment the screw top was opened. There are also some earthy and herbaceous notes on the nose, with some orchard fruits on the palate. Slightly sweeter than the first white, though not at all a sweet wine, the Bacchus Dry 2018 will suit SE Asian cuisine very nicely!
The Classic Cuvée 2014 English Sparkling Wine is made with the three Champagne varieties, 40% Chardonnay with 30% each of the other two. It has a fine mousse with tiny bubbles speeding to the surface. On the palate there is elegance and on the nose some patisserie notes along with some faint ripe pear fruit. I couldn’t find the melon suggested in the tasting notes, but there was a nice reference to lemon (same letters, different order!). It’s a Brut Sparkling Wine, though at 11 grams of residual sugar, it’s at the sweeter end of the spectrum. Try this wine with Chinese food and I can believe it’s just right, as it says on the tasting notes, with smoked salmon served with some horseradish. I’d love to try it with sushi with a lick of wasabi too!
Finally, because we were such a nice group (Nick, you smooth talker you!) we were able to taste the Sea Pink 2018, traditionally coloured rosé wine, which had a noticeable slight sweetness to it too!
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