Having spent the last 6 weeks in London I was eager to get out of the city and explore further a field. Of course being the obsessed oenophile that I am, it just had to be an adventure that involved wine. So after bending Mr. Spittoon’s rubber arm we decided to take his snazzy rental VW polo out to visit my very first English vineyard.
Having done a bit of research the day before, I found out that a lot of vineyards are actually closed over the winter months, which didn’t work in my favour. I was suggested on twitter by a winemaker in Kazakhstan @vinosity to employ the help of @englishwine and their useful website to find the information I needed. This is where I came across Biddenden Vineyards based in Kent who lucky for me are open just about every day of the year – even better is that the admission and tasting is free.
The drive from North Finchley where we are staying was about 1.5 hours, the first half was rather grim going through the outskirts of London, but as you entered ‘The Garden of England’, otherwise known as Kent it got a lot greener and more pleasant. Thank-goodness for Mr. Spittoon’s Garmin GPS otherwise I don’t think we would have found our way through all those country back roads.
We arrived at the vineyard in the early afternoon and after checking the surroundings we decided we would go into the shop and taste some wine before going on our own self-directed walk around the property. From the car park you walk directly across the road to where you will find the winery with towering vats and old cider presses lying round the place. The shop is quaint and full of the most delicious local Kentish goodies. I knew as soon as we walked in that I was happy that Mr.Spittoon came along with his visa card!!
You are able to try all of the juices, ciders and wines if you wish and the staff are happy to help. Unfortunately when we were there the store got quite busy so we weren’t able to chat a whole lot to the lady on duty. However we did manage to steal a bit of her time to find out about Biddenden. The vineyard began in 1969 under the ownership of the Barnes family (Tom Barnes recently joined the company and is the 3rd generation Barnes to do so). The 9-hectare property is now regarded as Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard and we were told that the larger proportion of their sales are done via cellar door, so if you are in the area it is a must-do!
You can pick up a free map of the property from the shop like we did so you are able to roam around the vineyard on your own self-directed tour. Signposts allow you to easily follow either a 10-minute or 30 minute walk. We opted for the latter, as we knew we would be feasting later that evening on all our delicious nibbles we bought. As you walk through the vineyard there are signposts for all the different parcels of vines (10 different varieties are grown), unfortunately during this time of year the vines are pretty dormant but I can imagine it would be a splendid day out in Summer.
My suggestion would be that you should definitely do the walk around the vineyards first and then follow it up with the tasting so that you can really appreciate it, not to mention work up a thirst. For more information on Biddenden Vineyards and what they have to offer, please click here.
During our visit this is what we tried:
1. Bacchus 2009: I have to first mention that my new fascination for English wines is fuelled by the grape varieties, a lot originate from Germany and a lot of them I have never tasted before coming to the UK. This Bacchus really reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc particularly on the nose. There were a lot of mineral notes as well as citrus fruits and gooseberries on the palate. Serve me up a banquet of fresh seafood and I’ll be ordering a bottle or two of this.
2. Huxelrebe 2009: We were told this is a real food-friendly wine, which I hope for its sake is true and that the food makes it better. Because on it’s own this is a pretty nondescript pour. The nose is shy the colour is withdrawn and the timid palate has faint melon and grass hints.
3. Ortega 2010: Nearly 50% of the Biddenden vines are Ortega. I really did enjoy this wine with our nibbles later on in the evening. The flavours weren’t complex, however it was mouth-watering delicious with stand out flavours of pineapple, peach & nectarine. The wine seemed to pair with everything from the ploughman’s pickle to the garlic stuffed olives and apple chutney.
4. Gribble Bridge Rose 2010: This Ortega, Dornfelder & Acolon blend was a stunner on the nose, I loved the icing sugar dusted strawberries that flowed out of the glass like a rich perfume. The berry flavours continued onto the palate with a refreshing citrus accompaniment that reminded me of acid drop candies from when I was younger.
5. Gribble Bridge Dornfelder 2009: I really liked this red and I think this is mostly due to its intriguing nature. Candied fruits on the nose intertwined with black pepper spice. The palate was subtle yet full at the same time. Plum fruits with a strong oomph of wood followed by a slight tannic finish. I definitely want a second date with this one.
My curiosity on the Dornfelder grape has really been spiked by the last 2 wines, and I will be definitely hunting out some more to compare and taste over the coming weeks, if anyone has any suggestions of good ones in the UK to try out, please leave a comment below or tweet me @travelcorkscrew.