Five of the best Surrey wines (2019 edition)
English Wine Week is here again, a chance to celebrate the superb wines produced in here in England. In fact, there is so much to celebrate that English Wine Week actually goes for a week and two days! In my line of work, I’m lucky to get to taste so many excellent homegrown wines so I’d like to share a few recent discoveries from one of our home counties – Surrey.
As a wine region, Surrey’s star is on the rise! The county now boasts five producers – Albury Organic Vineyard, Greyfriars Vineyard, High Clandon, Chilworth Manor Vineyard and Denbies – who collectively have formed the Vineyards of the Surrey Hills, working together to promote the wonderful things they do. But Surrey also has a very important place in the history of English wine and the industry perhaps wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the tireless work of one Surrey man – Raymond Barrington Brock.
In Oxted in 1945, Brock, a keen gardener with a scientific mind, set himself the task of determining which varieties of wine grapes would flourish in England’s cool climate. Fast-forward 25 years and Brock had grown tens of thousands of vines, trialling over 600 different varieties. Not only did he identify a number of varieties that would become very important to the growing English wine industry, but he also developed a wealth of knowledge on cool-climate vine-growing that he shared growers around the world.
Brock was one of the original pioneers of English wine, and I would regard each of the The Vineyards of the Surrey Hills producers as pioneers as well. The passion and hard work they put into their craft is helping to not only forge a stellar reputation for wines of this county, but for the industry overall. With Surrey located on London’s doorstep, it’s going to be the first place that visiting wine-lovers head to experience the English vineyards and to taste the local drop. What better introduction to English wine could they have?
So, which Surrey wines should you be drinking this Summer? In no particular order, I give you five of the best Surrey wines:
Greyfriars Vineyard Sparkling Rosé Reserve 2014
Just pipped at the post by Denbies for being Surrey’s oldest vineyard, Greyfriars was established in 1989 by a pair of vets for whom winemaking was only ever really a hobby. Enter Mike & Hilary Wagstaff, who in 2010 bought the site and set about turning Greyfriars Vineyard into a force in the industry. Their vineyards now stretch along the South slope of the Hogs Back, growing the classic Champagne varieties as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. All their sparkling wines are excellent, but the Sparkling Rosé Reserve is a real standout.
Don’t just take my word for it, trust the good people at the International Wine Challenge, who saw fit to give this wine 95 points and award it the Trophy for Best English Sparkling Rosé. They also produced a tasting note far more eloquent than anything I could manage, so I will share it with you here: “Delicate ballet-shoe-pink hue with a myriad of dancing bubbles. Raspberry and white floral notes pirouette across the nose and palate. Perfectly poised and elegant. En Pointe!”.
Chilworth Manor Rosé 2018
Chilworth Manor Vineyard is the newest of the five Surrey vineyards, having planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in 2013 at the historic Chilworth Manor, at the foot of St Martha’s Hill. Despite their young age, they have already begun producing excellent wines and we are now onto their second vintage of their Rosé. This is one of the first wines to be released from the historic 2018 vintage, when the frost stayed away, sun shined, the birds sang, and vineyard managers rejoiced. We’re going to see a lot of good 2018 wine over the next few years, if this one is anything to go by!
It is Provence in style – pale pink and dry with citrus and red fruit notes of raspberry, strawberry and cranberry shining through. It finishes so crisp and fresh, in that way that begs you to take another sip. This could easily become your go-to aperitif this Summer!
High Clandon Halcyon Cuvée 2014
A visit to High Clandon Vineyard is always a highlight of our tours. They’ve won back to back IWC Cellar Door of the Year Awards for a reason! Complete with a beautiful glass barn, views to the distant London skyline and a wildflower meadow teeming with life, it’s a beautiful place to spend and hour or two in the company of the warm and entertaining owners, Sibylla and Bruce Tindale. Since 2004, they have focused their time and attention on creating one outstanding wine each year. This is the most recent vintage.
What really sets this wine apart is the long bottle maturation of at least five years, which means the current vintage is a 2014. Ahh 2014…well before all this Brexit and Trump nonsense…those were the days!
What happens to a wine that matures on its lees for five years? Magical things! It develops all these wonderful tropical aromas of mango and pineapple as well as peach, brioche and honeyed notes on the palate. If you’re have any big celebrations coming up that require popping the cork of something a little special, you’d best have one of these on standby.
Albury Organic Vineyard Longwells Seyval Blanc 2017
Now I bet you thought I was going to mention the famous Silent Pool Rosé, the wine that was served on the Royal Barge at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Well, I was…until I tasted something else recently that really piqued my interest!
Remember Brock, the man that grew all those vines in Oxted? One of the varieties he identified that could handle an English “Summer” was Seyval Blanc. It doesn’t mind the cool weather, is generally resistant to disease and produces a good yield. In fact, at the Albury vineyard in late Summer it is remarkable to see Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc growing side by side, the Seyval Blanc vines creaking under the weight of so many more bunches of tightly packed grapes. This variety occasionally gets a bad wrap from winemakers, but when it’s done well it makes an absolutely lovely wine. And this one is certainly done well!
It comes from Albury’s “other” vineyard, Longwells, on the Surrey/Sussex border. They are currently in the process of converting this vineyard to organic and expect it to be certified this year. This is a delicately sparkling wine with moreish green apple and zippy lemon flavours and a touch of fennel fronds on the nose. It’s a lovely and light and slides down easy in the Summer sun! There’s one problem…they could only make 2,700 bottles of this vintage and at £23.95 a bottle it won’t hang around long!
Denbies Bacchus 2017
If you start a conversation about Surrey wine, Denbies is usually the first name to spring to mind and just about everyone I meet has paid a visit to their large estate in Dorking at one point or another. They now have over three decades experience making wines in the Surrey Hills, having first planted their vineyards way back in 1986.
For your summer sipping, I’ve chosen their Bacchus, from a variety that could stake a claim as England’s national grape. This is a classic example, with elderflower on the nose and a refreshing palate with citrus and grassy flavours. For a hot summer’s day, forget the Kiwi Sauv Blanc and give this a try instead.
There you have it, five super Surrey wines. The only problem now is deciding which to taste first!
If you want to get to know the Surrey wine producers a little better, then nothing beats tasting these wines right are they are made. Join one of our Surrey tours and we’ll chauffeur you to the vineyards, allowing you to taste the wines without the worry of driving home! Choose from our Vineyards of Surrey Tour, which visits three local vineyards, or our Surrey Hills Tour, which combines a vineyard visit with tours of a local brewery and gin distillery. All tours depart from Guildford Railway Station and include luxury mini coach transport and a delicious two-course gastropub lunch.
Thanks to Liz Sagues, author of the fantastic book ‘A Celebration of English Wine’, in which I learned the story of Raymond Barrington Brock, among many other things.