Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Heard It on the Grapevine

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Heard It on the Grapevine

Article excerpt


THE ENGLISH WINE CENTRE Berwick, East Sussex IHAD previously been on wine-tasting breaks to Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, finding them both instructive and stimulating. But when contemplating a similar outing to East Sussex with English wines, I confess to having my doubts.

That may be because I first became acquainted with English wines 20 years ago, and first impressions stick. With a few notable exceptions I found them too Germanic in style and too thin.

But English winemaking has progressed by leaps and bounds, as I discovered when staying at the English Wine Centre at Berwick, just to the east of Lewes, in one of five newly opened guest rooms in Green Oaks Barn, adjacent to its wine shop and restaurant. Owner Colin Munday explained: "We only stock English wines, of which some 140 examples are on offer, though we continue to search for more vineyards."

Since they run tutored tastings as well as including practically all of those in stock on the restaurant's wine list, this was clearly an opportunity to refresh and expand my knowledge of English viticulture (including a fine selection of sparkling wines). Far more so than simply visiting a single vineyard, because of the range on offer.

It was a revelation. Whether it's due to global warming or improved winemaking techniques (Plumpton College, specialising in viticulture, is just down the road) I don't know but English wine has come into its own.

Moreover, now that the previously lunch-only restaurant is open for dinner at weekends, and with stylish and well-appointed rooms just across the courtyard, one can explore some of the finest English wines available, without resorting to the spittoon or arguing about who is the driver. I didn't make life easy for Alison Hughes, one of four wine specialists who run tastings and advise on pairing wines and food, by choosing pea and garden mint soup as my starter. The response, an aromatic Juniper Hill from the Denbies winery in Surrey, lived up to the challenge, while the Stanlake Park Madeleine from Berkshire that was served with my partner's starter of feather-light smoked mackerel pate and gooseberry jam was a perfect match.

Head chef Mark Goodwin's approach is to use locally sourced and seasonal produce to create uncomplicated, "modern English" dishes that complement the wines.

I threw down the gauntlet again by going for slow-roasted loin of free range pork with a shallot and cider sauce for mains, to which they responded with a remarkably full English red, Chapel Down Trinity, its blend of Pinot Noir, Rondo and Pinot Noir Precoce yielding cherry and hedgerow fruit aromas.

My partner went one better, tasting two wines with her wild sea trout in a creamy watercress sauce.

The first, King's Fume, another gemlike white from Stanlake Park, was declared "delicious", while the Biddenden Gribble Bridge Rose that followed was "an excellent pairing, although disconcertingly the same colour as the sea trout's flesh". …

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