Tuesday 26 May 2009

Brightwell Vineyard and a Few Bottles of English Wine

I don’t drink much wine. This is partly because I don’t know much about it and partly because I always have a fridge full of beer that needs drinking. When I was invited to go to a trip around a vineyard followed by a tasting I couldn’t resist (even though it was the same day as the Gillingham play-off final!). It was a blogger meet (and tweet) up arranged by Andrew at Spittoon and Spittoon Extra to celebrate English Wine Week. Also present were Helen from Food Stories, Niamh from Eat Like A Girl, Denise The Wine Sleuth and Jeanne from Cook Sister.
Having never been to a vineyard I didn’t really know what to expect. That was until I got there and it was exactly how you’d imagine it: rows of grapes arching across rolling green countryside. Brightwell Vineyard in Oxfordshire is where we went and it’s a gorgeous little place (the sunny weather helped!) which backs down onto the Thames. It was fascinating to see the different grape varities growing and learn more about the processes they go through, none of which I really knew about. They also have some really cute pigs. I love pigs.As I don’t know much about wine I was worried that I’d make a massive faux pas by saying completely the wrong thing (like trying a beer in front of the brewer and saying ‘it’s got a lovely buttery aftertaste’). I think I managed okay – beer and wine share many of the same flavour and aroma profiles. After the tour we tried five wines (check out Andrew’s blog here and here for much better tasting notes over the day). The Oxford Flint and Crispin were both a dry whites (a lot of whites are dry because there isn’t enough sun to make the grapes really sweet – I learnt that from Denise!), sharp and citrusy, although the Cripin was much fresher and easier drinking with lots of fresh granny smith apple flavour (good in wine, not so good in beer). Third was another white, Bacchus, which I thought had a really nice swaying balance between sweet and sharp with lots of peach and citrus, it also had a great, cheeky aftertaste of fruit salad penny chews. Fourth was Oxford Rosé which was full of cherry, raspberry and almond flavour and maybe even a hint of caramel (it was surprisingly like a lambic, for the beer guys). Finally we had Oxford Regatta, their red wine, and it was an unexpected hit: floral, spicy, pencil sharpenings, pepper, plums and the tang of blood. For me, the red was the best of the bunch.

After this we went back to Andrew’s place and a few more wines were opened. The best came from Davenport’s Vineyard. First there was Horsmonden, a dry white with a fruity nose of passion fruit, ripe tangerine, alphonso mango and fresh green peppers with the aroma following through to the palate. The other was the Limney Estate sparkling wine from Davenports. This was, for me and I think most of the others, the best wine of the day. It was yeasty and bready with lots of toasty oak and coconut flavour coming from the barrel fermentation. We followed this with Brightwell’s sparkling wine (which they didn’t open for us as part of the tour) and in truth the Limney smashed the Brightwell to pieces. Finally was a Balfour Rose with a nice peach, apricot, cherry and sweet coconut nose which didn’t quite come through so well in the mouth for me.
These wines were tasted alongside three cheeses and three gorgeous breads from a local deli. There was an organic brie from Simon Weaver’s Kirkham Farm (gooey under the rind and lovely), a Godminster vintage cheddar (so crumbly-rich and strong) and Cranbourne Chase Alderwood, a semi-soft cows’ milk cheese. Some of the matches were pretty good but as a beer and cheese maniac I couldn’t help but crave a nice bottle of Chimay Blue to go with these.

The most interesting thing over the day was how I picked out similarities between beer and wine in the aromas and flavours. For instance, some of the tangerine and tropical fruit aromas in the whites were very similar to good IPAs, the American oak aging of the Limney Estate sparkling wine gave off great coconut flavours that I’ve found in barrel-aged beers and the rosés both reminded me of a fruity-sharp lambic (I didn’t say this at the time though – Brettanomyces is not a sought after thing in wine!). This was a surprising find for me as I hadn’t ever thought of the two as parallels of each other. It also raises the question of why more people aren’t into beer as much as they are wine when there are these similarities…

I didn’t know what to expect from a day drinking wine (asides from getting a bit silly – that’s another thing beer and wine share!) but it was great fun and really interesting to try some English wines, something I knew very little about. I hope I managed to do the wines justice in my write up because I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of them and I’d want to drink them again. I enjoy wine but don’t know much about it so hopefully this will be the start of a new education for me. Now, is anyone up for a beer tasting?!

My camera packed in and wouldn’t work so I didn’t get many pictures. There are lots of pictures on Flickr though and you can check them out here and here and here (and yes, I did drink a can of super strong lager from the Spar on the train home!). The top two pics are mine. The group shot is Helen’s and the single wine is Andrew’s.


  1. Looks like a fun day was had by all, I'm annoyed that I couldn't make it - but I'm still having issue speaking now (let alone the thought of drinking alcohol over the weekend)

    Let me know on the beer tasting front!

  2. Yeah it was a shame you couldn't make it, you missed some good wine and cheese action. I hope your voice returns soon!

  3. Although I will drink wine, I find it a little one dimensional when compared to beer. It has aroma and then usually either sweet, sour or warming taste. There may be some secondary character from oaking or tannin extraction but it diesnt't make up for teh comlexity you get from beer where you can get malt sweetness and intense bitterness existing together. Carbonation helps to add complexity to beer as well. When people start to wax off about wine I tend to roll my eyes a bit. Like it tastes ok but it's not god's gift to beverages either.

  4. I do enjoy drinking wine but given the choice I will alawys go for beer. I think there is a lot more variety to be had.

    As with beer I have preferences in wine too. I will almost always choose red over white and I'll usually go for big, bold wines like Barollo, Chianti, Rioja, or New world stuff like Cabernet, Merlot or Malbec.

    I do get a bit pissy with 'wine buffs' and all the intellectual snobbery that goes with it, but the same can be said about those who take beer too seriously as well. C'mon people drinks are there to be a bit of fun, not some quasi-intellectual show of one-upmanship.

    Mark, I have posted that goat's cheese salad recipe today.

  5. We used to drink wine more frequently than beer. But, since my wife began taking a certain medication which limits her alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks a week, I have been drinking beer almost exclusively.

    There is really a lot of variety in wine but not compared to beer, especially when you consider the cost of 1 bottle of wine vs 2-3 bottles of beer. You really get more "taste" and variety for your $$ with beer.

  6. It was a brilliant day indeed and YES I am up for a beer tasting! Also, have you seen this? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/dining/27beer.html?_r=1&ref=dining Perhaps not available over here though - not sure.

  7. On the whole 'more variety' thing with beer and wine, I did say that I felt beer had much greater overall variety to Andrew and he seemed to disagree so I'd be interested in a little beer vs. wine off! Maybe 5 bottles each and see who can get the biggest range out?! I'm pretty certain beer would win :)

    Helen, I'd heard about that beer but not read anything on it so thanks for the link. It sounds really interesting. I'm surprised it's only 4.5% though, I would've expected it to be at least 7% if they want it to work like a wine. Hopefully a few bottles will filter over here and into the London Whole Foods and I'll get to try it.

  8. It was a great day but I have to disagree vigourously about there being more variety in beer then wine! Puh-leeeez! There are thousands of varietals which can be made into thousands more wines and what about the different wine combinations??? The flavours, aromas, textures, I could go on but I won't. And the cost? It takes a lot of time to make a proper wine, you have to wait at least 3-5 years before grapes can even be picked to be made into wine. Making wine is not cheap, hence the price. Sorry for the rant but I am a wineblogger. Think we better do a beer and wine taste off and soon! :-)

  9. Haha, I was hoping someone would bite!

    Flavour, aroma and texture?! Beer can do that too :) You've got different grains, differently malted and roasted from pale to black; you've got infinite yeast variety including wild yeasts; there's hops from all over the world used in varying amounts and combinations, from not bitter at all all the way to super-bitter; there's ABV from 2%-30%; then there's the possibilities of barrel aging (wine, whisky, calvados, brandy, etc) and cellar aging beers so they improve with time... I think beer wins :)

    Bring on a taste off!!

  10. I'm not much of a beer drinker, so I'm not even going to dip my toe into this argument ;-) Perhaps I'll sit on the sidelines watching the beer & wine drinkers slug it out while sipping a cocktail...! That said, I'd be up for a beer vs. wine tasting.

    The day at Brightwell & Andrew's really was a fab day and it was a pleasure to meet you!