Cheers to English wine!
Yeah, you got your Bordeaux, your Tuscany, your California, but you don't need to go that far for a wine tour - hello Three Choirs Gloucestershire, we're loving what you do!
So it’s English Wine Week (good timing for half-term, eh? line up those bottles) and to celebrate Mr Muddy and I embarked on a wine tour of Gloucestershire’s answer to California’s Santa Ynez Valley, the Three Choirs Vineyard near Newent in the Vale of Leadon on the edge of the Forest of Dean. And while it wasn’t quite the Sideways-style, debauched, coming-of-middle-age road trip of the 2004 hit film, bonding did occur and lessons were learned, namely that cutting loose from the kids on a Saturday afternoon and going on a grown-up wine jolly is a good idea.
Three Choirs is nestled in something of a micro climate, surrounded as it is by the Cotswolds, the Malvern Hills and the Brecon Beacons, which makes it a little basin of sunshine typically two or three degrees warmer than the rest of the locale. It was in 1973 that fruit farmer Alan McKechnie got the bright idea of harvesting vines on his small farm and three years later, helped along by the 1976 summer scorcher, he reaped a bumper harvest and produced his first 300 bottles of wine from his modest half acre. Since then, the vineyard has grown and grown, and today it has 45,000 vines covering 75 acres and typically produces 300,000 bottles of wine a year.
And very nice wine it is, helped along by that micro climate, though it would be fair to say the terroir is more Rhineland than California, with the majority of the grapes coming from Germany, though the first wine we tasted, the sparkling Classic Cuvé, was a blend of a couple of French numbers, Seyval Blanc and Pinot Noir. Made in the same way as Champagne, the fizz comes from a five-day shaking in a riddling machine, a wire crate that gets rotated 80 times before the bottles are stored upside down to allow the sediment to settle in the neck, which is then frozen and extracted. Just like Champagne, there’s no artificial gases added. But unlike Champagne, a bottle will only set you back £15.20. Summer party, here I come!
Next on the tasting menu was the single blend Bacchus (£13.15 a bottle), which for me was the star of the show. I was tasting grapefruit, herbs, elderflower… and wondering, “How can I wrestle the bottle off the guide?” All the Three Choir wines are young, easy drinkers, perfect for breakfast, as our guide suggested, and I was definitely with her on that. The next wine, Willow Brook, a blend of Schönburger and Siegerrebe grapes, was another highly quaffable number and at £8.65 a bottle was something of a bargain for such a smooth drinker.
We finished with a red called Ravens Hill (all the wines’ names are local landmarks), which was a blend of the German grapes Regent and Rondo. It was another young buck, a bit like a Beaujolais with an added peppery hit, and like the Willow Brook, it was only 11% and a good price at £10.15. Being so young, the tannins are low so, the guide informed us, you can drink and drink and not get a hangover. I needed to put this to the test, obvs, and having purchased a couple of bottles, I can now confirm, she’s right. Amazing.
There’s something rather fabulous about drinking wines overlooking the vineyards they were produced from – you don’t get better terroir than that – and Mr Muddy and I were slightly regretting we hadn’t opted for the 11am tour and then gone on to have lunch in the restaurant whose menu board, with its Wye Valley asparagus and saddle of Herefordshire lamb with ewe’s cheese, dauphinoise and red wine jus, was speaking to us. You can also spend the night. There are 11 rooms, eight overlooking the vineyard and three picturesque lodges nestled among the vines themselves. Staying overnight would be heaven I reckon – then you could really channel the Sideways vibe, get your full bottle of Bacchus and go the whole debauched hog! I’m calling to book now!
During English Wine Week (until Sun 4 June), Three Choirs is offering a 25% discount when you buy 12 bottles or more. Wine tastings and tours: 11am Tue to Sun; 2.30pm Sat (summer only). Restaurant: lunch, 12pm-2pm, Tue to Sun; dinner, 6.30pm-9pm, Mon to Sun. Click here for summer, stay-over specials.