The clouds did not dampen the anticipation in our group of 36 as we arrived by coach at Albourne Estate in West Sussex, where we were greeted by Alison Nightingale – owner, viticulturist and winemaker!
Tasting of Sparkling Wines
To the sounds of corks popping, we started our visit with a taste of the great value Albourne Multi-Vintage (a cuvée of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) while Alison chatted about the history, geography and challenges in the vineyard, especially in this year of late frosts and extreme damp.
The Tasting Team opened a second delicious fizz, Albourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2015 , a vintage sparkler made entirely from Chardonnay. While the Multi-Vintage has impressive lees ageing of 24 months, the vintage sparkling wine had spent 42 months on its lees, producing a more complex and textured wine, the equal of Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
Monica then led us on a delightful walk around the vineyards, showing us the different varieties of grape vines on the Estate. Albourne grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier (the classic champagne grapes used in English Sparkling wines) as well as Bacchus, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Ortega which are used in the production of still wines.
The Estate has some 30 acres, around 10 hectares, under vine on a greensand ridge with extensive views towards the Devils Dyke. As we strolled through the vineyard, Monica gave a relaxed and informative commentary on the joys and challenges of growing grapes in our marginal climate.
In the Winery
We then walked to the Winery itself, equipped with modern wine-making facilities with stainless steel fermentation tanks, grape press and a machine for the disgorgement of Sparkling Wines. Albourne use whole-bunch fermentation technique which provides many benefits to the final wines. They are also one of the smaller producers to have their own wine-making facilities but Alison decided she needed full control over the production of both still and sparkling wines.
Unusually for English wines, some of the wine is aged for a few months in oak barrels. Alison is continually innovating her wine-making techniques and uses lightly oaked wine as a part of the blend in her delicious Sandstone Ridge 2018 and Estate Selection 2019. She has also made a 100% oaked Chardonnay “Barrel 24” 2018 (just 600 bottles) which we look forward to tasting in due course, and was also one of the first to produce an English Vermouth, which has proved extremely popular.
Tasting of Still Wines and Lunch
Returning to the Tasting Room and Terrace, we tasted 2 delicious still Albourne wines from the 2019 vintage, Bacchus and Estate Selection. Alison’s 2014 Bacchus won the Trophy for UK Wine of the Year in 2015 and her still and sparkling wines have won a string of Internationally recognised awards since then.
By now we had worked up a great appetite for the delicious lunch of locally sourced baby quiches, Sussex Cheeses, Charcuterie with local breads and many were keen to buy a glass of one of the other wines in Albourne’s range (or a bottle to share!) – we were travelling back by coach after all!
The weather was kind enough for us to have lunch outside on the Terrace, which has good views over the vineyard and beyond, and from where we could see the winery’s vast array of solar panels, all part of an integrated approach to sustainable wine production.
We certainly enjoyed a great day out learning how the grapes are grown, the wine is made and finally reaches the glass!
Thanks must go to Alison and Monica at Albourne Estate for a most interesting visit and a special thanks also to Suzanna Pinder Travel Consultant, who made the visit “hassle free” with an excellent coach service (01243 573442) firstname.lastname@example.org
We appreciate that English Wines will never be inexpensive, due to their scale and our marginal climate. However, for the price of an every-day wine in a Pub or Restaurant, you can enjoy a lower alcohol still wine with superb flavour and finesses from Albourne. Their sparkling wines are on a par with Champagnes and offer excellent value for their quality.
You can find a range of Albourne Estate still and sparkling wines in our Wine Shop – just select the ENGLAND button above the wines.