Young Ladies About Town

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A little English sparkle...

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Young Ladies About Town
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on Monday, 09 September 2013
Row upon row of vibrant, green vines stretch out into the distance. Beyond them, an undulating green horizon and a clear blue sky. A handsome winegrower talks about his craft with engaging charm, and the promise of a tasting hangs enticingly in the warm air.

vineyard landscape

Are we in Burgundy, or Reims? No: Hampshire, actually. Cottonworth Vineyard to be precise, and our host is Hugh Liddell, who in the space of eight years has transformed part of his family’s farmland into a successful winemaking enterprise. 

As we walk around the estate, Hugh enthuses about the soil: it is chalky, very similar to the Champagne region, with the advantage of having three soil types in the same field – perfect for growing the grape varieties that make up sparkling wine. The key thing about chalk is that it ‘stresses’ the vines slightly, so they produce better fruit. As he explains, ‘if the vines are a little stressed, like a great artist or poet they seem to react by producing a more interesting and complex result.’

vineyard vines

We learn about the intricacies of rooting systems, developed to make the vines resistant to certain diseases. And picking the perfect time for harvesting is a decision that can bring about an epic vintage or the loss of a whole crop.

I stop to admire the rose bushes in bloom at the end of each row. They are not just decorative: like the canary in the coalmine, they serve to flag up early symptoms of downy mildew, so the vines can be treated before the pest takes hold.

vineyard rows

The science behind the alchemy of winemaking is a real eye-opener for someone like me, who for years has been more than happy to enjoy wine with very little idea of how it all works.  Hugh trained in Burgundy, initially with a view to becoming a wine broker. When he told fellow students that he wanted to make his own wine in England, they thought it was a great joke. But fast-forward eight years and English wines are no longer the poor relation to their continental counterparts. The critics are taking note, as are the high-end bars and restaurants that have started adding them to their menus.

vineyard juanitahugh

Back on the lawn at the Liddell family home, with two adorable Italian truffle dogs and an enthusiastic terrier, we get down to the serious business of tasting. The sparkling white is creamy and clean, with a bold note of citrus-fruit sharpness. The sparkling rose is my favourite, its pale salmon-pink colour reminiscent of vintage silk slips, known in French as pelure d’oignon. Crisp and elegant, it could hold its own among the smartest of French fizzes.  (I have since served it, without disclosing its label, to a very grand dinner guest, who complimented me especially on my choice of ‘champagne’.) vineyard bottles

In my opinion, this is the one to buy in quantities, great for a late-summer drinks party – at £144 a case it is exceptionally good value, too. We also sampled a white Burgundy – I don’t normally do white, but this fragrant and surprisingly full-bodied offering has converted me – and a garnet-hued Pommard from Hugh’s other vineyards in France.

I used to turn up my nose at anything sparkling that wasn’t champagne, but this is no longer the case.  If you don’t believe me, go to one of Cottonworth’s tasting evenings and try it for yourself. Matched with delicious food, each of the wines is served in generous quantities – more quaffing than tasting, really.

A very presentable and clubbable chap who can make his own wine – what else could a girl want? Sorry to break the bad news, ladies, but the divine Hugh is spoken for: his graphic designer girlfriend is responsible for the soon-to-be-revamped Cottonworth labels.

For details or to place an order visit www.cottonworth.co.uk

Words by Juanita Coulson.
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