The best of Sussex drinks were out in force at South Lodge Hotel in mid November for the inaugural Bubbles and Botanicals Fair. A range of producers showcased the delicious offerings available without leaving our county and there were plenty of delicious drinks on offer to try. But, whilst there was everything from gin to Sussex sparkling, lovely liqueurs to groundbreaking blends we want to know what the makers themselves will be drinking on Christmas Day. From the opening of the presents to the festival meal itself, this is what some of the top Sussex producers and retailers will be enjoying as their Sussex Christmas drinks.
Ridgeview Wine Estates
The leader of the Sussex wine scene is the mighty Ridgeview wines. Started by Mike and Chris Roberts in the mid-1990s, they were among the pioneers in the area planting the famous trinity of grapes from the champagne region to make Sussex sparkling wine. Now with over 25 years of production and still family-owned, what will this mighty dynasty be opening for their Christmas Celebrations?
Ridgeview Bloomsbury NV – This is celebration in a bottle and showcases England at its best. Chardonnay dominates, it has seductive flavours of citrus, peach and honey bouncing out of the glass. This is the perfect fizz to sip as you tear the wrapping from the presents, because as the foil says, “life is for celebrating”.
Ridgeview Oak Reserve – A meal as important as Christmas Day lunch demands a wine to match and this is more than up to the job. Made from Chardonnay grapes that have been aged in oak barrels results in a sparkling wine that has weight, creaminess and richness underlying flavours of lychee and pineapple. These beguiling flavours marry up to the complexity of the turkey and all the trimmings.
You don’t have to talk to many people in the English wine trade without the word Plumpton coming up. This is where many of the winemakers go to learn their trade and hone their craft. Their vineyard was planted in 1967 and is tended by the students alongside vinegrowing and winemaking experts. So what will these hard-working people be drinking during their Christmas break?
Plumpton Brut Classic NV – A blend of the three famous grapes with almost equal amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this is a light refreshing Sussex sparkling that has a delicious biscuity flavour, provided by having bottle ageing for two years before it is released. Perfect for sipping with scrambled eggs.
Plumpton Brut NV – A bit of a game-changing fizz made from German grape varieties, Reichensteiner, Riesling and Regner and then finished with a dosage containing Spirit of the Downs brandy. This gives the wine a richness and a nutty taste with hints of smoky bergamot. You want to drink this with a fantastic cheese board or some fruit-based puddings.
Husband and wife team Anthony and Zena gave up life in London and ended up moving to remote East Sussex where they planted 5 acres in the hamlet of Blackboys in 2007. In 2009 their first wine won awards and they haven’t looked back since, the wines being made and vines tended by a dedicated group of family and friends. With an emphasis on locality and the environment, the bottles don’t have a foil around the neck to cut down on wasteful packaging.
So what will the dynamic duo and their family be supping come Christmas?
Tickerage Pinot Meunier 2014 – Made from 100% Pinot Meunier, the least known of the trinity of champagne grapes this is a style called Blanc de Noir. With no added sugar (or dosage) this allows the fresh biscuity flavours to shine through with notes of strawberry and cherry dancing on the palate. This is the perfect bottle to open as the mid-morning nibbles come out.
Tickerage Sparkling Rose 2013 – This wine has had a long time ageing before it was ready to be sold and as a result, has a depth of flavour that is both light and seductive. Aromas of strawberries and notes of spiciness marry together to give a wine that has the depth to stand up to food with a lovely creamy finish that marries together all the elements of a Christmas lunch.
Situated in the glorious South Down National Park outside the village of Pulborough, the vineyards at Stopham were first planted in 2007. Three years later saw the first commercial harvest. With an emphasis on still wines, what will these winemaking wonders be cracking open at Christmas?
Stopham Brut Prestige 2018 – This wonderful rich sparkling is dominantly Chardonnay with 30% Pinot Noir to the mix. Spending a full three years ageing before it was released it is full of brioche and crisp apples that make it a great glass to sip as you unwrap what Father Christmas has brought.
Stopham Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2020 – This is a very limited release of only 280 bottles. With careful winemaking including two years of ageing in French oak barrels and 10 months of having the wine stirred up to allow the yeasty notes to combine into the wines, this is a rich full flavoured still wine full of quince and apple that will marry perfectly with the turkey and all the trimmings.
Yes, there is a little corner of South Africa here in Sussex. If you have visited the stunning Leonardslee Gardens then you may have seen wine from the family-owned estate in Walker Bay, 60 miles east of Cape Town. Whilst the freshly planted English Pinotage and Pinot Noir wait for their moment this is what you need to try to bring a little bit of a South African Summer to your Christmas.
Benguela Cove Cuvée58 – This sparkling is refreshingly different. Made in the traditional champagne method, known as Methode Cap Classique in South Africa, it is mostly Sauvignon Blanc with a small amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wine name is a nod to the cut of a perfect diamond with 58 facets and this is a sparkler to start the day with full of light fresh flavours to give some zip to your morning.
Benguela Cove Joie de Vivre 2018 – The name of this wine is to enjoy life, so what better bottle to serve when gathered around a table with your nearest and dearest? A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, its biscuity aromas and baked green apples mean it brings a refreshing moment to the Christmas meal.
Bluebell Vineyard Estates
The name of this estate pays homage to the bluebell woods that are strewn around the old pig farm. However with the swine long gone, the estate is home to almost 100 acres of vines, with 8 different varieties grown. Two different labels are produced, the award-winning Hindleap which are all vintage sparklings and the still Ashdown wines. So what will the Tay family be celebrating with come Christmas?
Hindleap Meunier 2019 – This just released vintage is a single varietal sparkling, the Pinot Meunier fruit making it fresh and creamy with black fruit, touches of yoghurt and white pepper. This is a great sparkling to start the day off with, perfumed and dry and perfect for getting your mouth watering for lunch.
Hindleap Classic Cuvee 2011– This is an amazing sparkling with 11 years of ageing giving it a fine creamy texture and rich flavours of brioche and honey that complement the most important meal of the year.
Led by the ebullient Will Coren, House Coren is a winery that wants to shake things up. With a passionate belief that outstanding wine can be made in England, what will the House Coren tribe be popping corks of on this festive season?
Boco by House Coren – This is a sparkling wine with a difference as it is made using the Charmat method the same as prosecco rather than the bottle-fermented method used by most English sparkling and champagne producers. This means the wine is fresh and fruity with peaches and pears, raspberries and a hint of apples. The leading grape in the blend is the unpronounceable Reichensteiner with a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as co-stars. Perfect for the Christmas party or to be sipped with charades, this is versatile, different and delicious throughout the day.
You don’t have to search hard to find the list of awards that have been heaped upon Roebuck. With their home farm just outside historic Petworth and vineyard sites sprinkled across the Sussex counties, what will these award winners be wining and dining with come Christmas?
Roebuck Rose de Noirs 2016 – Made with Pinot Noir and a splash of Pinot Noir Précoce (its early ripening cousin) this is a fresh, creamy sparkling with flavours of strawberries, peaches and rose petals, backed by a delicious nuttiness. This is the wine to indulge in before the lunchtime rush in those few rare peaceful moments as you savour the flavour.
Roebuck Classic Cuvee 2016 – A sparkling that has had a lot of love and attention lavished on it with time in wood and then a long period of bottle ageing. The result is a rich medley of baked apple, hazelnuts and a tantalizing trail of honeysuckle perfume. This is sophisticated wine to go with a sophisticated meal.
Fox & Fox
In the sleepy East Sussex town of Mayfield, in the lee of Crowborough hill, you will find the boutique producers of Fox & Fox. Producing wine since 2009, these grower-producers distil the essence of the High Weald and its stunning landscape into every bottle. So what corks will they be popping come the festive season?
Fox & Fox CV Brut 2014 – This is a fresh, creamy sparkling with a dominance of Pinot Noir, giving it a freshness that marries well with an underlying creamy richness. This is the perfect start to the special day.
Mosaic Brut Rosé – A lovely strawberry-flavoured rose with a fresh slightly citrus finish. This is excellent to match with pre-lunch nibbles.
This beautiful boutique family-owned winery is just outside of Crowborough and makes a variety of wines that complement the local landscape. With a focus on doing things by hand and treading lightly on the landscape, what will this family be featuring for Christmas?
Wealden Red 2022 – This deliciously light red made from the Rondo grape is the perfect wine to sip throughout the day. Made in the ‘nouveau’ style it is bursting with flavour of cherries and pear drops and has a soft and silky taste that is pleasant with everything.
Dr Thomas Martin-Wells is a chemist by trade and a distiller by passion. With a love of foraging and his home county, what is the perfect spirit to round off the day?
Bacchus Wild Elixir – This is a product that defies definition being not quite really a vermouth and not quite a wine, but also sort of a spirit. Combine all these together and you end up with Wild Elixir. Bacchus grapes are blended with Slake gin to produce a delightful gin-based aperitif that is as versatile as it is unusual. Mix with sparkling wine or tonic for a long light aperitif to tickle the palate, or dive into the drinks cabinet for some versatile and delicious cocktails to end the evening with.
Cabin Pressure Spirits
Leading the charge of the local gin explosion are husband and wife team David and Emily Howard. With all spirits produced in a vacuum still at the bottom of their garden, what will this dynamic duo be opening for Christmas?
Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur – At the end of the day when the presents have been unwrapped and the turkey tasted, sit back with a glass of this rich liqueur with coffee from Horsham coffee roasters. Full of flavour but not too sweet this is the perfect end-of-day treat.
Maverick spirits makers, Harley House are shaking up the distilling scene in Sussex with a wide range of gins, rums and vodkas. So what will these alchemists be sipping this season?
Toffee Spiced Rum – A treat for your tastebuds with delicious flavours of toffee, vanilla, cinnamon, and a hint of banana. This unique blend will have you dancing this festive season!
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Contributed by Pip Mortimer BSC (Hons), WSET Dip. Pip spent twenty years immersed in the UK drinks trade, including leading IWSC’s Operational Team and being an ambassador for the company. She regularly posts on Instagram at @drinksonthehighstreet.