Dorset Wines – Go Judge for Yourself
What is the best wine to drink when camping? If the weather is hot, so is your white. If the weather is cold, your bottle of warming red becomes nothing of the sort. And the subtle aromas of a special bottle shared among friends are soon lost on the breeze. Perhaps a wine box is the best option?
Such thoughts were uppermost in my mind when I camped recently with a large group of friends below the Osmington White Horse, just outside Weymouth. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to visit a vineyard, while the children enjoyed playing with all the high-tech attractions of the campsite – some bales of hay, a muddy stream and a kennel full of puppies – I made my excuses to head off to a couple of Dorset’s finest wineries.
At Furleigh Estate near Bridport I joined Nick Beecheno, Tours and Cellar Door Manager and a small group of others on one of their weekly Friday, Saturday (and Thursdays in August) tours. Starting with a walk around one of the estate’s two vineyards, Nick explained how they grow their 22,000 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Bacchus, Dunkelfelder and Rondo vines. All of the estate’s own grapes, supplemented by more grown under contract from a local grower, go into red, white and rosé still wines and the sparkling wines for which Furleigh is increasingly lauded.
After learning about grafts, pruning, pests and diseases in the vineyards, the group moved on to the winery, purpose built in 2007. In the spacious facility Nick explained each stage of the wine making process and the equipment used for de-stemming, crushing, fermentation and riddling. We were interrupted at an appropriate point by the sound of a gyropallet doing a turn in the corner and saw an American oak barrel which can be spun in a wooden cradle where the Tyrannosurus Red (named in reverence to the vineyard’s location close to the Jurassic Coast) is fermented.
Third stop, the tasting room and cellar door. The wellies that had been provided for the vineyard visit were returned and we sat at wooden tables in the smart, former farm building, with the framed handbill for the sale of farm that was to become Furleigh Estate hanging on the wall. Printed sheets to record tasting notes were provided on the tables, along with water and crackers.
The first wine to be presented was Sea Pink, the driest of the still wines produced at Furleigh and an attractive and delicious blend of Rondo, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Two Bacchus wines are also produced and were available to purchase, the Fumé version being matured in oak to give an interesting dimension to this English wine favourite.
Then on to the sparkling wines, with a glass of the very pale pink Sparkling Rosé 2010, an International Wine Challenge Silver winner. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the wine becomes a rosé when a dash of Tyranosaurus Red is added along with the dosage, rather than more commonly when red wine might be added during the blending process. The wine (£22.50 cellar door) has a very light mouthfeel and was served in an engraved tasting glass that we were told was ours to keep – a very nice touch.
This was followed by the Classic Cuvée 2011, made from 41% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 24% Pinot Meunier. Bright and clear with hint of peach on the nose, the wine is again very light and accomplished – maybe a little too much so for my taste. As well as local shops and restaurants it is sold in Duty Free shops and Waitrose supermarkets. It comes in very classically styled packaging with a few little extras – the decorated muselet (wire cage) cap, the tag on the foil with an unmissable ‘English’ printed on it and a message inside which says ‘Grown and produced in Dorset’. I also like the ‘English Traditional’ statement on the front label. On the back, wine drinkers are urged to visit and I would certainly recommend it. The engaging tour and convivial tasting lasted around an hour and half and cost £9. Plus, pick up a card and if you return and bring a friend, your second visit is free – a great idea to encourage repeat visits.
The next day I had the opportunity to compare my visit to Furleigh with Langham Wine Estate near Dorchester. Elisabeth has already visited this one, but it deserves a few more words for the quality of its wines and welcome.
Having got lost in the Dorset countryside on my way there (a sign on the main road would be a great help) I joined the weekly Saturday tour just as they had finished looking around the vines. No matter; Justin Langham, the affable owner who was conducting the tour, kindly offered to show me around after the tasting. Just three varieties are grown at Langham and no still wines are produced; grapes from 38,000 vines go into the Classic Cuvée, the Sparkling Rosé and the Blanc de Noirs (an unusual 100% Pinot Meunier).
The tasting took place in the small winery in an adapted farm building where we stood around a barrel to sample the non-vintage dated Classic Cuvée and the Sparkling Rosé. All the wines at Langham are fermented in French oak barrels which gives them a wonderful richness and depth and made the Classic Cuvée noteworthy enough to win the 2013 Judgement of Parsons Green in its first vintage. That competition takes its name from the famed Judgement of Paris wine tasting held in 1976 where upstart Californian wineries beat some of the greats of the old world. The competition was organised by Steven Spurrier, who has a vineyard at nearby Sutton Cheyne and whose wines are made (with a frustrating lack of serendipity) by… Furleigh Estate
Although the scale is slightly smaller at Langham, they share many similarities and a friendly rivalry. Both use the same itinerant bottling line from Eperney in Champagne, both mention each other’s estates (and Spurrier’s Bride Valley Vineyard) and both have their roots in agriculture. At Langham at least, this consideration of grapes as a crop like any other has underpinned the important decisions about what and where to plant and how to get the very best out of the vines.
The weekly pre-booked tours at Langham cost £10 and both of these Dorset estates are well worth a visit, offering as they do the chance to stock up on some wines of real quality. Driving back to the campsite with a dozen bottles in the boot, I decided that if you are going to buy a wine in a box, the best way is to buy a case full of English ones.
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