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10 Sussex wines that will make your Christmas sparkle

Curry sparkles with Sussex fizz
Curry sparkles with Sussex fizz

Home to over a quarter of all grapevine plantings in the UK - 28 per cent to be precise -, it’s no surprise Sussex continues to lead the way when it comes to English wine making.

There are now 140 vineyards spread across 1,063 hectares throughout East and West Sussex and, thanks to the area’s chalk-rich soil, the sparkling wines produced here often beat French bubbly in blind tastings.

Great British Life: America and Nick Brewer pair their leftovers with a sparkling redAmerica and Nick Brewer pair their leftovers with a sparkling red

Last year the county even gained protected status for its Sussex Sparkling wines made in the traditional way where the second fermentation - the process which gives the wine its fizz - takes place in the bottle, firming putting the county on the wine world map, alongside iconic wine regions including Champagne.

Sussex’s award-winning winemaking industry is as diverse as it is pioneering so, from classic cuvees to red fizzy wines and even the county’s answer to Prosecco, you’re bound to find something to make your celebrations sparkle this Christmas.

Great British Life: Gusbourne BrutGusbourne Brut

Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2020, £45

While Gusbourne is known predominantly as a Kent wine producer, in 2013 it purchased vineyard stock near the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex and now grows its own grapes in five separate plantings across 30 hectares there. Its reason for doing so? To add a brighter acidity to the wines thanks to the chalky Sussex soils as Kent’s is mainly clay and sand.

Every vintage of Gusbourne’s Brut Reserve from 2016 onwards has Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from the Sussex vines added to the blend and is a versatile companion for both classic and contemporary dishes served throughout the season. But, if seafood is on your Christmas menu, it pairs particularly wonderfully with dressed crab, indulgent butter-poached lobster and oysters. Add a side salad of fennel and clementine to give the platter a bit more of a winter twist.

Oastbrook Classic Cuvee 2014, £38

At Oastbrook Vineyard, near Robertsbridge, Christmas is a time for rest and recuperation – not only for the vines, which have gone into full dormancy for winter, but for vineyard owners, Nick and America Brewer, who work tirelessly throughout the year tending to their crop.

‘We will be spending Christmas with the whole family at Oastbrook – our home is in one of the Guinness Hop Farm oast houses on site – and our children, Jake, Tabitha and Gabby, will be coming to stay with us,’ says America. ‘We wake up on Christmas morning with our Oastbrook Sparkling Cuvée with smoked salmon on bread with lemon, dill and pepper, followed by opening presents around the fire.’

Not only does this sparkling wine work brilliantly for a smoked salmon breakfast but you can also serve it to guests alongside pre-lunch smoked salmon canapes.

Great British Life: Ridgeview wine is perfect for Christmas partiesRidgeview wine is perfect for Christmas parties

Ridgeview Cavendish NV, £36

From the second generation of winemakers on the Ridgeview Estate in Ditchling, Cavendish has been served to the Prime Minister at London’s Lancaster House so surely deserves a spot at the Christmas table.

An equal-part blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, it has a wonderfully rich golden colour and a depth of complexity thanks to the black grape dominance.

‘The richness and balance of Cavendish makes it the perfect food wine to pair with mackerel starters or duck canapes you’re serving this Christmas,’ says Simon Roberts, Ridgeview’s head winemaker. ‘The finesse of the Chardonnay grape balances with freshness, while the Pinot brings a depth of flavour that lingers.’

His sister and Ridgeview CEO, Tamara Roberts is looking forward to a family Christmas this year.

‘As a family-owned, family-run business, Christmas is hugely important to us,’ she says. ‘We’re lucky enough to spend every day working together, so you can imagine the excitement that builds in the lead up to the big day. At Ridgeview, we believe life is for celebrating, and there’s no better time to do this than Christmas – we look forward to toasting to an exciting 2024!’

Digby Blanc de Blancs 2013, £65

This celebratory tipple was launched in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Arundel-based Digby Fine English, which was set up by Trevor Clough and Jason Humphries in 2013. The company’s first Blanc de Blancs, a wine made solely from white wine grapes, this fabulous fizz is made with the top five per cent of Chardonnay grapes from Digby’s 2013 harvest.

The wine pairs well with a variety of dishes, but this debut Blanc de Blancs vintage is the perfect partner for some of the winter spices found in many of the festive treats we enjoy at this time of year.

‘Digby's 2013 Blanc de Blancs is very versatile, but we've found that it responds remarkably well to a combination of warm winter spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, creaminess and a hint of citrus,’ explains CEO and head blender Trevor Clough. ‘So it'll go beautifully with Christmas cake and mince pies, especially if served with some zesty orange-laced brandy butter!’

Great British Life: Rathfinny wineRathfinny wine

Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs 2019, £42

Another Sussex Sparkling worthy of being the centrepiece of the table on Christmas Day is Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs 2019. Meaning ‘white from blacks’, Blanc de Noirs is a white wine made solely from black grapes. This version, made from 81 per cent Pinot Noir and 19 per cent Pinot Meunier, partners fabulously with winter roasts, darker turkey meat and, thanks to a mouth-filling palate of rich red fruits and a long, zesty finish, has the power to stand up to richer poultry such as duck or goose.

Boco, £16

It might taste as if it was made in Italy, but Boco is Sussex’s answer to Prosecco. One of the first English sparkling wines to be made using the ‘Charmat’ or ‘Martinotti’ method - named after oenologist Federico Martinotti who developed it in the 1800s - this is when the second fermentation takes place in a big tank, instead of inside the bottle like traditionally made sparkling wines. The process means the wine is usually lighter, fresher and fruitier in style, which Will Coren, the founder of House Coren, says makes Boco a perfect wine for Christmas.

‘Our new Boco 2021 vintage, a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, perfectly captures the festive spirit,’ he says. ‘It's like a dance of bubbles on your taste buds, and it's a fantastic partner for the richness of Panettone, for example. Broken down in simple terms, the chardonnay brings a zesty, fresh vibe to the party, while the pinot noir adds a layer of juicy red fruit goodness. It's a match made in heaven for Panettone's decadent flavours. You'll catch hints of citrus and orchard fruits that complement the cake's dried fruits and candied peel.’

While the wine might be Italian in style, it is certainly Sussex in name – Boco is an Old Sussex dialect term derived from the French word ‘beaucoup', meaning lots of or more.

Great British Life: NyetimberNyetimber

Nyetimber Cuvee Chérie, £37

Nyetimber was the first producer of English sparkling wine to exclusively grow the three celebrated grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and as such is widely considered the producer that put England sparkling wine on the map.

Cuvee Chérie – named after Nyetimber’s head winemaker, Cherie Spriggs – is made in small quantities from Nyetimber's 100 per cent estate-grown Chardonnay and is bottled with extra dosage (the sugary liquid that is added to sparkling wine to balance acidity) making it an off-dry ‘demi-sec’ wine.

Blended with food in mind, Cuvee Chérie compliments delicate sweets and puddings and spiced and fragrant savoury dishes, but its sweet honey notes and citrusy lemon and tangerine flavours are also a fantastic pairing for a cheeseboard. In particular, the complex sweetness and accompanying acidity can raise a blue cheese to dizzy heights.

Everflyht Rosé de Saignée, £40

Unless you’re happy to eat sandwiches made from turkey for the next week, using up the mountains of leftovers in a curry makes for an easy and tasty Boxing Day – especially if paired with the right wine.

Ben and Sam Ellis, who own Everflyht vineyard in Ditchling, wash down theirs with a glass of their own Rosé De Saignée – a sparkling rosé made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes grown on the estate and then aged on lees for 20 months.

‘It’s a complex wine that has the backbone to perfectly match the soft mild curry flavours, while the fruity undertones soothe the spices across your palate,’ explains Sam. ‘It’s a real treat for Boxing Day.’

Great British Life: Bolney Cuvee NoirBolney Cuvee Noir

Bolney Wine Estate Cuvée Noir, £32

Sussex doesn’t only produce white and rose sparkling wines, it also produces a red with plenty of bubbles. Made from 100 per cent Dornfelder grapes and aged on lees for four years, this traditional method results in a sweet sparkling red wine from Bolney Wine Estate, near Haywards Heath, which has aromas reminiscent of red fruits, especially red cherry, redcurrants and blueberries.

With a wonderful creamy richness and full-bodied mousse on the palate, it is packed full of ripe summer fruits, with a hint of sweet spice on the finish that pairs perfectly with Christmas Pudding – and the Christmas cheeseboard. Serve it chilled and with an open mind.

Coolhurst Vineyards The Miller’s Tale Blanc de Noirs 2018, £42

The French word Meunier means miller, hence the name of this Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine, which is made from 100 per cent Pinot Meunier grapes grown at Coolhurst Vineyards in Mannings Heath, West Sussex.

Cousins Charlie and Will Scrase Dickins set up the vineyard in 2014 having taken over the running of the estate from their fathers.

Earlier this year Charlie celebrated his daughter’s wedding at the vineyard and so this Christmas will be spending time reminiscing.

‘This Christmas, we’ll be drinking The Miller’s Tale 2018, as we did alongside 150 guests on that glorious summer’s day. It was truly magical standing next to the vines that were then full of this year’s crop, drinking the results of the harvest from 2018,’ says Charlie. ‘This vintage of the Miller’s Tale will have had over 18 months cork time by Christmas 2023 and is perfect for awakening the palate for a party and complementing canapes or snacks on throughout the festivities - whether it’s a bite-sized roll of smoked salmon or just crisps and peanuts!”


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