Alistair Gibson drinks to Hampshire’s fine wine

Hambledon - not only the home of cricket, but also English wine.
Hambledon - not only the home of cricket, but also English wine.
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There’s little doubt that English wine is grabbing lots of headlines right now, but in case you’ve missed it there are some amazing things happening in the vineyards of our green and pleasant land.

No longer the weekend hobby of a few enthusiasts, England is now producing world-class wines and much of it is happening in Hampshire.

Last year saw an increase in production to the equivalent of 6.3 million bottles, 42 per cent up on 2013 which in itself was a record-breaking year.

Perhaps most significant is the fact that the production of sparkling wines has increased by nearly 150 per cent in the past five years.

Hampshire is a beautiful and diverse county, the largest in south-east England, covering 1,455 square miles.

It is blessed with all the criteria required to produce top-class sparkling wines – the right climate, soil, aspect and altitude. Hampshire is now the third most widely-planted county with vines in England, after Sussex and Kent, having doubled in the past decade.

Much of this growth is attributed to sparkling wine, with more than a third of all plantings in Hampshire being chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier plus smaller plantings of other varieties.

Hampshire boasts many talented, expert winemakers (some from France), a healthy mix of long-established and up-and-coming vineyards, combining tradition and innovation with remarkable results. Hampshire’s sparkling and still wines have also notched up an impressive number of international wine awards.

It was in Hampshire in the 1950s that the first English wines were released commercially – when Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones launched the first wines from Hambledon Vineyard. Much has changed since and Hambledon has become one of the UK’s top sparkling wine producers with its Classic Cuvée recognised this year as the best English Non-Vintage Sparkling wine at the International Wine Challenge.

The Emsworth British Food Fortnight, which starts today, is showcasing Hampshire’s leading wine estates, including Hambledon, Meonhill, Danebury and Exton Park. They’ll be taking part in many of the events throughout the fortnight, but if you want to meet the winemakers and taste the wines all in one place don’t miss the Vineyards of Hampshire Wine Pavilion at the A Thought for Food Market on October 3.

Finally, my top tipple this week could only be one thing, a local sparkler.

Meonhill Reserve Brut NV, Hampshire (pictured above) is a blend of 50 per cent chardonnay and 50 per cent pinot noir made by Champagne maker Didier Pierson.

It’s rich with a nose showing honey, orchard fruits and nuts, followed by a well-balanced palate with good acidity and a long finish. This is impressive fizz and brilliant that it comes from Hampshire. It’s available from Hambledon Vineyard and local wine merchants – £25.95 rrp.

Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call 01243 431002.