I’m lucky that my husband made some lovely friends in England while he was on his world’s-longest-commute from Sydney. Some of them have gorgeous homes in the countryside and often we score an invite to spend a weekend away from London…especially fab when summer comes and I start wondering why I am not at the beach!
A few weeks ago we had a weekend in a traditional country farmhouse that has been restored to make an incredibly beautiful home. We had horse riding, tennis, swimming, croquet and delicious food and wine.
We tried a delightful English wine one evening when our host brought the appetizer out just as we were finishing up a game of tennis. It was a glorious, mellow English twilight that seemed to go on forever…
The wine was a sparkling Stopham Estate Brut Prestige made in the heart of West Sussex so it didn’t travel far to get to us. We had seen a few vineyards in the fields on our drive down from London as the area is rapidly becoming the biggest grape-growing region in the UK.
The wine was a clear, pale, lemon colour and had robust lines of bubbles streaming to the surface. They actually tickled my nose when I went to give it a good sniff. There was not much to the nose of the wine actually so I had no hint of what to expect when I tasted it. The label told me it was “light, elegant and fresh” and I agree it was all of that but it politely left you to discern the flavours on your own. I tasted green fruit like apples and melon, and then something herbal, and perhaps fresh asparagus, and it is quite light in body.
The wine is labelled “brut” which should mean that it tastes dry, but I found it to be very slightly sweeter than dry, almost off-dry. It is made in the traditional method of yeast autolysis in the bottle which means that it should get to develop some more complex yeasty flavours over time, but I suspect it was not aged for terribly long. Anyway, I couldn’t taste much of those autolytic flavours like toast or biscuit, although there was a hint of vanilla in it, which was delicious. I believe it was made from the grapes picked at the winery’s first harvest in 2009 which should have been long enough to age, but they must have cleverly decided to stop it quite soon as the short aging has given it the “elegant and fresh” description which it so deserves.
As with the nose, there was very little finish to it, the flavours were subtle anyway and I couldn’t hang on to them for long. However I found this was the perfect wine to enjoy with the intensely flavoured paté that was served: not competing with, or complicating the very different tastes. Paté often has a strong gamey sweetness combined with a liqueur flavour and it worked well with this cleansing bubbly wine.
Fascinated by this perfect pairing with the paté I asked if I could stay on the Stopham for the main course to see how it went with the barbequed mackerel on offer. We moved to the al-fresco table by the croquet lawn and watched the whole fish cooking, smelling delicious in their sizzling ginger, chilli and lime marinade. Curiously, the Stopham went just as well with the fish despite its zesty sauce. The acidity and simplicity of the wine meant that it was not overwhelmed but rather complemented the food, and the impression was again one of elegance and freshness.
The Stopham was an inspired choice for this relaxed and flavoursome dinner party on a glorious summer weekend.