‘Tis the season to go in to the woods and fields and take aim at very fast birds: iridescent pheasant and plump little partridge. It is such a fascinating and fantastically English tradition . . . a shoot on a country estate with Barbours, Berettas, Brownings, Dubarry’s, tweed caps and lots of madly besotted black Labradors plus a few Spaniels who are all business.
I found the comestibles to be very important on a shoot, almost as important as the weaponry to some (certainly to me!) After the first drive there was a warming and restorative shot of sloe gin which I thankfully discovered – prior to my first introduction – is not at all “slow” but has been flavoured with sloe berries, probably just added to the bottle. Gin being a white spirit flavoured with botanicals of some sort, usually juniper berry, with the addition of the sweet almost blackberry flavour sloe, turns into something dangerously like a cordial with a kick and it went down very nicely on a cold morning.
Then, just when I started to realise that breakfast was a very long time ago, “elevenses” were served from the back of a Range Rover and a makeshift picnic table covered with beautiful linen on which appeared smoked salmon sandwiches, homemade sausage rolls with spiced chutney and chunky steaming tomato soup all washed down with a cold sparkling wine.
When the last horn sounded and the dogs had run up all the birds, everyone returned to the main house for a sumptuous late lunch. It had rained incessantly all day but the countryside was beautiful and the camaraderie was undiminished. The sparkling wine they served at elevenses and then at pre-lunch drinks was Aurora from the Upperton Estate in the South Downs of West Sussex. It was truly delicious and I was interested to note just how many of the guests commented on how good it tasted.
It was a deeper yellow than many other sparkling whites or champagnes I have tasted, perhaps even slightly tawny. Unusually for a sparkling wine I found the nose quite strong, of apples and grape. It was quite dry with good acidity that seemed to burst with a really good body in the mouth and the impression was fresh, crisp and clean. There was also a definite hint of biscuit about it, always a plus in my book. Someone suggested a hint of pear or even pineapple on the palate and I thought I could just make out something like that…certainly a great complexity anyway. The finish was long with perhaps a general biscuity sweetness rather than any particular fruit.
I have some in the fridge now, ready to try before I serve my game pie made with the birds we brought home from the shoot. Can’t wait!