Review: A boozy lakeside picnic at Albourne Estates
Award-winning wines? Tick. Top notch countryside? Tick. Friendly (non snooty) approach? Tick. Next stop the Albourne Estate near Brighton - although frankly, you had us at the word wine.
English wines are having a moment. Vineyards have doubled here in the last ten years and thanks to long, mild summers and chalky soils, fancy wine world trophies have started moving to this side of the Channel. One of these top gongs now resides in the 30-acre Albourne Estate in the South Downs, where Alison Nightingale and Nick Cooper are on a mission to create delicious wines sustainably, and to share them with customers in a friendly and helpful way – no snooty sommeliers here, thank you very much.
The estate is a stone’s throw – well, 8 miles – from Brighton. Our visit last year coincided with a balmy day so was perfect timing for a tour, tasting and lakeside picnic. The tour part lasts around 1.5 hours with a leisurely walk to take in the vines (42,000 to be exact, according to our host Monica) followed by a peek around the bottling facilities, where the wines are hand-blended on site. Given that Albourne produced their first vintage in 2013, it’s quite a coup that they went on to win UK Wine of the Year in 2015, with a Bacchus wine from their second ever harvest.
For the sparkling wine they use the classic champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. They use Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Ortega for their stills. Check me, sounding knowledgeable.
Monica is a great guide and peppers the day with lots of fun facts. Who knew there’s the same pressure in a corked bottle of fizz as in a London bus tyre, and that on average, it takes 6-7 turns to open a caged cork? A handy tip if you want to look cool when opening a bottle for friends.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Next up the cheese and wine pairings – hooray! – which kick off with the estate’s Multi-Vintage (that’s non-vintage to us lay people) a combination of Chardonnay & Pinot. Our verdict? Frankly delicious. Paired with Plaw Hatch Sussex Mature cheese, even better. The next combo – a Bacchus with Alsop & Walker Brie –wouldn’t usually be my thing but it feels indulgent and special, so much so that now I’m visualising it on the table at my next dinner party. Third in line, Sandstone Ridge is a chardonnay blend paired with Swiss cheese. We like this one so much that we buy a bottle. It proves a winner with friends too when we serve it a BBQ later that evening. My personal top of the quaffs is the 40 Vermouth. I’d been looking forward to trying this one and it doesn’t disappoint. Yum, yum and more yum.
And the quaffing doesn’t end here. Pre-picnic lunch everyone gets to choose their preferred tipple to take along. We plumped for a rose to quaff with our vegan basket – a real humdinger bursting with falafel, hummus, quiche, olives and sourdough bread. Oh, and freshly baked cookies too.
It’s up to you where in the grounds you plonk down for your feast. It was a tossup between the vines and the lakeside for us. The latter got my vote for being pretty damn romantic (although it’d be lost on my other half) but was equally perfect for a girly catch up.
Food options at Albourne don’t end with picnics – the Friday Supper Clubs, where the vineyard joins forces with local chefs and restaurants, proved popular last year, so keep an eye on their site for the new dates. They are even planning Bee-keeping courses with beer pairing. Subscribing to the newsletter will keep you in the loop.
Produce can be purchased at the vineyard or online.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Rustic charm and upping your wine intel in a friendly setting that’s a manageable size to explore in an afternoon/day. An unexpected treat.
Not for: Picnics with the kids, overly raucous hen parties or those who mind muddying their stilettos. Think rural, debonaire adult fun.
Book online at albourneestate.co.uk
Stand-alone tours are £22 Saturdays and Sundays at 11am and last approx. 1.5 hours. Alternatively, they offer an informal ‘walk-in’ wine tastings (with charcuterie or cheese sampler boards) and wine sales on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 11am to 5pm.
Enquire about private weddings here: https://albourneestate.co.uk/weddings-at-albourne-estate/