A toast to our local vibrant vinyards

It’s not just Kent’s plethora of vineyards – the county’s a hotspot for wine production with 1,033ha under vine, around 26% of the country’s total plantings, according to WineGB’s 2023 industry report – making the headlines today, says Tunbridge Wells Business Magazine’s Drinks Editor James Viner. There are also outstanding beer, cider and spirits producers to discover. Here’s his roundup of the best local drinks to try this spring. Cheers!

1) CHAPEL DOWN BACCHUS 2022, TENTERDEN 
£16 The Wine Society | 12% 

Aromatic, zingy, grassy, early-ripening, German-bred crossing Bacchus from Chapel Down, the market leader in English wines located near Tenterden, with aromas of grapefruit, elderflower, gooseberry, melon and hedgerow. Bring it out for fish, seafood (hello oysters and trout), green/fennel salads and seasonal chlorophyll-rich green asparagus – when in Tunbridge Wells, I buy mine from ‘Locality’ on Camden Road. Delicious and as ready now as it will ever be! chapeldown.com

2) BALFOUR HUSH HEATH ESTATE, IRRESISTIBLE EIGHT ACRES SPARKLING ROSÉ, STAPLEHURST 
£18 Co-op | 11.5% 

This is my kind of superb sparkling pink bubbly, produced by the meticulous traditional method and bursting with mouth-watering red berry fruit, crunchy green apple, creamy and citrusy pizzazz. A refreshing bargain high-street sparkling pink wine, with a hint of rosewater, from a local winery set on a 400-acre estate recognized for its hospitality, producing over 400,000 bottles of wine annually. Fun drinking. balfourwinery.com

3) SIMPSONS’ WINE ESTATE, RAILWAY HILL ROSÉ 2022, BARHAM 
£20 | 12.5% 

 Looking for a stylish, local, pastel still rosé with flavour, texture and an X-factor?  Look no further. Established in picturesque Barham in east Kent in 2012, wine industry grandees Charles and Ruth Simpson head up this dynamic wine estate situated in the sheltered, sunny Elham Valley, an immaculate seam of the North Downs near Canterbury (the Simpsons also own Domaine Sainte Rose in France’s Languedoc). The weekday afternoon wine-tasting experiences here are very memorable indeed (£25 per person). This is one of the Simpsons’ best: think red cherries, strawberries and grapefruit, with a soupçon of salty freshness. Perfectly tangy, finely tuned, refreshingly pure and superbly persistent. Kent’s greatest pink hit! One for a vegetable risotto. 100% estate-grown Pinot Noir and suitable for vegans. simpsonswine.com

4) KENTISH PIP, HIGH DIVER MEDIUM DRY SPARKLING CIDER, BEKESBOURNE 
£24 for 12 330ml cans | 4.8%

A blend of Bramley and Cox dessert apples has been used to create this thirst-quenching cider, which is produced at Woolton Farm in Bekesbourne, near Canterbury. It’s medium dry and crisp – just the ticket for seafood, kormas and Thai green curries. A great place to visit for accommodation, hospitality, food (the Mount family offers a fab BBQ grill!) and tours. Gluten-free and suitable for vegans. kentishpip.co.uk and wooltonfarm.co.uk

5) DAVENPORT VINEYARDS, LIMNEY ESTATE 2018 ORGANIC SPARKLING WINE, ROTHERFIELD 
£29.50 | 12% 

Will Davenport is a busy winemaker making first-class, estate-bottled organic wines made from 95% Kent-grown fruit. He’s building a new winery at Hazel Street Farm in Horsmonden, Kent – where he first planted five acres of vines in 1991 – which he aims to complete in time for the 2024 harvest. Produced using the traditional method and aged five years on lees, this is a canapé-loving, Chardonnay-forward (with 18% Pinot Meunier and 19% Pinot Noir), vegan-friendly festival of finesse — a classy bottle brimming with enticing red fruit, citrus and light biscuity notes. The acidity is the highlight, saline and sinuous. Lovely drinking. The 2019 vintage will follow in a couple of months. Certified by The Soil Association, the UK’s largest organic certification body. davenportvineyards.co.uk

6) ANNO DISTILLERS KENT DRY GIN, MARDEN
£38.50 | 43%

Artisan spirits are a growing business in Kent, where Mother’s Ruin’s ‘gin-aissance’ is still going strong. In 2011, Dr Andy Reason and Dr Norman Lewis launched the first gin distillery in Kent in 200 years (they also produce decent rum and vodka). Their signature gin is infused with six Kentish botanicals, including hops, lavender, elderflower, rose hips, chamomile and samphire, giving it an incredibly smooth flavour that makes it an excellent base for a classic G&T. Pure alchemy. Enjoy a tour and tasting at Anno Distillers for £30. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly. annodistillers.co.uk

7) GUSBOURNE GUINEVERE CHARDONNAY 2021, BOOT HILL VINEYARD, APPLEDORE 
£40 | 12.5 % 

I was bowled over by the quality and balance of this exquisitely detailed, vegan-approved, award-winning Chardonnay from Appledore. It boasts a delicious combination of orange blossom, baked orchard fruits, pineapple, toasted nuts, spice and lemon zest with a creamy richness achieved through ageing for ten months in a mix of old (80%) and new (20%) French barrels. It has both immense drinking pleasure and compelling interest covered. One to relish this International Chardonnay Day (23 May). Expect a warm welcome at Gusbourne with amazing dining, tasting and tour experiences. gusbourne.com 

Follow James on Instagram @QuixoticWines

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