Edit 04/07/15 – Many congratulations to Rothley Wines for winning a silver medal for their Richard III white and bronze for Spirit of Freedom at the UK Vineyard Awards 2015. Richly deserved!
In a week where one of the world’s top wine experts, Decanter World Wine Awards vice-chair Gerard Basset MW MS OBE declared that English wine has the potential to become one of the top wine-producing nations in the world, what better place to visit than Rothley Wines, who are making delicious vintages not 3 miles from my own house.
A small vineyard of around 900 vines sits on a sheltered, south facing slope in a beautiful part of the Leicester countryside. They have loamy, sandy soil underpinned by Charnwood’s rich geological foundation which gives a unique and often faint minerality to their wines. We met the resident winemakers, Liz and Matthew for a tour and a tasting on an overcast June morning.
First we were introduced to the resident pest control experts, Ginger and Ebony, who decided to join us on our stroll around the vines. They took an immediate liking to The Boy, and clearly deemed him worthy of their time, following him around like he had pockets filled with juicy slugs. I can neither confirm nor deny whether he did have said treats secreted about his person.
Liz toured us through the vines, explaining in detail about their growing methods, the characters of the grapes themselves and her wine-making journey. Her love of the vines she grows and the wines she produces was clearly in evidence – as ever it was a real privilege to meet someone with such great passion and commitment to fantastic local produce. Although not an organic winery, Rothley Wines does aim to use chemicals at the minimum level. They use no insecticides at all and fungicides only when there is a clear need.
It was fascinating for me to learn more about the grape varieties that grow strongly in the UK. It is still a relatively new industry here, or perhaps developing industry would be more apt, but wine makers are making all the same decisions about varietals that cope well with our climate and soil. This allowed me to be introduced to a whole range of varieties that I was previously unfamiliar with at Rothley Wines.
On the right here you can see the new spurs growing on the Siegerrebe vines. They have a delightful pale, almost frosty look on their new growth. This is a German grape developed from Madeleine Angevine and Gewurtztraminer producing an aromatic grape with plum coloured fruit. It’s an incredibly pretty vine.
We also met Orion, Liz’s “venerable old grandfather” vine which come right for them year in, year out, come what may. There was a whole new world of other varietals for us to meet as well, the parent of Siegerrebe – Madeleine Angevine, Solaris and also the newer side of the venture, the red grape rows, which included Rondo, Regent and one I was very interested in, the Pinot Precoce. This grape was developed from Pinot Noir and the grapes develop earlier, hence the name.
This early ripening makes it perfect for colder countries and it seems that now people are sitting up and take notice of it as a real viable plant for our climate, with the ability to produce some high quality, highly drinkable wines, although some people are still arguing as to whether it is just a naturally occuring variant of Pinot Noir that has been encouraged to flourish.
|I loved seeing the old Orion that was growing around the house as well, it is such a romantic vision and totally suited to the English country garden paradise that has turned to wine. Another of the lovely elements that made it such a familiar vineyard but still incredibly tied to its sense of place were the roses at the end of the rows. This is a very old French tradition that we have seen followed in many parts of the world, planted to act as the canaries – theoretically the early warning system for diseases, since roses are often attacked by the same fungal diseases. Of course the roses at Rothley Wines are all English varieties. They also have some fruit bushes planted around the vines although they would do it differently were they to start again – we saw one blueberry bush that had fallen victim to a hungry and lazy badger!
|It was also nice to see the vines in a variety of stages of development where various rootstock issues or other problems had meant that some vines needed replacing. Although it must be difficult to lose vines, it was very gratifying to get to meet what Liz affectionately referred to as the ‘toddlers’ and very much put me in mind of my own three tiny vines that are trying to burst forth in my own garden.
Next we went round the winery, where the magic happens – a converted stable block that has had new life and new purpose breathed in to it by its owners. A compact affair, it had all the usual trappings of modern wine production but on an easily perceptible scale showing that this is truly a family business.
They have everything in place from start to finish. Freshly collected and de-stemmed elderflowers were merrily beginning their fermentation in vats on the side. The bottling machine was finishing its cycle of sterilisation ready for the bottling of blackberry wine later that day, when we’d stopped poking round the place asking daft questions.
The corking machine, the capsule put-on-the-topperer and the temperamental labelling machine were all there, in this one compact space. It was well organised and deeply satisfying to see. I’ll never tire of seeing wineries and smaller ones are always my favourites.
Rothley Wine’s sparkling offerings are sent out to be made at Halfpenny Green Vineyard, as they do not yet have the equipment (or indeed the manpower) to create sparkling wines in house at Rothley. I can’t say I blame them, it’s a big commitment all the turning and the tipping and the disgorging! But of course the Orion grapes are all their own.
It has a lovely pale colour, with a very slight tinge to it that is almost green and very suggestive of the crisp flavour that the wine has. This crispness and hint of very slight acid tones also creeps through on the nose.
It has a medium density of bubbles – smoother than a Prosecco and giving an excellent indulgent texture. It has a sharp, green apple tang which is almost reminiscient of a sugar coated sweet – perhaps a pear drop, but it is not oppressive, only pleasurable – like the flavour of our colder climate has been captured in the bottle. It fades away to a light sweetness and also perhaps a little taste of the Charnwood minerality I mentioned earlier. The bubbles are excellent and keep their strength throughout the glass.
I happily awarded an 8 out of 10 in my own scoring system, just because I wanted to leave myself somewhere to go in case something better came along really!
Spirit of Freedom
Cuvee Brut 2013
A fabulous sparkling rose blended from Orion, Siegerreber, Regent and Pinot Precose. Understandably commended in the International Wine Competition, this wine has an absolutely stunning and delicate colour which is a mixture of peach and rose, much reminiscient of some of the established English roses we had seen in the vineyards. It has more depth of aroma than the Sparkling Orion and I felt this promise of great flavour was definitely seen through in the mouth.
It is indeed full of beautiful taste and perfume, packing a huge helping of fruit into each delicious mouthful. The bubbles are soft and mousse-like in the mouth, more delicate and perhaps more refined than the Orion. I was getting tastes of strawberry and peach but as you would expect with a Brut, none of the sweetness – just a very light hint of residual sugar sits in the mouth as it fades away with a medium finish.
This is still a young wine and I will be excited to see how it develops as its acidity balances the slight sweetness even more over time. A wine with much promise and one I was glad to call a 9 out of 10. An excellent celebration toast, but equally I think it would pair quite well with light starters – canapes, seafood, and perhaps be able to take some amount of creaminess in the food and still work nicely – it’d be fun to experiment!
This fuller bodied dry white has an extremely pale, delicate colour with good strong legs. It is composed of two thirds Solaris and one third Siegerrebe. A wonderful smelling wine, I got little wafts of gooseberry, maybe melon and we were debating over an element that could perhaps be dragonfruit, but I haven’t had one recently enough to be sure (have to pop to Leicester market and pick some up) as well as lychee.
As you can imagine, something that complex on the nose is a really satisfying experience in the mouth! It has great body – it is really rounded and what verges on a slight creamy richness in the texture. It delivers white grapes, green fruit as well as tones of the more perfumed fruits that we glimpsed in the bouquet. It’s extremely drinkable, with a slight acidity that makes it more complex than your more run of the mill vin de table from larger producers. Deeply satisfying, we discussed the way it would match perfectly with smoked salmon and cream cheese and also toyed with the idea of if this slightly lower alcohol wine would match well with spicier foods like the Mexican food pairings we had tried out at Ceja Vineyards in Carneros. Again, this would definitely be something worth experimenting with and at a tenner a bottle it wouldn’t be breaking the bank!
An 8.5 out of 10 for me here, you can tell that I was torn as to whether this or the Spirit of Freedom was my favourite!
A medium dry rose with a slightly deeper colour than we had seen in the Spirit of Freedom. It is made from a mix of Regent and Solaris which gives a gentle aroma with slight acetone and perhaps a hint of watermelon, and pear.
This perfumed characteristic maintains in the mouth, with all of my notes emphasising the aroma, perfume, the florals – it is an English country garden of a wine with a relaxed English summer written all over it. The pear flavours dominate in this wine, which finishes once again with that very slight mineral character on the finish giving the sense of place, perhaps the spirit of Leicestershire’s wine. This was a 7.5 for me – I liked it, but I had been spoiled by the others I think!
And there you have it. Natterjacks on Braunstone Gate have a limited stock of Rothley Wines and The Offie on Clarendon Park sells it to, so city centre types should pop down and grab a glass or a bottle while you can. You can also buy the wines at North’s in Rothley, Scott’s of Quorn, Oakham Wines and enjoy a glass with dinner at Ragdale Hall or Time and Plaice Restaurant in Rothey. So, no excuses, pick some up and #lovelocal!