Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Leventhorpe Vineyard

Sat 13 Dec 2008

Last Thursday I hosted a tasting of Latitude's wines at The Bowery in Headingley. At the end of the tasting proper a question was asked about the quality of English wine. Aside from a brief encounter with a very old Nyetimber and a couple of glasses of Chapel Down sparkling rosé I was really only in a situation to discuss English wine from the textbook point of view, rather than personal experience.

Time to remedy that, then. Here in Leeds we have, on our doorstep, one of the most northerly vineyards in the world. It's one of those generally accepted facts that most wine making grapes are grown between 30 and 50° latitude north and south of the equator. Leventhorpe Vineyard sits at 53°45' north of the equator, just outside the Leeds ring road. While the south coast has almost a preponderance of vineyards, Leventhorpe was, until recently, all by itself* - dealing with even more rain than its southern cousins.

Leventhorpe Hill Field

True to form, our visit was a cold, rainy day - inside the tiny winery cum tasting room it registered a cosy 4°C. We'd rung in advance (as advised) and were greeted by the winemaker himself, George Bowden. He was more than happy to spend quite a long time chatting to us and telling us all about his wines, as we tasted them (yes, wine geek heaven).

Leventhorpe Winery & Tasting Room

We began with the 2006 Hill Field, which is a Yorkshire Regional Wine (how cool is that?!), 11.5%abv, and a blend of Seyval Blanc (a hybrid) and Madeleine Angevine (technically Madeleine x Angevine 7672). Hill Field is the name of the field which houses the vineyard and it has been known as such since at least the Doomsday Book, in which it is mentioned. For this wine, the grapes have been fermented together and the result is a wine with quite a floral nose, but plenty of lemon and citrus on the palate. The level of acidity is quite high, no doubt helped by the chilly conditions, so initially the wine seemed quite tart. It did soften a bit when we warmed it up - which makes me think it would be a good wine for a hot day, or for cutting through the a fatty, warming dish, such as fish and chips.

We moved on to a 2006 Seyval Blanc, of which 10% had been affected by Botrytis Cinerea. At present, this wine is not for sale. Here, similarly high levels of acidity were well balanced by flavours of fresh and dried apricot, with some good citrus fruit.

The 2006 West Riding Red is a blend of five grapes. Again, they've been fermented together, rather than blended. The wine is 60% Triomphe (another hybrid), Pinot Noir, Gamay Hatif des Vosges (a different clone to the Gamay you'll find in Beaujolais), Dornfelder and Rondo (another hybrid). The wine had some quite pronouned Port like characteristics on the nose - apparently from the Triomphe, and they should disappear with age. Underneath this developed fruit there was also some fresh redcurrant. The palate featured plenty of tobacco with some vegetal notes. Of all the wines we tried this suffered the most from being far far too cool. I was unconvinced by the wine (hardly fair, given the conditions), but we ended up buying a bottle and we'll make sure we try it drink it closer to the 15°C recommended by George.

At this point, we realised we'd skipped the 2005 Madeleine Angevine (clearly too much chat) so we back tracked. The nose was very floral - perhaps the reason why Riesling is rumoured to be amongst the grape's parentage. On the palate, plenty of stone fruit matched with good acidity. This was our star wine of the tasting and I'm really looking forward to trying it at a more appropriate temperature!

We ended up buying 2 bottles of the Madeleine Angevine, one of the West Riding Red and one of sparkling wine. The still wines are all £7 a bottle at the cellar door, a price point which puts them up against some stiff competition once you're in a retail environment. Because of our climate, the wines are very high in acidity, which might not be to everyone's taste. In addition, as the wines are made from grapes we don't see often, there's very little to compare against. Drinking one of these wines will most definitely NOT be like drinking a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc! Having said that, I think the quality of the wines certainly elevates them above being curiosities. It is clear that the wines are being made not only with love but with consideration and an open mind.

For those of you who can't enjoy a trip to the vineyard, you can order the Madeleine Angevine, a straight Seyval Blanc (not tasted by us) and the sparkling wine from the Yorkshire Deli.

* It is now joined by Yorkshire Heart, at almost 54° north, which should be producing wines for sale in 2009.

1. Leventhorpe Vineyard, Bullerthorpe Lane, Woodleford, Leeds, LS26 8AF, phone: 0113 288 9088
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Blogger Andrew said...

fascinting. I must say that if I had a million odd quid to build a new vineyard with the very last place I would consider to plant the grapes would be near the Leeds ringroad!

6:12 am  
Blogger Alex said...

Well, nothing like a challenge! There's some details on the back story in this article.

I'm now quite keen to visit a few more English wineries ... there seem to be quite a lot in East Anglia, as well as the expected cluster around the south coast!

5:05 pm  

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