The Nyetimber vineyards in West Sussex, overlooking the South Downs.

LONDON - The official visit of L’Académie Internationale du Vin to the English vineyards presented something of a challenge, considering the June downpour to which we were exposed. Fortunately we had asked the members to bring boots and one of the wineries provided umbrellas. Certain French participants were heard to observe that ‘it must be difficult to make good wine under such rainy circumstances,’ until one illustrious wineman (English) enquired whether they had ever spent a sodden day in Bordeaux – a ‘maritime climate’ with a vengeance.

All chauvinistic posturing was forgotten, however, when we began tasting. Nyetimber is in beautiful West Sussex and we tramped through the vineyards with a backdrop of the South Downs. The property, featured in the Doomsday Book, was once a monastery and is now owned by a dynamic Dutchman who is intent on making sparkling wines of real class. More than 400 pickers do the harvest here and the grapes come entirely from Nyetimber’s own vineyard holdings. We had a sneak preview of the hitherto unreleased 2009 Single Vineyard Netherland (fittingly!) sparkler made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and its delicious white peach taste will seduce many new fans. The star of the show was the 1996 Blanc de Blancs in magnum, which was absolutely stunning and enough to make the Champenois shake in their shoes.

The early morning sun reveals the vines at Ridgeview in East Sussex.

Then we moved even nearer the South Downs to East Sussex and the Roberts family’s Ridgeview. The wines are meticulously made and combine being very appealing with excellent value. My absolute favourite was Ridgeview Fitzrovia 2009 Rosé, its elegance and finesse coming from a marriage of 50% Chardonnay, 28% Pinot Noir and 22% Meunier, the trio of Champagne grape varieties. All the cuvées slipped down a treat, from the flagship Chardonnay-dominant Bloomsbury to the Blanc de Blancs Grosvenor and the Blanc de Noirs Knightsbridge. I am waiting for the Roberts family to create a new blend named after my area of London and will test run it with enormous pleasure.