Sharpham – an English gem in Devon
If you’re a lover of English wine and/or cheese, Sharpham Estate should be on your to do list when you’re anywhere near Devon or Cornwall. Situated just outside the delightful town of Totnes, Sharpham is located in the stunning landscape of the Dart Valley.
As a long time cheese lover I came across Sharpham cheese on my first visit to Devon ten years ago. My local deli sells both the plain and rustic (spiked with herbs) versions and either will improve any cheese course. A few years ago I decided to find out where this wonderful cheese was made to see if we could visit while we were relaxing on our annual pilgrimage to Beer. To my delight I found out that not only could you visit and look at where and how the cheese was produced, but they also made wine. And had a cafe. What’s not to like??
This Easter was our third visit and although the cafe won’t be open until the 1st May, it was still one of the highlights of the holiday. The wines are crisp and fresh and just so damn drinkable. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous but its true! The whites I have always found to be the perfect aperitif, the reds a great alternative to rustic Italians. Sharpham offer a number of different tour, the guided ones only available in park season. However the “Trek & Taste” tours are available all year round. You can opt for Gold, Silver or Bronze but for £8.95 why choose anything other than gold? For your cash you get a map with 3 different routes which allow you to plot your own way around the vineyard. Then, on returning to the delightful shop area, you get to taste 3 wines and 2 cheeses. Not a bad deal eh?
As you’ll see from the photos, the sky was crystal clear when we went, although it was bloody freezing cold! We walked through the stunning vineyard, past the Madeleine Angevine, Phoenix, Dornfelder and Pinot Noir vines. Then down and along the Dart river, and back to the shop and the tasting. It really is a stunning place to wonder round; one day I’d like to buy and live in Sharpham House!
My one disappointment this year was hearing that Steve, the winemaker from New Zealand had left for pastures new. I’d enjoyed some great conversations with him and loved his passion for the wines he made. Nevertheless, Karen was a fantastic host and presented us with not three, but four wines and our 2 fine cheeses. The cheeses were the Rustic and the Brie-style full cream beauty. Both delicious, and served alongside the Pinot. And the wines? Below is a review of the four we tried.
Sharpham New Release 2012 (£9.95)
OK, so its not going to win lots of prizes for complexity but it really is a super fun wine that is perfect for any party or BBQ (if we get a chance this year!). The Early Release is produced in a Nuveau style to show off the quality if the upcoming vintage of Madeleine Angevine. The fact that the harvest was down 60% in 2012, I am so glad they still decided to bottle this wine. The fruit is pure and bright and screams if nectarine, melon and elderflower. Its a tin of fruit salad in a glass! There’s a slight spritz and some residual sugar giving a delightful off-dry finish. Great fun and just so delightfully fresh. 88 points
Sharpham Estate Reserve 2011(£11.95)
This is more serious than the Early Release, also made from 100% Madleine Angevine. I’ve been a fan if this wine in the past but the 2011 didn’t really do it for me. The overwhelming aroma and taste is of very powerful elderflower and unfortunately little else. There is good weight to the wine but its all just a bit blowsy for me. Sorry. 84 points
Sharpham Whole Berry Rose 2011 (£13.95)
I may have to reconsider my views on Rose. I got quite involved with the dry Rose style if the Southern Rhone last summer, but now I may have been convinced by this off-dry number. The wine us made by lightly pressing whole bunches of Dornfelder grapes and the outcome is particularly fine. Loads of strawberry fruit but it reminded me of a fine dessert containing rhubarb poached in a sugar syrup with some lightly poached meringues. It really is wonderful stuff, again perfect for a party, but maybe also as a match to a light strawberry or rhubarb based pud. Lovely. 89 points
Sharpham Pinot Noir & Precoce 2011 (£22.95)
I recently enjoyed a bottle from the 2009 vintage, which surprised and delighted in equal measures – as good as some village wines from the Côte de Beaune. This 2011 has lots if the same black cherry and damson fruit, underpinned with hints if worn leather and just a dash of roasted game. The tannins from 8 months in French oak are still pre meant but I’ve bough a couple to enjoy in a couple of years – I believe they will be worth the wait. 90+ points
Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve 2010 (£9.95)
A blend of Madeleine Angevine Bacchus and Phoenix (never come across it before!) which spends a short period of time ageing in oak barrels. The Dart has oodles of fresh fruit from nectarines, limes and grapefruit and is held together with a hint if oak from the ageing process and just a hint of residual sugar. This is a really elegant wine, a bit reminiscent of a top notch Vouvray from the Loire Valley. This is good enough for Gidleigh Park’s award winning wine list and its certainly good enough for a place in my fridge. One of the best English whites around. 91 points
If you’re in the area then get yourself over to Sharpham Estate. It’s a great way to spend a few holiday hours and you’ll come w away with a boot full of fine cheese and wine. A real English gem.