Read our review of Three Choirs Vineyard, an English vineyard in Gloucestershire. We are big on our English wine at olive… here’s our expert guide to English wine to look at next!
In a nutshell
Three Choirs Vineyard is set in lush Gloucestershire countryside, on the border with Herefordshire. It has expanded to over 75 acres since its first celebrated vintage, back in 1976, and now tends to an impressive 20 grape varieties.
Last year saw 250 tonnes of fruit harvested to produce 300,000 bottles and, thanks to the vineyard’s unique micro-climate (it’s sheltered by the Malverns and Brecon Beacons and set in a south-facing valley) its single variety and blends have been the bearer of numerous awards over the last four decades.
It’s no surprise that as consumer demand has grown (and the locals’ thirst for the good stuff) so, too, has the Three Choirs’ visitor experience, which now extends to a shop, restaurant and guided tours plus accommodation for those occasions when the wine is too good to stop at just one glass; there are eight chalet-like suites a stumble away from the restaurant or you can pay for a little more privacy and book one of three swankier timber-framed lodges tucked into a dip in the neighbouring valley.
Head chef James Arbourne brings his experience from stints at five-star London hotels, as well as Raymond Blanc’s tutelage, to a menu of British classics. Arbourne is flanked by Dan Tucker, who has joined following spells at Upper Slaughter’s Lords of the Manor and Cheltenham’s Le Champignon Sauvage.
The star of the show may be the plonk (see below for more details on that) but the food menu works hard to hold its weight alongside the drinks list. It’s seasonal and comforting, with a handful of choices for each course and meat or seafood sharing plates that include Trealy Farm bresaola and St Austell Bay mussels.
Hertfordshire lamb, Forest of Dean venison and local wild boar all feature, though a noticeable lack of vegetarian dishes feels behind the times in 2017. (Luckily, we have vegetarian entertaining covered, here.)
Warm summer nights in the English countryside would be made even more memorable with a seat on the terrace overlooking the sloping vines, clinking glasses and grazing on a cheeseboard of Perl Wen, Oxford Blue, Stinking Bishop, Hereford Hop and Ragstone Goats cheese. It’s worth a return visit to put that suspicion to the test.
No surprises here: there’s lots of wine, lots of really very good wine. See it, sniff it, sip it and then take it home with you from the well-stocked shop onsite. The staff know their stuff, so don’t be afraid to ask them for on-the-spot pairing suggestions for those leftover ingredients lurking in your kitchen.
Stock up on dangerously quaffable Classic Cuvee (dry with fine bubbles and an elderflower note it’s the Three Choirs’ take on Champagne but at a fraction of the cost), or the vegan-friendly Bacchus 2013 (the result of an especially fine harvest, it’s a delicate and fragrant white with nettle undertones and a zesty lift).
Admirably, what Three Choirs can’t produce to a standard it deems high enough – namely a full-bodied red, due to lacking British sunshine hours – it sources from other small producers.
Menu must-orders and misfires
The star of the night went to a 28-day aged Hertfordshire fillet steak which, cooked to rare perfection that few kitchens seem to master, was served with a fiery wild garlic butter and rich burgundy jus made with the estate’s own Ravens Hill red. A nostalgic side of peas à la francaise (with lardons) proved the ideal creamy dipping bath for duck-fat chips.
Elsewhere, a seasonal spotlight on Wye Valley asparagus was let down by its ice-cold temperature and partner of overcooked May’s Farm egg (dipping fail), though glory returned with a sticky ginger pudding with Cotswold lemon curd and local clotted cream – the ultimate comfort pud. Word on the grapevine (sorry) from the locals I chat to, sings praises of the Sunday lunch too; “my Yorkshire puddings are never that good” one tells me. (We’re pretty pleased with our Yorkshire puddings recipe, too, find it here.)
What’s the atmosphere like?
A mixture of neutral tones, wooden beams, exposed brick and floral tapestries bring the restaurant into country pub-like territory, with a little help from a large inglenook fireplace and adjoining lounge area. Empty wine bottles, reused as candle holders, top striking aged casks and include every size from a Magnum (2 bottles) through Jeroboam (4 bottles) and Salamanzar (12 bottles) to the towering Balthazar (16 bottles).
Our visit coincides with a bank holiday, so it’s buzzing and full, though a glance around shows an equal mix of locals and weekend tourists. Service is polite and unobtrusive, leaving the scenery, through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, to do the talking.
What else did you like or dislike?
Ever heard of the Geneva Double Curtain Method? Know your Siegerrebe from your Reichensteiner? Join one of the daily wine tours (11am for the public, 6pm for residents) through the shop, winery, vast production warehouse and vineyards. Tastings are provided (we sipped on five generous samples), so the tours naturally turn into a relaxed comparison, discussing tasting notes and food pairings with fellow oenophiles.
Breakfast the following morning proved hit and miss: excellent Waller’s of Ledbury award-winning sausages and Clonakilty black pudding but standard sliced bread served pale and limp as toast.
The location and thoughtfully landscaped setting are idyllic and, though the food doesn’t quite live up to the calibre of the wine on offer, couples escaping the city will revel in the tranquility of the Gloucestershire hills. Visit during the annual harvest celebrations (Aug-Sept) to catch the vines in full bloom and leave with a car boot of clinking bottles.
Words | Sophie Rae
Three Choirs Vineyards, Newent, Gloucestershire, GL18 1LS. three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk