Hush Heath Estate, Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst TN12 0HT
In the post-Brexit hangover with the prospect of extra duty on European wine it feels like a particularly apposite moment to look at one of the top English wine producers. Richard Balfour-Lynn is usually described as a property mogul. His interests span hotel groups including Malmaison and Hotel du Vin as well as Liberty, the upmarket fashion and fabric shop. He bought a rather lovely Kentish Elizabethan house in the 1980s buying the surrounding 400 acre estate a few years later at auction.
Balfour-Lynn and his team started planting vines in 2002 and now the Hush Heath Estate boasts 40 acres of the champagne trilogy of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunière, as well as 30 acres of orchards -Cox, Russet and Bramley- and a 200 acre bluebell and oak forest. The estate is beautifully kept, with its own microclimate making it warmer than the surrounding areas; and in a rather democratic gesture is open to all to visit with free self-guided tours and guided tours for £15pp both available between 11a.m. and 5p.m. They have their own state of the art winery and an attractive area where we have come to taste the full range of wines and ciders. The good news is that you can too-at no charge.
First up was the flagship Balfour Brut Rosé 2011 (£35.99). Spending 4 years on the lees and made by the Methode Champenoise it’s elegant and fresh with a vibrant acidity and full of ripe wild strawberry flavours. Described as ‘England’s most exclusive pink fizz ‘ you can find it on BA 1st class, the Orient Express and the wine was a silver medal winner at the Decanter 2015 awards.Named after the producer’s wife, Leslie, the Balfour Leslie’s Reserve NV (£24.99) is an attractive English sparkling white with a lime citrus acidity and a touch of sweetness.
After the fizz came 3 still wines – the unoaked Skye’s English Chardonnay 2015 (£16.50) with a herby saltiness that makes it a perfect accompaniment for oysters – Nanette’s English Rosé (£15), a summery blend of all 3 grapes that is rose flavoured with pear on the nose- and for me the star of the show, the Hush Heath Manor Pinot Noir (£23), a soft easy to drink Pinot stuffed with red berry flavours coming in at only 11% alcohol.The Hush Heath wines are named after the female members of Balfour-Lynn’s family but when it comes to the ciders it is the chaps who get a look in. Jake’s Orchard cider comes in two varieties (both at £13.50). A drier version comes with a dosage of nettle cordial-this is the most refined cider that I have ever had with a wonderful champagne-like character. The rosé is sweetened with strawberry and blackcurrant cordial making it great for summer drinking on its own or with a strawberry dessert. The third cider, Jake’s Kentish cider, is a more commercial offer with a clean flavour and a hint of sweetness at the end.As well as the wines Hush Heath also owns four pubs all of which serve the estate’s products. St Bart’s (Farringdon) and The Bull (Bishopsgate) are in the City of London, whilst The Goudhurst Inn (Goudhurst) and The Tickled Trout (West Fairleigh) are local Kent hostelries, each with an individual feel and style.After a hard day of wine tasting we adjoined to the The Tickled Trout for a spot of lunch.It has 6 rooms which are very attractively furnished rooms but we were here to eat!
From the sea (£15), a platter of smoked trout paté, Atlantic prawns, cockles, pickled herring and garlic mayonnaise was a great selection of fresh seafood.Fresh mackerel (£7) was deliciously seared and served with a rocket, shaved fennel and orange salad-crisp and fresh. Battered haddock, crushed peas, tartar and chips (£14) was a hearty version of the pub classic.A dry aged sirloin steak (£22) was a good piece of meat perfectly cooked served with suitably chunky chips.Lemon and lime posset with biscotti (£6) tasted suitably citrussy but could have been a little looser in texture.An Eton mess with local berries and Chantilly cream (£6) was a great mix of the fruit with the crunch of the meringue and the pillowy cream.The selection of Kentish cheese (£9) was straight out of the fridge and needed to have been stored somewhere warmer.
We had a great day out at Hush Heath and The Tickled Trout. The wines and ciders are really worth drinking and the estate is lovely so why not give it a try.
The Tickled Trout, Lower Road, West Farleigh, Maidstone, Kent ME15 0PE