Slipping away for a weekend of fine dining with a stylish room to slink back to afterwards is one of life’s great pleasures. But if you’re a wine lover, that narrows the options somewhat. You want wine to be on an equal footing with the exciting food, which includes being offered interesting things to try by the glass, presented by someone passionate. And you want more of an overall wine experience – to discover new things, to be among like-minded people. Well, we’ve found your tribe, at venues ranging from a six-room guest house with a wine cave on the Isle of Wight, to the smartest shepherd’s hut you’re ever likely to lay your head in, overlooking a row of vines in Devon.
Best for sea views
The Terrace Rooms & Wine, Isle of Wight
St Augustine Villa, Ventnor PO38 1TA
The moon shimmers on the water in Ventnor Bay as we sip Coates & Seely fizz from Hampshire under a glass-covered pergola at a stylishly restored Italianate mansion. The accompanying dish is a refined riff on island speciality ‘crab on chips’ – just-picked white crab meat on a potato terrine with pickled apple, and a crab and potato tortilla topped with a sea truffle and chicken glaze. This is the first of nine courses, each paired with a different wine plucked from the Wine Room, which lists both an ‘In’ and ‘Out’ price, handwritten on brown paper tags dangling from bottle necks, with mark-ups at half the industry average.
The newly opened six-room guest house with restaurant is the brainchild of Tom and Ashley Fahey, who run the popular Terrace restaurant in Yarmouth on the western side of the island. The new Ventnor outpost cranks up the luxury with its individually designed rooms, each with sea views, and a creative small plates lunch menu served on the terrace during the summer months. This is replaced in the low season with an elegant wine-matched supper for 12 guests, Wednesdays through to Sundays. Both are cooked by Tom himself, a former restaurant inspector for leading guidebooks who is now preparing Michelin-star quality cooking in his own kitchen.
Wine is his other passion and the 350-bin list, much of it on show in the Wine Room, was assembled from more than 50 suppliers and private sellers, to focus on achieving optimum drinking age and affordability across the range, with only one bottle nudging £100. Expect cult favourites and a balanced spread of classic and low-intervention styles, with Chablis a particular speciality, some directly imported.
Best for glamping
Lympstone Manor, Devon
Courtlands Lane, Exmouth EX8 3NZ
‘I’ve come to light your fire,’ purrs the handsome Frenchman, who has been dispatched to help us get our Hikki going. It’s a wood-fired Swedish hot tub and it comes with our luxuriously appointed shepherd’s hut (or rather brace of huts, linked together for more space), one of six at Lympstone Manor, near Exmouth. They overlook the hotel’s 17,500 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines, destined for Lympstone’s fizz, released at the end of 2023.
All of it is down to one man, the well-recognised Michael Caines MBE, chef-patron of the Michelin one-star Relais & Châteaux location. ‘When I first discovered the place, I knew it would make an incredible hotel and restaurant, but I also saw its potential as a vineyard. The microclimate here is on a par with the southeast, along with a perfect elevation. Most of the great vineyards of Europe are all located near rivers, so why not the Exe estuary?’ reasons Caines.
Why not indeed, we ponder while sipping Caines’ own-label Champagne from a small grower east of Reims, as the wood burns aromatically keeping our hot tub deliciously warm. Wine, unsurprisingly, is a central theme at Lympstone Manor.
Plump for the Michael Caines Gourmet Experience (from £1,835 for two nights, via the website; when booking, click into the ‘Events, offers & experiences’ tab) and you get a private wine tasting conducted by one of its sommeliers in The Wine Room, from where co-director Steve Edwards has built up an impressive 600-bin cellar with selections from some of the world’s finest estates, and where a wine preservation system allows for much experimentation by the glass. ‘The Wine Room is a special place for wine lovers to meet, learn, taste and enjoy,’ remarks Edwards.
Best for eco-tourism
The Treehouses at Black Chalk Vineyard, Hampshire
The Old Dairy, Fullerton Road, Andover SP11 7JX
Lying in a warm, suds-filled copper bath on an outside deck clutching a glass of English fizz is about as hedonistic as it gets in Hampshire. We’re in Poppy, one of four stylish treehouses owned by Wild Escapes that edge the vines at Black Chalk Vineyard, the only sound are the birds and the gentle plop of raindrops as sunlight peeps periodically through the leaves.
The long soak is welcome after a morning tour around the newly opened winery, followed by a superior platter-style lunch of locally made cheese, charcuterie and smoked trout in its new on-site café, The Tasting Room, washed down with its classy Dancer in Pink blend of Pinots’ Précoce, Gris and Noir (2021, £19.99 Grape Britannia), and after a hike through the beautiful Test Valley, boasting one of England’s greatest trout rivers, much coveted by fly fishing enthusiasts. The area is a growing draw for wine producers, too – industry body WineGB now notes 15 wineries of a larger size and a dozen others of smaller scale producing up to 8,000 bottles, all attracted by the region’s chalky soils and favourable climate where Chardonnay shines.
Black Chalk Vineyard also offers fly fishing and even truffle hunting, though we’re here for the walking – and the wine, of course. Co-founded by ex-Hattingley Valley winemaker Jacob Leadley, with help from assistant winemaker Zoë Driver, it produces small-batch, traditional-method sparkling wine from 34 different clones and rootstock combos of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Précoce and Pinot Gris – the impressive results of which you can take back to your treehouse to enjoy in front of your wood-fired stove, accompanied by locally made victuals chosen from excellent Stockbridge deli Thyme & Tides.
Best for garden enthusiasts
Leonardslee House & Gardens, West Sussex
Brighton Road, Horsham RH13 6PP
An estate map comes with the menu at Restaurant Interlude. The venue at Leonardslee House is big on foraging – or rather its South African-born chef Jean Delport is. It charts the exact location of many of the ingredients we try for the multi-course dinner, from the wild garlic picked at Mossy Ghyll (for the lobster with ‘vetkoek’, a yeast dough cake), while birch trees have been tapped for their sap which is transformed into a syrup, served with a Sussex chocolate and sweet potato dessert. It’s thrilling stuff.
A year since opening, Leonardslee House is on track to become the UK’s most impressive wine destination. The brainchild of Penny Streeter, who owns South African wine estate Benguela Cove Lagoon (a selection from which we choose to pair with our dishes), it’s an ambitious renovation of the 1889-created, 97ha garden, complete with deer herd (we also ate barbecued sika with truffles) and a family of wallabies. There’s a sculpture exhibition to explore and an imposing Grade-II listed 19th-century Italianate mansion housing the Michelin one-star Interlude and 10 large, sumptuous bedrooms with soaring ceilings, flora and fauna-inspired fabric and wallpaper, and views over the estate’s 1.6ha vineyard.
Planted up with the UK’s first Pinotage (to be released imminently), it adds to a 15ha vineyard at Mannings Heath Golf Club nearby, also owned by Streeter, which will yield its first fizz in 2024. The wine offering doesn’t stop there, with options to add including cheese and wine pairing, vineyard walking tours and even a masterclass in the art of sabrage (the entertaining way to open a Champagne bottle with a blade).
Best for biodynamic wine
The Rooms at Tillingham, East Sussex
Dew Farm, Dew Lane, Peasmarsh TN31 6XD
You can see the historic harbour hill town of Rye from two of the 11 stylish rooms at Tillingham wine estate. You can certainly smell the sea when the wind is blowing in the right direction. It mingles enticingly with the aromas of chef Brendan Eades’ cooking, which makes the most of the estate’s walled kitchen garden and its surrounding produce. The south-facing terrace is an idyllic spot, with its views over the vine-covered slopes to the distant sea.
The folks behind Tillingham are particularly mindful of the land. Founder Ben Walgate takes a minimal-intervention approach to the wine, from the foot-stomped grapes and qvevri buried in the earth in the repurposed oast house to the biodynamic and organically farmed vineyards – some grapes Tillingham’s own, others bought in. And it is celebrating another good harvest, reports Walgate, who started the business in 2017. ‘Looking at what we have in tank, barrel and qvevri, there will be a good 20 individual wines to come, among them nine originating from our own soils,’ he promises.
This approach contributes to the palpable energy of the place – fuelled by a mix of wine-savvy locals and natural wine-loving Londoners, who flock down here at the weekends to enjoy the wood-fired sourdough pizzas knocked out in the converted Dutch Barn, or the downstairs bar with its appealing small plates menu, or the restaurant proper, where Eades turns out starters such as celeriac, hazelnut and pear, with mains including Tillingham lamb, pumpkin and black garlic, the lot washed down with either the estate’s quirky wines, or those from like-minded producers.
Best for wines by the glass
The Vineyard, Berkshire
Stockcross, Newbury RG20 8JU
As the name suggests, it’s all about wine at The Vineyard, a glitzy five-star, 49-room hotel and spa in a semi-rural corner of the Berkshire countryside, just outside Newbury. It boasts one of the most impressive wine lists in the country and knows how to sell it, thanks to a crack team of sommeliers.
Headed up by 2019 Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year Romain Bourger, they dance and charm their way through service in the busy 75-seat restaurant and its new Vine Bar, juggling 50 wines by the glass and dispensing a multitude of wine pairing options to go with chef Tom Scade’s accomplished food.
Wielding numerous ranges of Riedel glasses – even a black ‘blind’ glass for those who want to test themselves (as we did) – the sommeliers impart knowledge in such a friendly, approachable way that most guests don’t even bother to scan the weighty wine list and just leave the choice up to them.
The Vineyard is owned by Sir Peter Michael, one of Britain’s leading industrialists, created as a monument to his passion for food, wine and art, and inspired by his Sonoma winery, which he built in the 1980s and which continues to produce highly acclaimed wines.
These sit in the cellar alongside many other legendary Californian wines – some 600 at the last count, the rest made up of the same number of French wines, plus other classic (and not so classic) wine-producing countries, with 3,000 different references in all. ‘The Vineyard does attract some very serious wine drinkers,’ says Bourger.
Best for wine dinners
Northcote Rd, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE
Known as the foodie capital of the north, the Ribble valley is a gastronome’s paradise, from Mrs Kirkham’s legendary cheese and Bowland Brewery’s fine microbrews to wine haven D Bryne & Co – all of which you get to see on Northcote’s newly launched artisan food and drink trail.
All roads lead here. The country house hotel and restaurant is riding high, thanks to the 2022 Ayala SquareMeal Female Chef of the Year Lisa Goodwin-Allen, whose other awards include Chef of the Year at The Cateys in 2019, and to its wine program, made up of tailor-made private tastings (Champagne is popular) and wine dinners, thanks to affable, wine-loving managing director Craig Bancroft.
Bancroft is the driving force behind the mother of all wine and food events, called Obsession, which runs for 17 days (the next from 19 January to 6 February 2024), involving top chefs from all over the world and now in its 23rd year. Once released, it sells out in 48 hours.
With sweeping views across to the Forest of Bowland, Northcote’s 26 rooms are luxuriously appointed (particularly the eight enormous rooms in the separate Garden Lodge), but it is all about the food and wine here, or, more specifically, the pairing of it. ‘It’s true to what the food needs – we’re not going out of our way to wrong-foot you,’ assures Bancroft.
The five-course menu we choose, each paired with a different wine, doesn’t miss a beat. Highlights include the slow-cooked Cacklebean egg and Jerusalem artichoke chips with a 2021 Barossa Semillon from Torbreck, and a venison loin with maple, whisky, celeriac and apple and a 2016 Ribera del Duero from Aalto. ‘We like to take guests on a geographical journey and give people a story,’ says Bancroft.
Best for old vintages
Askham Hall, Cumbria
Askham, Penrith CA10 2PF
Two hands and a bit of muscle are required to transport the hefty, leather-bound wine list to our pre-dinner spot by the flickering fire in the baronial drawing room. It needs quiet concentration to savour the gems on offer among the 1,800 bins and up to 18,000 bottles.
From Yves Cuilleron’s Condrieu to Bolgheri’s Sassicaia, it’s a wine lover’s paradise. But for fans of older vintages, it’s a treasure trove, with prices significantly lower than market value – a bottle of Cos d’Estournel 1893 for £2,250, anyone?
And the wine list’s curators, head sommelier Josh Mullock and maître d’ Nico Chièze, will open pretty much anything that takes your fancy and offer an exciting by-the-glass selection, including SA Prüm Riesling 2010 (£18) and Château Gloria St-Julien 2005 (£27). Add to that a program of wine evenings led by producers and experts, and vinous nirvana is complete.
Askham Hall feels more like visiting a home, albeit a posh one, and it was just that. It’s the family seat of the Lowthers, who still roam the place, with Charles Lowther running the hotel. But a great wine list needs great food, and it certainly has that with head chef Richard Swale, whose Michelin one-star Allium restaurant recently gained a fourth AA rosette. His kitchen garden alone is enough to excite, with its rare-breed pigs, goats, ducks and chickens.
Finally, the setting. Askham Hall, with its 13th-century peel tower, is set in terraced gardens in the prettiest village, just a half-hour drive from Lake District beauty Ullswater.