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Drink this: Biddenden Ortega Late Harvest 2018

The Kent wine, made from the sweetest grape must recorded in the UK, is a triumph

England is usually regarded as a cool climate winemaking region, but in 2018 there was an exceptionally long, hot summer, one that was (and continues to be) responsible for some of the country’s most exciting wines.

Unsurprisingly, the county of Kent, which regularly records the most amount of sunshine in the UK, registered the highest temperatures and the county’s vineyards experienced vast harvests.

At Biddenden Vineyard it resulted in what has become the UK’s highest sugar content sweet wine. With a staggering 122g of residual sugar, Biddenden Ortega Late Harvest 2018 has a strong bouquet of floral aromas with complex nectar, honey, butterscotch and slight black pepper notes on the palate. 

Biddenden, has been driven by the passion and knowledge of the Barnes family. Grandparents Richard and Joyce Barnes were first to have the vision to cultivate vineyards in Kent, followed by Julian and Sally, who now run the estate with their sons Tom, Will and Sam.

A passion for sweet wine making

The second and third generation of the Barnes family

The Ortega isn’t the first sweet wine the Barnes’ family have developed (they regularly receive awards for their Schönburger), however it is the first using the vineyard’s signature Ortega grape.

“We kept a select parcel of Ortega grapes on the vine until late October, picking it with a tight knit group of our core team members,” explains general manager Tom. “When Dad gave us the nod, we harvested the Ortega at the perfect moment, but the raisined grapes were much harder than we were used to, and we knew immediately that it wasn’t going to go through our delicate grape press. So, in the interest of authenticity and keeping everything on site, we put these special late harvest grapes through one of our belt presses.”

The wine, which was left in American oak barrels for six weeks post fermentation before bottling, has a distinctive light colour, due to a short pick to press time,

“We tasted it at Christmas 2020, but it wasn’t quite ready, then we opened a bottle to taste on Dad’s birthday in August and realised it was already incredibly special, after only 2½ years in bottle,” adds Tom. “I can’t wait to see how it develops over the next 10 years.”

And neither can we. At £122 for a 37.5cl a bottle, it’s not cheap, but the limited-edition release is perfect for a special occasion, like Christmas, as a gift for a collector, or to lay down as an investment for a few years’ time.

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COMING SOON: Listen out for Tom and Julian on The English Wine Diaries podcast.