A Taste Match At Denbies Wine Estate

On Sunday 30th October Denbies Wine Estate just outside Dorking was the venue for a tasting of wines, beers and gins made in Surrey and Warwickshire. Those who bought a ticket knew that the proceeds of the event would go to the High Sheriff Youth Awards, a charity supported by the High Sheriff of Surrey. Every year, the charity makes individual grants of up to £5,000, which in total amount to about £50,000pa. The monies go to projects which help the youth of the county.

Drinks produced in each county were paired up at three sessions of one hour each. A session involved tasters making comparisons between pairs of still wine, sparkling wine, two types of beer and a gin. The tasters did not know which drink was from which county because the pourers covered the bottles so that the labels were concealed. Having tasted a wine, each taster then raised a red or a green card to indicate which of the two drinks was preferred. The result of a particular pairing was usually close. 

The first session was won by Surrey 4-1. The second session saw Warwickshire win 3-2. After four tastings in the third session, the counties were tied 2-2. It all depended on which county’s gin was preferred. The Wessex gin from Surrey prevailed. The company had been voted the UK Gin Producer of the Year only two months ago. 

Before each wine was tasted, its producer described their vineyard, its size, the amount of production, the wines it made and the grape variety or blend of a particular wine. The gin makers gave particulars regarding their product. The High Sheriff of Warwickshire, David Kelham, who had worked for many years in the drinks business, talked about the beers from his county. Two Surrey beer producers described their beers. 

The producers from Warwickshire were:

Blabers Hall Winery (Adele Adams)

The Warwickshire Gin Co. (David Blick)

Warwickshire Brewers were represented by David Kelham (one of their beers is called High Sheriff).

Those from Surrey were:

Albury Wine (Nick Wenman)

Denbies (Jeanette Simpson)

Greyfriars Brewery (Mike Wagstaff)

Chilworth Manor (Mia Wrigley)

High Clandon Vineyard (Sibylla Tindale)

Crumbs Brewery (Morgan Arnell)

Dorking Brewery (Mark Showker)

Silent Pool Gin (Ian McCullough)

Wessex Distillery (Amy Clark)

There was very good feedback from the tasters after each session. They thought it was an interesting event, and enjoyed not just what they had tasted but also the fun of the competition. The producers from both counties found it rewarding to meet each other and discuss their work and they also liked the format.

It was a good-humoured occasion throughout, well-conducted by Ian Jones of Food Ideas. It came about because the two High Sheriffs met each other in April at a social event for newly appointed High Sheriffs at the Old Bailey. Their conversation about wine production in their respective counties, prompted the High Sheriff of Surrey to invite his Warwickshire counterpart to engage in a blind-tasting competition. The tasting was thereafter extended to beer and gin. On 10th February 2023 a return Taste Match is being planned to take place at Warwick Castle. 

As part of the event on Sunday, Surrey Hill Enterprises had 26 stalls at Denbies, with artisans displaying and offering for sale not just the drinks that had been tasted, but also handmade jewellery, chocolates, chilli jellies, and items made from fabric, wood or metal. The Warwickshire drinks were also available for purchase. 

A great many hours went into the organising of the event and the High Sheriffs are most grateful to the Under Sheriff of Surrey Caroline Breckell, Ian Jones, and Wendy Varcoe of SHE for their hard work. They also thank Chris White of Denbies for allowing the use of part of the premises. The council members of HSYA are also thanked for setting up the charity’s stall, and for being available to talk to members of the public about the charity, as well as assisting with pouring out tasting measures. It was a busy Sunday for all, and for a worthy cause.