Linda Piggott-Vijeh gives advice on choosing the perfect wine

This month there will naturally be a sense of excitement across the county as we gear ourselves up to mark the first ever official ‘Somerset Day’ on May 11.

This particular date was chosen by Somerset residents in a recent poll, which offered several options. The date itself is in honour of King Alfred the Great, and commemorates the anniversary of his victory against the Danes in 872AD.

In keeping with the festive party mood that is sure to have us all in its grip, it would therefore seem rude not to raise our glasses in celebration, and what better way to do so than to partake of a real Somerset tipple.

Many of us will choose to turn to cider, the beverage that is synonymous with this splendid county, but there are other award-winning options to be explored that will also have the benefit of supporting our local industries.

I recently came across Kubla, an unfined beer brewed on Exmoor, in the shadow of the Quantocks, at Lydeard St.

Lawrence, and made by a lady brewer no less, Kaite Loomes.

Brewing at Kubla Brewery takes place twice a week and there are three ‘regular’ beers on offer priced at £2.20 for a 33cl.

bottle, and I sampled Pale Ale No. One, 4.2% abv, which is fermented in the bottle and has subtle hints of gooseberry and orange to add interest. A home brewer for some time, Kaite began brewing beer for sale just 3 years ago and has quickly gained a reputation for the ‘garden’ ingredients she uses to flavour her beers.

Rise: Pale Ale’ is a crisp beer also with a touch of orange and gooseberry, while her Paradise: Stout’ is a smooth, dark beer with a suggestion of chocolate and roast coffee beans.

Lavender and camomile is the inspiration behind her ‘Rock: Saison’, beer, which is a dry version of a Belgian-style beer, and comes in at 5% abv.

Kubla also make seasonal beers such as ‘Abora’, a pale ale with wild fennel added, 5.5% abv, and ‘Mutiny’, which at 7% is Kubla’s strongest beer, with a hint of coconut.

Over in Cannington at Oatley Vineyard, Iain and Jane Awty have been making frisky fruity wines well suited to summer garden parties, since 1988.

‘Jane’s’, their wine produced from 100% Madeleine Angevine grapes, is one of two light-bodied dry white wines on offer, coming in at 11.5% abv. This is refreshing, light and crisp, with an elderflower scented nose and is best drunk young. A bottle of the 2013 will set you back £14.30.

The other wine that Oatley offers is ‘Leonora’s’, 11.5% abv, which is an elegant aromatic pale-green wine, made from Kernling grapes, and which has fresh acidity along with the elderflower notes. This can be drunk young but will develop complex honey tones when kept for five years or more, and at around £10.50 is very affordable. They do have barrel-matured wine also on offer in limited quantities.

Wraxall Vineyard is situated between the Mendip and Quantock Hills, and was taken over by Brian Shirley and Jacky Brayton in 2007 when it was in a state of some disrepair. Since then they have set about restoring it, which has included a number of new plantings.

In addition to their range of still single variety wines made from Bacchus, Pinot Noir and the 35 year old Madeleine Angevine vines that they managed to salvage, they also have available a new Rosé Sparkling wine in addition to a blend called ‘Somerset Dry’, which includes the grape variety Seyval Blanc, and has been well received.

The Rosé Sparkling Wine is whole berry bunch pressed, with a very pale blush colour and a delicate mousse. This dry sparkling wine has a hint of wild strawberry on the nose and lovely fruit flavours, with a long finish.

The Somerset Sparkling Wine is a refreshing dry wine made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc, and is characterised by soft bubbles and gentle fruit flavours with a long finish.

Both of these wines are bottle fermented and made by the traditional method, and will set you back £22 a time. Wraxall offer tours for groups of 10 or more, at a cost of £7 per person.

At Langport, the vineyard at Higher Plot was planted in 2008 by Guy Smith and Laura Evans. The immediate area, with its free draining soil, has long been recognised as a special place that achieves early ripening and high quality fruit. Here they nurture the Burgundian grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The first still and sparkling wine harvest for Smith & Evans Wines was in 2010.

Their elegant sparkling wine, which spends two and a half years in the bottle on its lees before disgorgement, is available at £29, and is a dry blend of 60% Chardonnay, with the remainder split between Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Last, but by no means least, and in keeping with the ancient tradition of making wines from wild fruits, Avalon Wines, overlooking Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset levels, is a great source for wines made from elderberry, blackberry, and plums as well as other varieites. Although often shunned by connoisseurs, if made with care and attention, to ensure a good balance of acidity and sweetness, these wines can make a pleasant change. The many varieties on offer run the full gamut from dry to sweet and at £8.45 a bottle won’t break the bank. Self guided tours and free tastings should be enough to tempt you. Also on offer are their fruit liqueurs, at 21% abv.

and costing £13.95, these are rich and intensely flavoured, providing the perfect post-prandial finale to a fine day of celebration.

Many of these are available at PM Wine Cellars, 19 Lower Middle St, Taunton, Somerset TA1 1SF, 01823-336170 or better still, visit the makers in person.

  • Kubla Brewery: The Source Building, Tower Farm, Deans Cross, Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset, TA4 3QN,, 07855 342208.
  • Oatley Vineyard: Cannington, Somerset TA5 2NL,, 01278-671340.
  • Wraxall Vineyard: Wraxall, Nr. Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 6RQ,, 01749-860331.
  • Smith & Evans Wines: Higher Plot Farm, Aller Road, Langport, Somerset, TA10 0QL,, 01458-259075.
  • Avalon Vineyard: The Drove, East Pennard, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 6UA,, 01749-860393.