Alexandra Kalinowski explores Essex and comes back with a few excellent ideas for festive merrymaking and food and wine related Christmas fun.
London is so beautiful at Christmas time. But it doesn’t quite rival the white snow falling on the lake and forests of Michigan. As much as I love ice skating next to the Tower of London, standing under the lights on Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, there’s nothing quite like getting away for the day, travelling down long winding roads and sipping on (mulled) wine. So if you’re looking to escape the city for something a bit more magical, here are five things worth exploring in Essex to get you in the spirit.
I’ve almost done away with Christmas presents in favour of relaxed lunches with friends and family. So if you’re looking to do the same, the culinary experience at West Street Vineyard is not to be missed. The quality of produce sourced and beautiful plating is stiff competition to London’s fine dining establishments, all the while leaving your pocket well bulged. Jane Mohan’s passion for the entire experience of food and wine shines through her warm and personalised hospitality. Their festive afternoon tea has me itching to return to the unpretentious, modern restaurant overlooking the vineyards.
Upstairs in the wine tasting room you can either take part in an introductory course or tasting led by Jane who tends to the vines herself. She’ll happily and expertly take you through some of her delicious wines, while opening you to an array of international wines she sources from vineyards with British ties.
To book a table or wine tasting, visit weststreetvineyard.co.uk. The vineyard can be found at West Street, Coggeshall, Colchester CO6 1NB.
Brentwood Brewery Christmas Beer Festival
If, like me, you’re missing the German Christmas markets and endless draught beer, this is the best way to quench your thirst. A family-owned brewery, Brentwood is home to the UK’s youngest head brewer and over 30 varieties of beer. In celebration, they’re hosting a festival complete with festive street food, live music, Santa and games for children. Non-beer lovers need not fear as Brentwood has created a stunning Champagne beer made of triple fermented beer, wine and champagne yeast. Move aside Prosecco…
A fan of their Elephant School Pils and Saison, I’d recommend sampling some Saturday December 9th. But if you haven’t any time to linger, pick up a few beers for the road. Their IPA works wonders in pies, the Winter Warmer has brilliant notes of oranges and ginger to warm you, Lumberjack has even won an award for pairing best with Brussels Sprouts, while their Chocwork orange adds some extra zest in Christmas puddings. Nothing says liquid dessert like their Marshmallow Stout or Crème Brulee beer.
The festival takes place December 9th from 10.30-5pm. Do be sure to show this photo to get a free pint. Find them at Calcott Hall Farm, Ongar Road, Brentwood CM15 9HS.
Christmas Supper Supperclub at New Hall Vineyard
Whilst wine production in Essex has grown tremendously in the last 50 years, arguably even rivalling those in many famed European wine countries, only a select few vineyards have the capacity to turn grapes into wine. New Hall is one of them, producing not only their famous Baccus and sparking wines, but wines for vineyards throughout Essex (including West Street Vineyard’s). Worth the visit alone just to have a tasting with Lucy who is fabulous…
For the holidays, they have partnered with Linda Hamilton to create a festive menu. Smoked fish, comforting pies, roast turkey and an array of desserts paired with wines from the vineyard make for a rather enjoyable night out. You’ll also need to sneak a peek at their Winter Wonderland in the large barn. It just may put your holiday decorations to shame…
To book the supperclub or just head over to the vineyard for a tasting, visit www.newhallwines.com. New Hall can be found on Chelmsford Road, Purleigh, Essex CM3 6PN.
Christmas Shopping at Tiptree
Sometimes last minute shopping is the best kind of shopping. Especially if you go somewhere where you really can’t go wrong. Pop into the Tiptree Tea Room for a cream tea followed by a visit to the museum. The dedication to quality fruit production is one of the reasons for Britain’s beloved preserves producer’s fascinating evolution. Now famous for Scarlet Strawberries, their jams are just as delicious as their flavoured gin liqueurs that make the perfect base for any Kir Royale or Christmas cocktail.
To peruse their store in advance, visit tiptree.com. Tiptree Jam Shop & Tea Room can be found at Factory Hill, Tiptree, Essex CO5 0RF.
One of the most picturesque vineyards in all of Essex, Dedham Vale sits perched on a lake in the countryside. Open most days of the year, self-guided tours through the trails and vineyards make for the most enjoyable brisk winter walk. I’d recommend warming up in the barn with a wine tasting as you overlook the grounds and wildlife before taking home Kellybronze turkeys for your own Christmas meal, wine hampers and gift cards for a grand tour and lunch at the vineyard to gift to someone special.
You can visit dedhamvalevineyard.com for more information and find the vineyard at Green Lane, Colchester, Essex CO4 5TS.