With Highclere Castle (the real Downton Abbey) down the road, it’s no surprise the cast of the hit ITV series chose to sleep at this country retreat, a few miles south of the historic property, during filming. But that’s not The Vineyard’s only connection to the small screen. Michelin-starred gourmand Daniel Galmiche, known for his appearances on Saturday Kitchen, is one of the executive chefs here.
Walking past a fire and water sculpture by William Pyre, we arrived at the extended Georgian-style house in the evening; the lobby was welcoming and relaxed with muted colours and soft furnishings clustered around an open fire. There’s something unique about The Vineyard, and it soon becomes clear that the owner has two main passions – art and wine. On our visit there were approximately 2,500 types of wine on the premises, collected from all over the world and kept safely in magnificent wine cellars, with a combined space for 30,000 bottles. Art garnishes every wall, notably pieces by Russian artist Boris Smirnoff, World War II nurse and artist Doris Zinkeisen and satirical cartoonist Ronald Searle.
Rooms range from classic doubles and deluxe doubles to luxury suites and grand suites. Our room for the evening was a deluxe suite, featuring a sitting room decorated with dark brown woods and brown striped restoration-style wallpaper, large double bed (four-poster optional) and a separate marbled bathroom with classic fitments and a nude portrait, giving the space a cultured English country house feel. Rooms include a coffee machine but no tea making facilities.
The jewel of the property for us was the underground wine cellar, and the fact that up to five sommeliers are on hand to answer guests’ questions about the extensive collection of vintages. Wine aficionados will enjoy walking over the glass floor above the temperature-controlled cellars, and ogling the very expensive vintage bottles, costing as much as £20,000 each. There’s also a wine graveyard, where esteemed open bottles of wine are laid to rest as a matter of respect.
Meanwhile, the hotel’s award-winning spa has a bar, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and circular swimming pool that sits under an atrium, offering a view of green fields. Treatments, including hot stone rituals, Balinese massages and red grape body polishes, start from £45. Robes are provided in the spa and bedrooms and visitors are encouraged to feel free to walk around the hotel in their dressing gowns.
Eating and drinking
The Judgement of Paris menu allows diners to explore some excellent wines and test their wine knowledge. Named after the Paris wine tasting competition of 1976, The Judgement of Paris has become a piece of wine folklore, set up to challenge French versus Californian wines in the industry. Owner by Sir Peter Michael has commissioned a wall painting to commemorate this event (positioned in the bar), and it’s the inspiration for this dining experience.
Guests get to compare carefully selected wines, while enjoying a fine menu of organic, locally sourced or label rouge ingredients, whipped up by the award-winning chef. We tucked into dishes including Cornish sea bass accompanied by label rouge Cevennes onions, pheasant partridge terrine, and corn fed Tidenham duck breast, paired with French and Californian wines. A highlight of the evening was the mystery wine test. Dark glasses arrived at our table and we were encouraged by the sommelier, Paulo, to guess the colour, origin and type of wine.
Of the wines, my favourites were L’Apres Midi SB 2013 and L’Esprit des Pavote 2009, most surprisingly for me – both from California.
The breakfast is served in the same room and includes a standard full English or continental buffet with carefully selected artisan cheeses and bread.
Price: Magnificent Seven Dinner with matching wines cost £155 per person. Stay the night with breakfast from £201 per person.
Address: The Vineyard, Stockcross, Berkshire, RG20 8JU, 01635 528770, www.The-Vineyard.co.uk
Radio Times travel rating: 9/10 Excellent food and impeccably selected wine, a wonderful country retreat.