Last Thursday I began the day with a glass of Champagne in the sun. This uncommon occurrence was a preview to the wines on offer at “Keeping It Local” at the Oxford Castle Quarter this weekend, and one of the stars is the Champagne.

When did Champagne become local? It became local when Oxford born and raised, Tom Ellis, became the exclusive importer of Leroux-Mineau Grand Cru Champagne, and Champagne Chassenay d'Arce.

When Tom opened the Cuvee Premiere Brut of Chassenay d’Arce Champagne, the first thing I noticed was the aroma. From across the table I could smell the intense fruit. Chassenay d’Arce is in the Southern Champagne region. Its warmer climate yields sweeter fruit. The greater percentage of Pinot Noir, along with the 4-year aging produces an incredibly smooth, easy to drink bubbly.

The second bottle Tom opened was the Chassenay d’Arce Rosé Brut. Like it’s predecessor it produced small continuous bubbles, however, the aroma was not as intense as the Cuvee Premiere. The Rosé is created by assemblage of 15% of Pinot Noir to the original must. The flavour is very fruit driven, but still nicely dry.

You can attend one of Tom’s tasting sessions for  £22 a person, at 4pm Saturday and Sunday. I attended last year and after tasting his entire portfolio, came home with 6 bottles. If you want to start early, help kick-off the weekend with “Live and Unlocked” Friday night in the Castle Yard. Celebrate the local music with glass of the Cuvee Premiere for £6.50 or Rosé for £7.50.

Ralph’s Wines from Appleford, will also be at the Castle Quarter this weekend. Their boutique wines gained recognition from the Decanter World Wine Awards.

The other wine tasting session is with Laithwaites at 12:30 and 1:30 both Saturday and Sunday for £10 a person. Technically the “Keeping it Local” definition is any product or business created in Oxfordshire, and adjoining counties, since Laithwaites is headquartered in Gloucestershire, it counts.  The good thing about Laithwaites is that it does work with smaller producers, giving the public an opportunity to taste interesting and unique wines.  They even have their own family run vineyards in France, England and Australia.

The stars were the Un Vent de Folie, a bold Cotes du Rousillon with plenty of spice and long chewy finish and the Wilson Gunn Pax Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre. The latter had the most masculine label I have ever seen. Black on black emblazoned with a sword and shield, yet the flavour is smooth, rounded, filled with black cherries and chocolate.

Sarah Mayhew, the Oxford Mail’s Art Critic, who tasted the wines alongside me said, “It feels sexy.” I can’t say more than that.

Future wine events:


Friday, Sept. 28th, from 7-9pm, ‘Tour of France’ tasting at SH Jones Cellar Shop on Banbury’s Tramway Industrial Estate. £5 a person, visit