Our Picks: English still & sparkling wines
We have selected a trio of still wines from the much lauded 2018 vintage, which allowed many English producers to experiment with still wines more than they had been able to before. The spring of 2018 will be remembered by many due to the ‘beast from the east’ which brought severe cold weather to much of the UK, but this cold spell benefitted many English vineyards by delaying the growing season, thereby helping avoid frost damage. This was then followed by an unusually warm and sunny summer, enabling the grapes to ripen fully
, without the rush to harvest.
We have also included a selection of sparkling wines which illustrate the growing diversity among English sparkling wines.
From the ‘perfect’ year for English wine, 2018, the warm, sunny summer was ideal for this Pinot Gris from Stopham, allowing gentle ripening and a relatively stress-free harvest. Winemaker and owner Simon Woodhead’s main challenge in the vineyards is the deer which roam the land, meaning endless fence maintenance is required. The vineyards are farmed sustainably, with the farm animals from the Stopham farm providing organic fertiliser to boost the health of the sandy soils. The Pinot Gris is off-dry (7g/l RS), balanced by the typical crisp acidity, with a round and full body thanks to the warm year. It is highly aromatic – peaches, pears and white flowers on the nose, with a juicy palate full of citrus and stone fruits.
The Hush Heath Estate in Kent dates back to 1503 – a Tudor Manor, now surrounded by 162 hectares of vineyards, oak forests and apple orchards. The 25 hectares of vineyards are sustainably managed. Given the excellent conditions experienced in 2018, Hush Heath winemakers Owen Elias and Victoria Ash decided to make a 100% Chardonnay still wine. The grapes were hand-picked and vigorously sorted before cool fermentation in stainless steel. A portion of the blend was aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for five months, imparting delicate notes of sweet spice and a rounded texture. The palate is fresh with grapefruit, lime and apple, and the finish is long and balanced, with a hint of salinity.
Our third still wine from the 2018 vintage is the Hush Heath Estate ‘Luke’s’ Pinot Noir. Made from selected Burgundian clones, it shows hallmarks of a cool climate example of the grape; smoky notes, violets, dark cherry and blackberry, with fresh acidity and elegant, structured tannins. 20% of the blend was matured in a mixture of French and American oak barrels for three months, which give it a roundness and hint of sweet spice. A great example of the quality of red wines which can be produced in the right vintage conditions.
Bride Valley is the realisation of a long-held dream of esteemed wine critic Steven Spurrier. Steven and his wife Bella sent samples of the soil from their farm in Dorset to the L’Académie du Vin in Paris in the 1980s. The analysis showed the soil to be ‘very similar to Champagne’. Two decades later, with the help of Boisset’s sparkling wine expert Georges Legrand, Steven and Bella planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier vines across three hectares in the amphitheatre-shaped hills. This is their Blanc de Blancs; 100% Chardonnay, fermented in stainless steel and allowed to go through full malolactic fermentation to give roundness to the racy acidity. After blending and tirage the wine spent 24 months on lees, and received 8g/l dosage on disgorgement. The result is a classically English Blanc de Blancs – a nose of Granny Smith apples, dry honey and hedgerow flowers, while the palate is creamy and refreshing.
This is Bride Valley’s Dorset Crémant – the UK’s first Crémant PDO. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier from 2015 and 2016. It has lower pressure and a slightly higher dosage than the Brut styles, making the fizz less aggressive, and giving it a silky texture. The palate is creamy with white flower, peach and apricot notes and a balanced fresh acidity. An ideal summer’s evening aperitif or to add a little sparkle to a picnic.
Nyetimber’s flagship ‘Classic Cuvée’ is arguably also the flagship of English Sparkling wine. The house holds enough reserve wines to rival Champagne’s grand marques (the blend contains 30% reserve wines which are on average four years old), and the wine regularly competes successfully against top quality champagnes in tasting competitions. Aged for 36 months on lees before disgorgement, it displays complex autolytic aromas of almond and pastry, which blend with baked apple, honey and spice notes. The finish is long, balanced and intense.
Nyetimber’s Rosé is made with grapes harvested from vines which were specifically grown for rosé production. The wine is blended in a dark room, to avoid the winemaker being influenced by colour – the focus is all on flavour. A blend of 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir and 2% Meunier, it is aged for 36 months on lees before disgorgement. The result is a mix of red summer fruits (red currant, raspberry, red cherry) with a note of anise. The creamy palate, with hints of brioche and rosehip, leads to a long and elegant finish. It has enough structure to work well with food, especially barbequed prawns or a crab salad.