Six of the best: English sparkling wines
The quality of English wine is flourishing. Elegant purity of fruit and refreshing acidity continue to excite the palates of many. With a bumper vintage in 2018, vines coming of age and producers honing their skills, the industry is moving from strength to strength.
Several years building reserve wines has allowed many sparkling wine producers to make non-vintage wines with a distinct house style, while others continue to express the unique character of a single vintage. Regional styles are emerging too, with producers such as Rathfinny Wine Estate in East Sussex highlighting the excellence of the South Down’s chalk belt and championing single estate wines with a sense of place.
Rathfinny Wine Estate, Classic Cuvée Brut 2017
All of Rathfinny’s wines are sourced exclusively from their sustainably farmed estate vineyards, which are located just three miles from the Channel. South-facing slopes and free-draining chalk soils provide the ideal conditions to ripen grapes for sparkling wine.
The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Pinot Noir, 18% Chardonnay and 17% Meunier. It was fermented in stainless steel and, like all Rathfinny’s base wines, went through malolactic fermentation. It was aged on lees in bottle for 36 months prior to disgorgement. The black grape character gives it rich depth of flavour, while just 5g/l dosage showcases the wine’s purity of fruit. The nose displays vivid aromas of grapefruit, red apple and brioche. The palate is focused, with zesty acidity tempered by the wine’s creamy texture and rich, biscuity notes.
"In the glass you'll see a very faint hint of rose gold from skin contact during pressing. This is all about purity of fruit, with notes of red berries and red apple, almost autumnal, but fresh and elegant at the same time. It's a rounded and gentle wine that would be a great partner for fish and chips." 92 points
Amy Wislocki, Decanter, April 2021
Rathfinny Wine Estate, Blanc de Noirs 2016
Rathfinny’s Blanc de Noirs, their signature cuvée, is always a blend of the vintage’s best Pinot Noir grapes. The 2016 Blanc de Noirs is a blend of 93% Pinot Noir and 7% Meunier, and was also aged on lees for 36 months. A delicate, rose gold hue in the glass, it has an expressive nose with lifted aromas of morello cherry, toasted hazelnut and baked apple. The palate expertly combines delicacy and weight, with rich texture and autolytic complexity complemented by a fine vein of acidity which lifts the finish. A dosage of just 3g/l dosage underscores the wine’s expressive fruit profile.
"2016 Blanc de Noirs is aged for 36 months in bottle with a dosage of 3g/l. It has a burnished silvery hue. The well-delineated nose is an absolute delight, presenting scents of orange pith, brioche, toasted pine nuts and a hint of white peach in the background. The palate is well poised with a light walnut opening, quite saline in the mouth and precise toward the finish; a touch of blackberry appears on the aftertaste. Impressive energy and sophistication are clear to see in what might be one of England's best Blanc de Noirs. Highly recommended." 93 points
Neal Martin, Vinous, June 2020
Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée Multi Vintage NV
Nyetimber was the first producer to make English sparkling wine exclusively from the Champagne varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. Now more than 30 years old, the estate is rightly considered a leader in the world of sparkling wine. Head Winemaker, Cherie Spriggs, won the much-coveted IWC ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ in 2018. She is the first winemaker outside of Champagne and the first woman to achieve this impressive accolade.
Nyetimber’s flagship wine is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier sourced from vineyards in West Sussex and Hampshire. The grapes were gently pressed in shallow Coquard presses and vinified in stainless steel. The base wines were blended with 30% reserve wines, which were on average four years old. The wine was aged for 36 months prior to disgorgement and 9.5 g/l dosage, which has imparted a creamy mouthfeel. On the palate, layered aromas of honey, almond and pastry are complemented by vivid citrus fruit and a fine vein of acidity.
"Outstanding nose, with all the bready complexity of great sparkling. Saline and zippy, with excellent apple and lemon fruit on the palate. Not at all sharp, with excellent balance and flesh on the body. Mature, mushroomy character on the finish. Expertly done." 17++ points
Richard Hemming MW, JancisRobinson.com, August 2020
Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs 2013
Nyetimber vinify a small proportion of their Chardonnay for this cuvée in new Burgundian oak barrels for additional complexity. This is a quintessential Blanc de Blancs. Expertly balanced, the palate reveals notes of lemon curd, vanilla and toast, tempered by crystalline acidity and creamy mouthfeel. The 2013 vintage was aged for five years on lees prior to disgorgement, imparting layered autolytic depth. The finish is long and intense.
"A very elegant blanc de blancs with delicate notes of tarte citron, satsumas, green grapes and lightly whipped cream, There's a lovely delicacy here; one for oysters. 70% of fruit came from West Sussex; 30% from Hampshire." 95 points
Susy Atkins, Decanter, February 2021
Bride Valley, Brut Réserve 2017
Bride Valley is the realisation of a long-term dream of the late Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella. The estate is based in West Dorset, four miles from the Jurassic Coast. Steven first had the soil tested in the 1980s and discovered it had a similar composition to the chalky soils of Champagne. After two decades and three visits from Boisset's sparkling wine expert, Georges Legrand, vines were planted on the best sites in the bowl of the amphitheatre-like estate, which is farmed following organic principles.
The 2017 Brut Reserve is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 11% Pinot Meunier. The palate has excellent focus and energy with nervy acidity and vibrant citrus fruit concentration, leading to a refreshing and moreish finish.
Bride Valley, Dorset Crémant NV
This is England’s first Crémant and Bride Valley’s only non-vintage cuvée. A blend of 80% Chardonnay, 12% Pinot Noir, 8% Meunier, vinified in stainless steel and then transferred to bottle for secondary fermentation. It has shorter lees ageing, lower pressure, and a slightly higher dosage than the estate’s other wines, contributing to its creamy texture, elegant mousse and approachable fruit profile. A delicate and refreshing aperitif, this has aromas of white flowers, stone fruit and red apple, coupled with crunchy acidity.
Main image: Sarah and Mark Driver of Rathfinny Wine Estate.