It’s been another particularly busy month, as vines start to flower across England amidst changeable weather and a well-timed heatwave. Amongst all this action, there’s been an equally exciting array of new English wines on the market. The last six weeks have seen much talk about Bacchus, with not one, but two industry-wide tasting events. London Cru’s Bacchus In Focus set the stage for the grape perfectly. The event sparked much discussion on social media; should we be championing Bacchus, or focussing all our efforts on promoting sparkling wine. In my opinion, and based on the collective quality and diversity of the wines on show, absolutely, we should be putting Bacchus in the spotlight. It’s proven to produce consumer-appealing wines consistently, with the characteristic aromatic and tropical fruit charms that see it likened to Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve included two of the more innovative examples; Chapel Down’s Bacchus Sparkling (£17.00) and Denbies Sparkling Bacchus 2016 (£16.95). Both wines take a distinctively different approach to production and contrast to last month’s Albourne Bacchus Frizzante (£15.00). I’ll be taking a closer look at the latest crop if still Bacchus wines next month, so be sure to check back for more Bacchus related discussion.
Meanwhile, June’s Round-up is very sparkling-heavy, beginning with my Wine of the Month, the stellar Breaky Bottom Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011 (£35.00). There’s a duo of new releases from Kent; Gusbourne’s Brut 2015 (£39.00) and Simpsons Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2016 (£28.00). Both if these were standout wines from the recent Wine Garden of England tasting events in London and last weekend’s Canterbury Wine Festival. A short stay down on the Kent/Sussex border this month at Oxney Wine Estate saw me catch up with owner Kristen for a tasting of their now fully-realised wine range. I’ve included her duo of non-vintage Organic sparkling wines, a Brut and a Rosé, which are competitively priced at £25.00 and demonstrate sublime drinkability.
My final wine choice this month is a delicious new Pinot Gris 2018 (£19.00) from Oastbrook. I had the opportunity to meet owner America Brewer for a tour and a tasting of this voracious new arrival on the English wine scene. America’s passion and enthusiasm are unparalleled, and the estate itself is stunning, encompassing young vines that surround exclusive and unique accommodation in the form of the Hobbit House (pictured below). The Pinot Gris wine itself is characteristically bright and colourful and packed full of tangy tropical fruits and varietal aromatics.
June in Pictures
Wine of the Month
Breaky Bottom Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir
It was a pleasure to return to Breaky Bottom last month and sample the range of new Cuvée that Peter had recently released. My favourite was Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011, which is a blend of all four grape varieties grown at the vineyard in Lewes.
As well as its delightful golden hues, the wine has a rich, redolent nose of almond croissant and dried apricot with hints of savoury cream cheese, toasted spice and a seasoning of crushed seashells. Beautiful!
To taste, there's still a remarkable, exuberant youth to this Cuvée. It's tightly wound up front with a biting tension of citrus and tangy green apples. There's a giving depth on the mid-taste here, where baked stone fruit and creamy autolytic richness break out.
This is a delicious, multi-faceted treat, and it's still got such a long life ahead.
- Buy from Breaky Bottom £35.00
Battle of the (Sparkling) Bacchus
Chapel Down Bacchus Sparkling
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Bacchus
In May I featured Chapel Down’s exquisite new Coeur de Cuvée 2014 as my Wine of the Month, and this time I’ve got something so very different from the ever-innovative winemaker.
Perhaps the most unconventional of all sparkling Bacchus, Chapel Down opted for carbonation of youthful 2018 Bacchus, with a higher residual of 12g/l.
This is a real winner on the palate, as it’s got that intense fusion of tropical fruit, zesty citrus fruits and vibrant tropics that is immediately Bacchus-like. The wine has retained the excellent fruit purity, while the lighter, softer bubbles and relatively generous (but not overwhelming) sweetness makes it effortlessly drinkable.
This is what I want to be sipping while sitting outside enjoying the English summer sun. It’s not overly complex or involving, but that’s because it’s not trying to be. It’s Bacchus, and it’s proud!
- Buy from Waitrose Cellar £17.99
Denbies Sparkling Bacchus 2016
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Bacchus
Denbies Wine Estate has approached Bacchus sparkling a little bit differently to Chapel Down and (last month’s) Albourne Estate. This is the first, to my knowledge, traditional method English Bacchus. It spent 18 months on lees and has a residual sugar of 8.5g/l.
I was worried that any yeasty, autolytic character would get in the way of the Bacchus aromatics, but was pleasantly surprised by how balanced this wine was.
With a fusion of pear, elderflower, zesty lime and gooseberry, the Denbies reminds you that this is Bacchus, while a softer, riper mix of light peach, honeydew melon. A pleasing length with a noticeably textured finish makes this yet another interesting take on the sparkling Bacchus concept, and well-priced too.
- Buy from Denbies Wine Estate £16.95
Kent Sparkling in Focus
Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2016
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
It seems a month can't go by without me sounding the trumpets about a bottle of wine from Simpsons Wine Estate, and this month it's their inaugural Classic Cuvée, the Chalklands 2016, that has captured my attention.
Having had a little longer under cork since release, this wine blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is really starting to flourish.
The nose is outstanding, packed full of crisp red apple and citrus peel aromas, while more developed notes of ripe stone fruit and rich nutty pastry tones immediately draw you in.
The palate echoes the nose, with this beautiful fusion of youthful citrus fruit and crunchy apples complemented by the rounder, peachy notes. The Chalklands has surprising savoury hints and a distinctive nutty length.
- Buy from Roberson Wine £28.00
Gusbourne Brut Reserve Twenty Fifteen
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
A new vintage of Gusbourne is always something to be excited about. The Brut Reserve 2015 has just been released, and is once again a Pinot Noir-dominant blend of 53%, with 40% Chardonnay and 7% Pinot Meunier.
With aromas of red apple, zesty lemon and light red fruit, the Gusbourne has that classic character, underpinned by light biscuit and savoury tones.
In contrast to the 2014 vintage’s opulence, 2015, being a colder vintage, has all the hallmarks of classic Gusbourne. Lots of tension and a linear, cutting freshness being the perfect counterpart to ripe orchard fruit and stone fruit hints.
Generally, I find these cooler vintages of Gusbourne to be the most charismatic and distinctive, and this latest Brut feels very much like a return to the punchy, captivating style of the 2013 wines that still have a long life ahead of them.
- Buy from Gusbourne £39.00
A Duo of Organic NV Delights
Oxney Estate NV
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Two years on from my last visit; I had the chance to return to Oxney Organic Estate this month, one of England’s few Organic producers. They now have a fully-fledged wine range, including two entry-level NV sparkling blends. First up is their brut ‘Estate NV’, which is a blend of all of the varieties grown at Oxney: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier & Seyval Blanc.
I loved the nose on this, as its super fresh and elegant; lots of clean orchard fruit aromas of red apple and pear, seasoned with hints of red berries and toasted nut.
It’s bright and brisk to taste, with a flourish of crisp apples and hints of white peach, before a wave of tangy red fruit and light spiced almond notes.
Overall, a very refreshing and tasty NV entry offering from Oxney, and at £25 a bottle, I’m pretty sure that makes it the best priced Organic English sparkling wine on the market right now.
Oxney Estate NV Rosé
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay & Seyval Blanc
Much like the Brut, this is a super approachable, easy drinking rosé that really hits the spot. It’s also a blend of all four varieties grown at Oxney.
The NV has a classic rosé nose of raspberry and young cherries, with citrus and a hint of toasted nut, or perhaps even coconut.
The palate is very clean, with pretty cranberry and raspberry flavours partnering crisp apple and sweet pear flavours.
A subtle hint of creaminess and lightly textural oak notes add to the overall depth of the wine. However, my only thought on this is that a couple of grams of less dosage would have suited my own personal taste.
Oastbrook Pinot Gris 2018
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Pinot Gris
This is the first vintage of still wine from Oastbrook, which was made in partnership with Simon Woodhead.
The Oastbrook begins with a fresh, clean nose of hedgerow, green fruit and gooseberry notes, with light hints of jasmine and white floral.
The palate is a visceral, energetic fusion of lime zest, cut grass, hedgerow, hints of pear drop and intense fruit.
There is a surprising depth and structure to this young wine, the spritely energy being a perfect counterpart to the richer, riper tropical fruit and white peach notes. Overall, this is a very tasty Gris with hints of the Alsace showing through.
- Buy from Oastbrook £19.00