Ridgeview is one of a handful of English winemakers that you could effectively call a household name, alongside Nyetimber and Chapel Down. They are one of the most established sparkling wine producers in the country, with the Ridgeview story beginning back in 1995 when Mike and Chris Roberts planted the classic Champagne varieties in Ditchling in the Sussex South Downs.
Some 25 years later, and to celebrate their quarter-century anniversary, Ridgeview have launched a very special cuvée, the Ridgeview Oak Reserve NV. Appropriately, this new sparkling wine is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes grown in the original vineyard planting from 1995. The Oak Reserve is made from a trio of consecutive vintages, 2015, 2016 and 2017, with components having been aged in a mixture of aged and new oak.
I had a chance to (virtually) sit down for a chat with second-generation winemaker, Simon Roberts, last week and talk through this exciting new release. Simon looked back to the first wine he made with free rein as a winemaker at Ridgeview, the 2008 Blanc de Blancs. That wine eventually went on to become the Marksman Blanc de Blancs for Marks & Spencer. The 2008 was quite heavily oaked, a style which Simon personally loved, but with each new vintage the oak became less and less pronounced.
That experience had already sowed the seeds for an oak-influenced Ridgeview wine, but it wasn’t until 2016 when Simon started to really experiment with fermentation and ageing in a variety of barrels of both seasoned and new Radoux oak, of different toasting levels. For this resulting Oak Reserve NV, a mixture of new oak, three-year-old Burgundy barrels, and ten-year-old Loire barrels, were used. The base of the wine is 2017 vintage Chardonnay, stainless steel fermented, with the two older vintages having been fermented and aged in oak.
Curiously, the wine has minimal lees ageing compared to other ‘Prestige Cuvée’ English Sparkling, having spent just eleven months on lees after bottling for secondary fermentation. As Simon explains: “We didn’t want the autolysis to come between the harmony of the wine and the oak.” He goes on to say: “It was really important that this stayed within our Ridgeview house style, and the fruit being very much at the forefront. For me, it was essential to get that harmony between the Ridgeview style of the fruit, that freshness and effervescence, alongside the richness that comes with the oak.”
“it was essential to get that harmony between the Ridgeview style of the fruit, that freshness and effervescence, alongside the richness that comes with the oak.”
– Simon Roberts
So what does the wine taste like? It’s captivating, delivering an impeccable precision and classic English Chardonnay crunch, seasoned with an incredibly well-judged sprinkling of toasted, spiced oak. My full tasting note can be found at the end of this article, but I do have to say that I was really taken with this wine.
A special mention also must be given to the wine’s presentation. From the elegant, foil-less neck with exposed cork to the striking labels printed on laminated natural cherry wood, this is truly a most distinctive wine both inside and outside the bottle. The labels are a lovely visual touchback to the use of oak in the winemaking process, and are unintentionally reminiscent of Billecart-Salmon’s Cuvée Brut Sous Bois NV. With just 2,600 bottles produced, the Ridgeview Oak Reserve NV is one of the more accessibly priced ‘Prestige Cuvée’ English Sparkling wines out there, despite its £75.00 price tag.
Overall, I think the Roberts family have really raised the bar here. Collaboratively, they have delivered one of the most memorable and distinctive English sparkling wines to be released so far this year, while releasing at a competitive and realistic price point.
Ridgeview Oak Reserve NV
The nose on this wine is absolutely stunning. It feels like it sits somewhere in between an ultra-pure, saline sparkling wine with crisp green apples and preserved citrus peel, and an almost Meursault-like, oaked Burgundy.
There’s an alluring nose, but it’s the palate where this wine really sings. With brisk, bright acidity upfront and tangy green apples and citrus, it’s super pure and vibrant. Yet it settles and softens to a surprisingly creamy mid-taste.
The oak is prominent but never overwhelming, and the low dosage and minimal lees ageing, combined with the complexity of those 25-year-old vines, result in a wine that is both slightly austere and bracing, yet incredibly involving with minerality and salinity throughout.