It’s been an eventful month in the world of Great British Wine. Firstly, there was the revealing of the merger and evolution of English Wine Producers and UKVA into Wine GB. Much has been discussed on social media about both name change and the logo, which it seems the jury is still out on. We, however, see this as a fantastic opportunity for the industry to work together with the collective forces of the English and Welsh wine industry and with an eye on both the domestic and international marketplace.
We also see that cohesive regional approaches such as the Vineyards of Hampshire group are on the increase. Following a thoroughly enjoyable VoH London Trade Tasting, from which I’ve included Danebury Vineyard’s new Madeleine Angevine in my picks of the month below, is the news of Kent’s Wine Garden of England. This is a collective of 7 Kentish vineyards including Chapel Down, Hush Heath and Gusbourne focusing on boosting recognition and tourism for the blossoming Kentish wine industry. And next month also sees the launch of a collective of eight producers forming Sussex Wineries. More soon on both of these developments!
Getting back to the subject of actual wines, during the month we have tried a few very exciting, perhaps even controversial releases. We’ve got Pommery’s Brut England, the first ever Sparkling wine from England to be released by a Champagne house. Also, I’ve had the pleasure of trying Majestic’s brand new mature Parcel Series English Sparkling and two eye-opening innovative releases from Denbies Wine Estate.
New Producer Discoveries
Chafor Vintage Cuvée 2013
REGION: Buckinghamshire GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
About the Winemaker: With the first vines of the now 23-acre vineyard being planted in 2013 in Buckinghamshire, Chafor produces a range of still and traditional method sparkling wines.
Made at Hampshire's Hattingley Valley, this is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots Noir & Meunier.
The Vintage Cuvée 2013 opens with classic English sparkling aromas of crisp citrus, green apple and sweet brioche.
A wonderful balance on the palate that typifies the purity and clarity evident in many Hattingley-made wines. Bright acidity and crisp, clean orchard fruit flavours lead to softer, fuller stone fruit with light hints of biscuit and honeyed pastry. Delightful!
We look forward to featuring more from Chafor in the coming months.
- Buy from Waitrose £30.00
New Wines from Producers We Love
Danebury Madeleine Angevine 2015
REGION: Hampshire GRAPES: Madeleine Angevine
About the Winemaker: A 7-acre vineyard in Hampshire, specialising in white grapes and perhaps most well known for their Madeleine Angevine.
This month saw the seven Vineyards of Hampshire members bring their collective efforts to London for their annual trade tasting.
Whilst we have extensively covered VoH's wines over the last year, there were a few new wines on show including Danebury's new 2015 vintage whites.
Once again, my favourite is their Madeleine Angevine, which exhibits a wonderfully fresh nose of light lemon and grapefruit and delicate floral notes with hints of spice and grassy meadows.
The palate is wonderfully pure and precise, with pithy lemon notes up front before a fleshy wash of white peach leading to a dry finish of grapefruit, mineral and hints of pepper.
- Contact Danebury - £12.00
Two New Innovative Wines from Denbies
Denbies Cubitt Blanc de Blancs 2013
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Chardonnay
About the Winemaker: Denbies, based in Dorking, Surrey has a huge 265 acres of land under vine. The wines are made on site in conjunction with the Litmus Wines team.
The first (to our knowledge) zero dosage English Sparkling Blanc de Blancs. Made from 100% Chardonnay from the excellent 2013 harvest, the wine spent 40 months on lees in the bottle and has just 1g/l residual sugar.
The resulting wine is impeccably pure. There are aromas of green apples and light citrus, gorgeous honeysuckle floral notes with lightly toasted brioche complexity.
The palate is strikingly dry, though crucially not overwhelmed by acidity despite the lack of dosage. A pure, clean sparkling Chardonnay experience ensues, with lots of fresh, crunchy orchard fruit.
The mid-taste is slightly austere and where the lack of sugar content is evident. However, the lengthy, clean finish of mineral and zesty tang with lightly honeyed notes more than make up for this.This wine is going to surprise many.
- Buy Directly from Producer £42.00
The Brokes Noble Harvest Ortega 2016
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Ortega
The scramble to produce the UK's most exclusive, rarest, most expensive wine continues! At £60 for a half bottle, Denbies' new The Brokes Noble Harvest Ortega 2016 jumps to the top of the leaderboard.
What makes it so expensive? Well, aside from the fact that producing a noble rot-induced dessert wine in England is already a perilous task, this wine was made from a single barrel of the very best fruit from the 2016 harvest.
The wine's minimal presentation allows the golden nectar to speak before it even leaves the bottle. In the glass, there are aromas of preserved fruit, fig, dried mango and toasted oak spice.
It delivers a hugely concentrated palate with luscious, sweet and sticky stone fruit reduction. There is fantastic complexity with dried orange peel, spiced nut and crisp, pungent lime zest on the finish. It's intense and very satisfying.
Unfortunately, the £60 price point ensures that very few people will get a chance to sample its wondrous richness and those that do will compare to the very best dessert wines in the world. I'm not sure we're quite there yet, however, I will say that this is likely to be the finest drop of English-made dessert I've tasted.
- To be released shortly for £60.00
Supermarket & Mainstream Retailer Choices
Louis Pommery Brut England NV
REGION: Hampshire GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
February saw the release of the first English-made sparkling wine under the Pommery brand. This is essentially a Blanc de Noirs, made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes sourced in Hampshire from the 2015 harvest. Pommery worked with Emma Rice from Hattingley Valley to produce the wine.
Subtly bronze, the Brut England has a clean, light nose with red apple and light pastry notes.
The wine has a pleasing freshness, with crunchy red apple, tangy redcurrant with hints fresh raspberry flavours. Hints of spice and gingerbread on the finish.
With an RRP of £39.99, the wine feels overpriced considering that you can find significantly more aged, complex English sparkling at a similar price point, or less even.
- Buy from Ocado £39.99
Majestic Parcel Series English Sparkling NV
REGION: Hampshire GRAPES: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
This month also saw the release of a second 'own-label' sparkling wine originating from a top Hampshire producer. Majestic's new Parcel Series English Sparkling originates form Hambledon's cellars, with an impressive 6-7 years of lees ageing in the bottle.
The wine pours with suitably mature golden tones and a nose to match, rich with yeasty bread, pastry and baked apricot aromas.
It continues to impress with its taste too, building on all that toasted biscuity goodness, with a reductive apricot and bitter orange/marmalade complexity.
This is a real steal for under £23, especially when you consider that much of what is on the market right now has significantly less maturity.
- Buy from Majestic £22.48 (Mix 6)
A Look to the Future
Simpsons Wine Estate Rosé 2016
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Pinot Noir
About the Winemaker: Kent's rising stars Charles and Ruth Simpson are destined for big things, with 90 acres of land under vine, their first sparkling wines are due for release at the end of the year.
I tasted this pre-release sample pre-disgorge at Simpsons Wine Estate at the beginning of the month. While still cloudy due to the presence of the lees yeast, the wine exhibited striking pink hues.
Pronounced wild strawberry and raspberry notes, so very pure and clean, despite the residual yeast; a very British rosé expression, with those precise red berry characters continuing through to the palate, laden with a delicate minerality.
This constituted a hugely promising start for something so very young, and a great sign of the purity and clean fruit expression that the inert grape press allows.
Read more about this month's visit to The Simpsons Estate.