With the 2018 English wine harvest wrapped up, producers across the country have got a lot to be excited about, and evidently, a lot of wine fermenting away in the winery. I've travelled quite a lot this month, from conducting a harvest photoshoot over in Hampshire at Exton Park, through to lending a hand to pick Chardonnay from 30-year-old vines at my local vineyard Greyfrairs in Surrey. The one takeaway I've had from every producer that I have spoken to is that yield is up compared to last year, big time! With producers experiencing a crop on average between 50% to 100% larger than 2017, there's going to be a lot of exciting new wines to look forward to in the coming years.
It's not just the volume of wine that excites, but the quality of the fruit harvested has been fantastic too. We can expect to see an increased frequency of high-quality single varietal still English wines made this year. I've spoken to previously sparkling-exclusive producers that are looking to make their first still wines this year, with there being a genuine excitement about the potential of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir based wines in paritcular.
Getting back to this month's Round-Up, I've handpicked a selection of diverse and interesting wines that have been discovered in October. Chapel Down and Digby have recently released 2014 vintages of their flagship sparkling wines, both of which are full of vivacious energy and developing richness. I've also included a couple of great supermarket discoveries, including ASDA's Extra Special English Sparkling 2015 (£25, ASDA) and a beautifully aged Castlebrook Brut Cuvée 2009 (£32.00, Waitrose). And finally, ending on two textural and distinctive still wines, including the food-friendly Winbirri Solaris 2015 and a grown-up Chardonnay from Blackbook, one of London's exciting new urban winery projects.
Impressive 2014 Vintage Fizz
Chapel Down Three Graces 2014
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Muenier
The current crop of 2014 vintage English Sparkling wines are really starting to come into their element, and this delicious new Three Graces 2014 from Chapel Down is another demonstration of this.
It has a lively pour with fine streams of bubbles lifting rich, intense aromas of baked stone fruit and apple. Lovely honeyed notes with sweeter hints of sugared pastry.
The palate brings all of that honeyed stone fruit richness together with a bright, crisp intensity. The Three Graces is both driving and giving, ending on a delicious honey roasted nut complexity that lingers elegantly on the finish.
In my opinion, the Three Graces continues to be the best value offering within Chapel Down's large Sparkling range. It's a very welcome upgrade from the light and energetic entry-level Brut Reserve.
- Buy from Chapel Down £29.99
Digby 2014 Vintage Rosé Brut
REGION: Various GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
It was fascinating to attend a launch and masterclass demonstration of the brand new English Sparkling glass by Digby & Gurasu a few weeks ago. With the launch also came a tasting of the long-awaited new release of Digby Vintage Rosé Brut 2014.
It is now five years since the last vintage (2009), with the latest wine (2014) being a colourful blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. The 2014 opens with a pronounced nose full of red berry aromas, whipped cream and a pinch of winter spice.
This is a rosé with real body, as a crisp red apple and citrus bite is soon softened with wild strawberry and red berry pudding richness.
As the previous Vintage offering from Digby has proven, these wines age superbly, and the present exuberant youth will evolve and develop additional complexity.
- Buy from Armit Wines £48.00
October Supermarket Finds
ASDA Extra Special English Sparkling 2015
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
ASDA becomes the latest UK supermarket to add an English sparkling wine to its own-label wine range, which once again comes courtesy of Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey.
This youthful 2015 vintage is a blend of 68% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Meunier.
Its nose is bright and fruit forward, full of ripe orchard fruit and peach skin aromas with a hint of toasted bread.
The palate is bright and brisk up front. Fresh but not overwhelmingly so, leading to an appealing fusion of red apple, pear and stone fruit. Suggestions of tangy red berries and a lightly toasted character, together with a generous dosage give this wine a good sense of balance.
My only complaint, perhaps more aimed towards ASDA, is that a price point closer to the £20 mark (which competitor Sainsbury's lists their own-label at), would make a more attractive consumer proposition.
- Buy from ASDA £25.00
Castle Brook Classic Cuvée 2009
REGION: Herefordshire GRAPES: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
I happened across a few bottles of this perfectly aged Castle Brook Brut 2009 recently and just had to write about it.
Aromas of biscuit and toast, accompanied by opulent baked apple and dried apricot notes. It's so luscious and rich that you just can't wait to get tasting!
The acidity is still bright and potent here, with lots of citrus and crunchy orchard fruit up front. The flavour profile evolves to riper stone fruit flavours with lots of nutty, toasted oat biscuit complexity.
It's becoming increasingly hard to find mature English sparkling wines at retail, but I've tracked down this as being in stock at Waitrose Cellar - grab it while you still can!
- Buy from Waitrose Cellar £32.00
Single Varietal White Focus
Winebirri Solaris 2015
REGION: Norfolk GRAPES: Solaris
After the discovery of a brilliant Solaris from Bedfordshire back in July's Round-Up, I was keen to try more wines made from this underrated grape.
This delightful white from Norfolk's award-winning Winbirri Vineyard begins with a lively and fruity nose, combining zesty citrus fruits with more fleshy aromas of white peach and orange peel.
The palate is bright, with brilliant acidity providing immediate focus and grab, but where the Winbirri really delivers is its surprisingly deep, structured texture.
The mid-taste is full of plump, juicy peach flavours and hints of lively tropical fruits, while a slightly oily weight gives the wine a pleasing body.
I paired this wine with a baked Thai salmon dish with raw Asian salad, which worked wonders with the zesty, spicy dressing and aromatic flavours.
- Buy from Waitrose Cellar £13.49
Blackbook Chardonnay 2017
REGION: London/Essex GRAPES: Chardonnay
With the growing trend for urban wineries in London (there are now four), I decided it was high time to visit one of the more recent arrivals, Blackbook Winery.
Nestled under the railway arches in Battersea, winemaker Sergio and his partner Lynsey run a slick operation. So far, they have specialised in single varietal still wines made with indigenous yeast fermentation and low sulphite addition.
This young Chardonnay has an intense, vibrant nose of red apple, honeydew melon and fleshy peach, combined with toasted almonds and spiced oak.
The palate too packs quite a punch, though ultimately would benefit from another year in the bottle to integrate perfectly. There's excellent fruit clarity though, with a fusion of peach, tangerine and perhaps even a hint of pineapple.
There's a likeable depth to this Chardonnay, further lifted with spice and toasted nut notes on the finish.
- Buy from Blackbook Winery £18.50