The Great British Wine Round-up August 2020

Following a month of unpredictable weather, all eyes are now on the next few weeks as we move towards harvest time. This month I’ve once again had the pleasure of tasting a range of rather tasty new sparkling and still English wines.

On the sparkling side, this month’s stand-out is the Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2015 (£37.99 – Grape Britannia). It’s one of the very best Blanc de Noirs I’ve tasted, and a definite must-try. Another incredibly consistent producer is High Clandon in Surrey, and their latest Endymion Cuvée 2015 (£37.00 – High Clandon) is a real celebration of elegance. And finally, there’s Saffron Grange’s delicious new Classic Cuvée 2017 (£31.99 – Grape Britannia) which is the best wine I’ve tasted yet from the North Essex producer.

Looking at the latest still wine releases, it’s been all about the crisp white wines this month. Dalwood’s latest 2019 Still White Wine (£15.00 – Dalwood Vineyard) is the best wine that this Devon-based collective has released.

And then we have Bacchus. In my opinion, this much talked about and sometimes disparaged grape variety is making an excellent case for it to be considered England’s flagship still grape variety. Bacchus is proving to be a lot more versatile, and also crucially more consistent, than many had thought. This trio of 2019 Bacchuses from London Cru (£15.00 – Roberson Wine), Hush Heath (£17.99 – Grape Britannia) and Fortnum & Mason (£15.95) offer three distinctly different, yet highly appealing expressions of freshness.

Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2015

WINE OF THE MONTH

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Buckinghamshire

What a wine this is! if you wanted a textbook example of why 100% red grape sparkling wine is so exciting in England right now, this is it, and then some! It’s a blend of 70% Pinot Noir with 30% Pinot Meunier, and is one of the most impressive sparkling wines I’ve tasted recently.

The nose is big and complex, with top notes of vanilla pod, toasted oak, dried redcurrant and toasted nuts, plus hints of savoury and vanilla fudge. There is so much going on, and not enough words to describe it.

The palate follows up on the promise of the nose too: classic crisp bite, cranberry, leading to soft waves of toasted nuts, crispy pastry, creamy textures and those signature red berry characters you get from a Pinot-based sparkling wine. It’s all so texturally and structurally perfect, and also one of the best priced Blanc de Noirs on the market right now.

Saffron Grange Classic Cuvée 2017

Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay
Region: Essex

From the third vintage produced by Saffron Grange, located on the outskirts of Saffron Walden in North-West Essex, this is a real gem of a sparkling wine. It’s a blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier with 24 months on the lees.

The nose grabs you immediately with its bright peachy and sweet apple richness, citrus peel and distinctive nutty pastry character, positively lifted by the energetic bubbles. 

It’s a real pleasure to taste, too, combining sapid, energetic youth with surprising complexity and structure. Tangy citrus and crunchy green apples appear immediately, softening to juicy, fleshy peach and buttered pastry. There’s superb length here with mineral and strawberry hints on the finish.

High Clandon The Endymion Cuvée 2015

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Surrey

If there was one English vineyard that absolutely nails the definition of boutique, it would have to be High Clandon in Surrey. Sibylla and Bruce Tindale have one of the most picturesque but tiny sites in the country, with around one acre of hand-manicured vineyard, overlooked by meadows and surrounded by the beautiful Surrey Hills landscape.

It’s no wonder their wines taste so great, and this latest 2015 Endymion Cuvée, with winemaking duties now moving cross-county to Hattingley Valley, looks set to follow in its predecessor’s very decorated footsteps.

The nose on the Endymion Cuvée is leaping out for attention. There is crisp green apple, citrus, meadow blossom and crushed shell minerality, with that underlying four years lees ageing that High Clandon strive to maintain.

A triumph to taste too, this wine’s racy acidity and steely mineral front is countered by a generous but controlled weight. There are peaches (but no cream) seasoned with spiced biscuits and a long, underlying sparkling minerality. This is a mighty start to the new relationship between two Surrey and Hampshire greats.

Balfour Hush Heath Liberty’s Bacchus 2019

Grapes: Bacchus
Region: Kent

This is a wine that has always been good from Hush Heath, but I feel it has never truly stood out from the crowd. However, with this 2019 vintage, recently appointed head-winemaker, Fergus Elias (son of English wine supremo, Owen Elias), has really made his mark.

This nose is bright and as glistening as the wine looks in the sun. There’s crisp lime zest, grapefruit peel and floral notes with sensations of minerality and herbs.

To taste, it’s as brisk and fresh as Bacchus comes – just how I like it. Sensational citrus energy leads to fuller but still tangy tropical fruit notes. This wine is superbly structured, with a long, elegant finish. This is top-notch Bacchus!

London Cru Baker St. Bacchus 2019

Grapes: Bacchus
Region: Sussex/London

To say that this is quite an evolution from the intense, joyous 2018 Baker Street Bacchus would be an understatement. Alex Hurley has approached this wine a little differently from the 2018 vintage, looking to eke out more structure and texture through skin contact and partial ageing in old oak barrels from Chavy-Chouet in Meursault.

Aromatically, as a lover of textural wines, I was immediately struck by this. The nose of toasted grapefruit peel, lime zest, slightly green tropical fruits and just a hint of toasted oak and white pepper, was enough to get me salivating.

It delivers even more on the palate, with a green citrus and kiwi fruit fusion and tangy tropical fruits supported by a leesy, almost oily richness drawing on the Riesling ancestry of Bacchus. If I was going to draw the oft-used comparison to Sauvignon Blanc, this is much more like Pouilly-Fumé than New World, with those used Burgundy barrels imparting a delightful, smoky elegance.

Fortnum & Mason Bacchus 2019

Grapes: Bacchus
Region: Gloucestershire/Tyne and Wear

For a retailer as revered as Fortnum & Mason to put their full faith behind the grape and launch a signature own-label shows just how far the quality and reputation of the grape has come.

To make this even more unique, it comes from Laneberg Wine in Gateshead, the most northern winery in England. Winemaker and CEO, Elise Lane, sourced the grapes from Poulton Hill Vineyard in Gloucestershire.

The Fortnum’s Bacchus carries that signature, distinctive floral and citrus zest character; think elderflower, lime zest and gooseberry, with distinctive leafy hedgerow notes. It’s a classically styled Bacchus and thus lends itself perfectly to a classy pairing of Fortnum’s iconic smoked salmon and savoury scones.

Dalwood Still White Wine 2019

Grapes: Madeleine Angevine, Solaris & Seyval Blanc
Region: Devon

I’ll be one of the first to put my hands up and admit that I’ve generally found English white blends often a little bit uninspiring. With that said, this wine, a combination of Madeleine Angevine, Solaris and Seyval Blanc, is considered, structured, and, most importantly, a stimulating and exciting wine to drink.

The Dalwood entertains with aromas of pear, intense lemon, grapefruit and white floral notes, with a pinch of white pepper and minerality. It almost has the exuberance of a volcanic, Mediterranean white wine. Except it’s not from Sicily, it’s from Devon!

The palate delivers everything the nose promises. There’s a tight, racy acidity beside tangy citrus zest and crunchy orchard fruit. The Solaris brings a suggestion of generosity and weight, whilst the Madeleine brings delicacy and nuance to the floral, peppery finish with great length. A symphonic must-try white blend.

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