The Great British Wine Round-up March 2020

This month it’s all been about the youthful, new release English sparkling wines that have kick-started the English wine industry ahead of springtime budburst. Five of this month’s round-up selection are sparklers, coming from different parts of the country. All exhibit that signature English fruit purity, youthful energy and captivating freshness. The stand-out wine of the month, and perhaps of the year so far for me, is Langham’s unique Pinot Meunier 2017 (£37) from Dorset. It’s a real head-turner of a wine, and I strongly recommend all fans of this increasingly promising grape to give it a try.

This month also saw two big-name Blanc de Blancs get updated with a new vintage. Wiston’s Blanc de Blancs 2015 (£42.50), and Gusbourne’s Blanc de Blancs Twenty Fifteen (£59), both share a year, and also a particular penchant for tense, tangy orchard fruit flavours. These wines are at the very beginning of their lives, and promise a long future ahead – wines to purchase now and put away for a few years before they reveal their full hands.

I was particularly impressed with two young sparkling releases from two rising talents of the English wine world. These wines are Black Chalk’s Classic 2016 (£35) from Hampshire and Woodchester Valley Vineyard’s Rosé Brut 2017 (£26.95) from the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. I had the chance to visit both producers in the last couple of weeks, and these two were my favourites. Again, both demonstrate that distinctive English fruit purity that is particularly appropriate as we move into spring, and hopefully away from all those blustery storms!

The final wine of the month is the latest vintage of Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2017 (£30.00). It’s another best-in-class English Chardonnay from one of the country’s top vineyards. It is already demonstrating a welcoming richness that contrasts with the previous vintage’s more steely façade.

Langham Pinot Meunier 2017

• WINE OF THE MONTH •

Grapes: Pinot Meunier
Region: Dorset

This new, young release from Langham is another example of why Pinot Meunier really deserves our attention in England. Langham has undergone something of a transformation over the last few years, moving from a more Champagne-like style of sparkling wine to an expression that celebrates English fruit purity and acidity, with minimal intervention in both the vineyard and the winery.

On the nose, there is such a unique fusion that it’s almost difficult to summarise in words. There is a complex mix of dried cranberry, fennel, toasted almond and poached pear.

This wine is an absolute textural sensation, and the palate is even more defined than the awesome nose. To taste, there’s red apple, cranberry and balsamic glazed cherries with ginger spice and toasted almond biscuit. It’s intense and complex but also has those lovely, pure red fruit flavours, and it’s also resoundingly delicious when paired with charcuterie.

Black Chalk Classic 2016

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

The second vintage of Black Chalk Classic is here, and it’s once again a lesson in bright, distinctive precision from winemakers, Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver, in Hampshire.

The 2016 is a blend of 45% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Meunier and 23% Pinot Noir, a similar blend to the inaugural vintage, with a distinctive nose of toasted oats, red apple and peach skin.

To taste, the wine is initially tense and striking, with crunchy orchard fruit and hints of tangy cranberry. It’s very pure, with a textured oaty grip that contrasts well with the clean, precise fruit flavours and delicate minerality. I particularly enjoy this style of steely, mineral, precise sparkling wine, so this was a big hit with me at a recent visit to the vineyard.

Wiston Blanc de Blancs 2015

Grapes: Chardonnay
Region: Sussex

A new vintage of Wiston Blanc de Blancs is always something to be celebrated (this is only the third vintage Blanc de Blancs from the Sussex superstars). This carries all the hallmarks of being another Dermot Sugrue classic, incorporating a 50/50 approach to stainless steel and Burgundy oak barrel ageing, to bring structure and texture to the wine.

The nose on the latest Wiston Blanc de Blancs is a little bit tight on release, with pear, clean orchard fruit and a light honeyed note, opening up to suggestions of toasted almond.

The palate on this feels more developed and rounded than the nose suggests. Classic, precise apple and pear flavours and zingy citrus notes that lead to rounded almond nougat richness, make this very welcoming already in youth. It ends on a lengthy, lean, mineral and grapefruit peel finish. This latest Wiston is showing lots of potential already but it is really going to start to sing with a few more years in the bottle.

Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs Twenty Fifteen

Grapes: Chardonnay
Region: Kent

Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs has been something of a house favourite with GBW, and this is another sure-fire hit from winemaker, Charlie Holland, and his team.

On the nose, this youthful new vintage shows both English Sparkling and Gusbourne typicity, with crisp orchard fruit and citrus peel aromas, light nutty notes and distinctive mineral aromas.

To taste, there’s the signature, striking freshness of tingly citrus fruits and crunchy apples, giving way to a refined white peach elegance. The 2105 vintage is only at the very beginning of its journey but it’s already showing a welcoming balance, and certainly has a long life ahead.

Woodchester Valley Rosé Brut 2017

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Gloucestershire

I’ll have a full feature on Woodchester Valley in the coming weeks but I wanted to feature this new release sparkling Rosé Brut 2017. This vintage is predominantly Pinot Noir (90%), with 10% of Pinot Meunier in the blend as well.

The nose is very classic, with aromas of cherry blossom, fresh red berries, citrus peels and raspberry.

The Woodchester has a punchy, tangy bite of cranberry, lemon and grapefruit, before softening to red cherry and raspberry flavours. The wine has undergone partial (50%) malolactic fermentation (the winemaking process that converts tart malic acid to softer lactic acid). The result is a wine that finds that delicate balance between precise, youthful tangy fruit flavours and a more welcoming strawberry and cherry roundness. It’s very successful.

Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2017

Grapes: Chardonnay
Region: Kent

What impresses most about this Kit’s Coty wine is how it shows Chapel Down’s ability to deliver a top-notch English Chardonnay consistently. This is the sixth back-to-back vintage, and 2017 was a longer, warmer season that has resulted in a particularly ripe flavour profile.

The nose on this latest Kit’s has some lovely, rich characteristics of green apples, lemon zest and pear. There’s a definite tropical twist, with notes of a mixture of grapefruit and guava in there too.

The palate continues in the same vein as the nose, with really concentrated pear and peach flavours. There’s that signature, English acidity cutting through with the punch of pink grapefruit, leading to softer, baked pear with hints of vanilla and spice.

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