With Britain still in lockdown, many producers have been struggling with cellar doors shut, and on-trade sales decimated overnight. What better time, then, than for the industry to rally together and help drive a social buzz around English wine last month on Good Friday for #theBIGenglishwinegoodfriday. It all started with a tweet by Black Chalk winemaker and co-founder, Jacob Leadley. Friday 10th April was a rip-roaring success, with the movement being mentioned a massive 4,900 times across key social media channels, and producers noting very positive increases in sales.
I threw myself into the initiative, helping out with logos, visuals and, of course, our page of ‘buy direct’ producer offers. It was also quite a buzz to take to Instagram Live for the first time for a frantic evening of social media engagement. The full Great British Wine team took part in our first Instagram Live session, and all talked through a bottle or two of wine that we had hand-selected to demonstrate the diversity of English wine. A particular highlight for me was a live chat with Nyetimber winemaker, Brad Greatrix. As one of the first producers I met on the GBW journey, it was a real delight to chat with Brad about Prestige English Sparkling, a detailed discussion on Demi-Sec, and our thoughts on change in the last five years within the industry. We’ll certainly be taking a closer look at Demi-Sec at some point in the near future, as there was a considerable level of interest and questions for Brad on this sweeter style of sparkling wine during our session.
Now, onto this month’s round-up. I’ve mostly focussed on sparkling wines this month, but it is a game of two halves. On the one side, we have a trio of traditional method sparkling wines: Busi Jacobsohn Classic Cuvée Brut 2017 (£38.00), Somborne Blush Rosé 2014 (£32.95) and Fox & Fox ‘Chairman’s Vat’ Brut 2014 (£39.99), with the latter being our May Wine of the Month, thanks to its striking purity and elegant, tingling minerality.
To contrast, I have also featured three very different sparkling expressions: a Pét-Nat from Westwell (£22.50), a Col Fondo from Langham (£18.00) and a sparkling Cyder 2011, made in the traditional method in the same way as English sparkling, from Tickerage (£13.99). These three wines provide not only a more pocket-friendly price point, but also lighter, fruitier expressions. I think they are perfect for those who want to explore something different right now, and all three are ideal for drinking outdoors to accompany a lockdown barbecue. Finally, I end on a special anniversary release from Albourne Estate. Their Pinot Noir 2018 (£17.95) is a classy take on cool-climate Pinot and their first-ever red wine.
Fox & Fox CV Brut 2014
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Gris
Fox & Fox in Mayfield, Sussex, have been quietly producing some of the country’s most precise and distinctive English sparkling wines for a good few years. With Jonica Fox an enthusiastic horticulturist and foodie at the helm, you always know you’re in for a treat when popping open a bottle.
With this CV (‘Chairman’s Vat’) Brut 2014, however, it’s husband, Gerard, that takes the limelight, having personally blended the 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Gris. It’s a blend of both Burgundy and Champagne clones, which has spent almost five years on lees, and has a dosage of 8.5g/l.
The nose on this wine is sublime, bringing a fusion of crisp orchard fruit, seashore pebbles, lemon zest and white peach, with subtle floral hints, and just a seasoning of toasted brioche and pastry.
This wine is big on minerality, with crushed oyster shells, coastal sea breeze and wet pebbles all rolled into one. Then it brings the warmth of the 2014 vintage: juicy, fleshy peach richness and sweet pear notes, with the light toasty notes and tiny bubbles giving sublime texture and balance. This is a must-try – vivid, energetic, elegant, but also plush and ripe. This is one of a trio of wines from Fox & Fox to have just been awarded a Gold Medal in the Sommelier Wine Awards 2020.
Busi-Jacobsohn Classic Cuvée Brut 2017
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
This is the second release from Sussex grower, Busi-Jacobsohn. Headed by husband and wife team, Douglas and Susanna, the estate was founded in 2015 with the planting of five hectares of vines in the springtime.
From the energetic bubbles to the charismatic nose, this youthful but textured wine is packed full of character. There are toasted nut, brioche and pastry notes upfront, which surprised me for a wine which has not had significant lees ageing. Then there’s a bright flurry of ripe orchard fruit aromas, with classic Chardonnay character of ripe peach, juicy orchard fruits and a hint of red fruit from the Pinots.
To taste, there’s an initial burst of citrus and crisp apples, balanced with fleshy white peach and a hint of honeyed, almost tropical richness. The dosage is perhaps a tad high for my liking, but it adds a roundness and balance to the bright, crisp fruit that makes it immediately satisfying.
Somborne Valley Blush Rosé 2014
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
It’s great to happen across a vineyard that’s been established for a while that you’ve not previously known. Somborne Valley Vineyard was first planted 20 years ago, and they have been busy both as grape growers and wine producers, working with established contract winemakers. This Rosé is their newest release, produced by Hattingley Valley, and has a little bit more bottle age than many English rosés out there.
The Somborne has got a lovely blush pink colour to it, and a clean, red fruit-led nose of raspberry and strawberry with lemon zest and hints of pastry.
The palate is brisk and zesty upfront, with pink grapefruit and tangy cranberries initially. It continues with fuller flavours of peach and strawberries, with a hint of cream adding a little weight – a welcoming and generous sparkling rosé.
Westwell Petulant Nature 2019
This wine is an English Pétillant Naturel made from Ortega by those varietal wine specialists, Westwell, in Kent.
The Ortega grapes were handpicked before a gentle press and ferment in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts. It was bottled in October 2019 and hand disgorged in Feb 2020.
This is springtime in a glass! There is zesty, zingy green citrus fruit which is a little pithy and textured, with crunchy green apples, hedgerow and spring flowers.
It’s a light, fresh, floral, crunchy take on sparkling wine, and perfect for a mid-week session in the garden. Overall, it’s my favourite expression of Ortega from Westwell.
Langham Col Fondo PN 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Col Fondo is a relatively obscure style of sparkling wine that is growing in popularity, with secondary fermentation still happening in the bottle; however, the residual yeast ‘lees’ cells are left in the bottle. The style is youthful, with lighter bubbles, less intervention and often a slight hint of natural wine funk.
Langham have made their Col Fondo from Pinot Noir, leading to a ruby red wine that is a little cloudy due to those residual yeast lees in the bottle. The wine has vibrant aromas of cherry, raspberry, hints of blueberry and a little bit of savoury earthiness.
The palate is brisk and very dry since there is no dosage. It has a leanness that contrasts with the more abundant ripe red berry flavours of tangy cherry and redcurrant. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a ‘smashable’ bottle that goes well with grilled meats and barbecues, but there is still a suggestion of tannin and great savoury depth.
Tickerage Vintage Cyder 2011
Made from apples
I’ve never had anything like this! As a bit of background, I spent my earlier drinking years consuming nothing but Strongbow Cider. Eventually, after seeing the error of my ways, I turned to wine and now rarely drink cider. This aged vintage release from Tickerage is really something else, though.
Made in the traditional method, like English sparkling wine, this was made from the first press of apple juice from the 2011 harvest, and has spent some seven years on the lees –more than most English sparkling! The result is a golden, sparkling apple wine, with hugely appealing aromas of baked apple and sweet pear, with succulent honeysuckle and that distinctive bruised apple cider note.
To taste, the Cyder is packed full of mature, bruised orchard fruit flavours, rounded baked fruit richness and a hint of caramel on the finish. There’s a softness and roundness that I’ve never experienced in a cider before, without the saccharine sweetness of the ciders I spent my student years drinking.
Albourne Estate Red Pinot Noir 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir
We’ve long been fans of the Albourne White Pinot Noir here at Great British Wine, so I was excited to learn about this their first red wine, made from low-yielding Burgundy Pinot clones.
The wine is a light ruby colour and is slightly cloudy due to Albourne wanting to preserve the wine’s concentration and integrity. The nose is immediately grabbing, with a fusion of red fruits, cracked black pepper, pencil shavings and some light earthy tones.
For a wine so delicate in complexion, the palate packs quite some depth. Initially, there are tangy red summer berry flavours of cranberry and raspberry, but these soften to a rather supple cherry-laced mid-taste. Overall, it’s a fine example of English Pinot, with decent length thanks to prominent tannin and savoury textures.