For a long time, the English sparkling wine market has been dominated by Classic Cuvée, Rosé and Blanc de Blancs releases. And with good reason; these are the most widely enjoyed expressions of sparkling wine in the world. However, a darker, more nuanced and often curiously complex expression is emerging and proving popular amongst English winemakers. Blanc de Noirs or 'White from Black' is exactly that - a white wine made from black (or red) grapes. With an abundance of producers growing Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, it was only a matter of time until this brilliantly expressive style started to gain momentum.
A Blanc de Noirs is made with the same technique as a Classic Cuvée which will usually include a portion of Pinot Noir or Meunier, however, no Chardonnay will be incorporated in the blend. This forces the broader and sometimes savoury qualities of the Pinots to come to the forefront. The resulting wine is white, but often slightly bronzed due to some colour leakage from the skins and can demonstrate an unparalleled opulence and richness. Blanc de Noirs can really shine with extended lees ageing, forging a beautiful fusion between those intense ripe fruit characters and the biscuit and pastry character that secondary fermentation in the bottle brings. See the Wiston Estate and Jenkyn Place wines featured at the end of the article for two great examples of this.
A growing number of producers are now releasing more youthful Blanc de Noirs, from the nutty complexity of the sublime Lyme Bay Blanc de Noirs 2014 to the fantastically ripe and bronzed Bolney Estate Blanc de Noirs 2015. It's a truly fascinating sparkling wine style, the richness and textural qualities of Blanc de Noirs make it so very versatile when paired with a variety of foods. So why not explore this Christmas season with a fine bottle or two of English Blanc de Noirs to pair with all that rich and indulgent festive food?
Bolney Estate Blanc de Noirs 2015
GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £33 Region: Sussex
This is a fascinating wine from Bolney. It's the Sussex producer's first ever Blanc de Noirs, made from 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier.
On pouring, the first thing you'll notice is that it has a striking bronzed colour with slightly warmer pink hues.
The nose is equally colourful, exhibiting a very distinctive Pinot Noir character with aromas of cherry and raspberry.
The Bolney continues to impress on the palate, with a surprising opulence of ripe stone fruit, raspberry and honeyed notes.
Where to Buy: Bolney Estate
Furleigh Estate Blanc de Noirs 2014
GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £32-£38 Region: Dorset
Again Pinot Noir dominant (88% with the remaining 12% being Pinot Meunier), Furleigh's youthful Blanc de Noirs impresses with its gushing, plentiful bubbles and light golden tones.
Aromas are abundant and vibrant, with notes of red apple, peach and feminine floral tones that bring a certain elegance.
Classic Blanc de Noir character to taste; a punchy tangy red berry bite with vibrant citrus and redcurrant. A soft and supple mid taste that brings out pronounced flavours of soft ripe stone fruit, enhanced by a slightly higher dosage (10.3g/L) that gives the wine a more crowd-pleasing appeal.
The finish entertains with its tangy citrus peel, bitter almond and hints of honey and spice.
Raimes Blanc de Noirs 2014
GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £32 Region: Hampshire
The first of two wines in the lineup that was produced over at Hattingley Valley's winery, Raimes' second vintage is a balanced blend of 52% Pinot Noir and 48% Pinot Meunier.
The nose is slightly muted in its youth, with light citrus zest and a toasted nut, floral and gingerbread elegance.
The Raimes is quite a lot fresher in character than the other youthful examples. It has a really crisp green apple bite with slightly tart redcurrant zing and the acidity is very pronounced and zippy.
The standout quality of this wine is the lengthy finish; interweaving the redcurrant tang with hints of mineral, lemon zest and spice.
Where to Buy: Raimes
Lyme Bay Blanc de Noirs 2014
GRAPES: Pinot Noir RRP: £25 Region: Devon
Lyme Bay's sparkling wines have really impressed me this year, with winemaker Liam Idzikowski producing a range of four cohesive yet characteristically different sparkling wine expressions.
The wine opens up with aromas of baked pear and apricot, partnered with a sublime honey and nutty pastry richness.
Now this wine has spent a little longer under cork (now eight months since discorging), it is certainly starting to enter its stride. The poise is fantastic, binding bright, fresh acidity with ripe and honeyed fruit notes and delightfully soft peaches and cream textures.
And then there's the finish, intense and persistent with bitter almond, honey and spice notes. A real journey from start to finish.
Where to Buy: Lyme Bay
Denbies Cubitt Reserve Blanc de Noirs 2013
GRAPES: Pinot Noir RRP: £34 Region: Surrey
The Cubitt Blanc de Noirs oozes glass appeal with its golden tones and fine bubbles and is the first ever Blanc de Noirs from Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey.
The aromas are rich and complex with a fantastic fusion of sweet baked apple, apricot and rich biscuity pastry notes - very inviting!
This wine is very well executed and structured, balancing a fresh, clean bite with indulgent ripe stone fruit and a dry, lengthy complex finish.
A low dosage (4g/L) ensures that the savoury and autolytic notes take centre stage here, giving the wine great textural qualities and strong food pairing potential.
Where to Buy: Denbies Wine Estate
Alder Ridge Blanc de Noirs 2013
GRAPES: Pinot Noir RRP: £29 Region: Berkshire
Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this is Alder Ridge's inaugural sparkling wine and was crowned Best English Blanc de Noirs at this year's Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships, amongst other accolades. Like the Raimes, this wine was made at Hattingley Valley.
Quite a contrast to the ripe and yeasty Denbies, the Alder Ridge has a softer nose of red apple and warm brioche with gentle red berry notes.
This wine has a very appealing texture, with soft ripe fruit flavours and smooth creamy weight.
The dosage feels slightly higher than others which makes it very approachable, whilst maintaining that wonderful depth with hints of savoury that the Pinots bring to a sparkling wine.
Where to Buy: Wine Man
Fox & Fox Tradition Blanc de Noirs 2013
GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £35 Region: Sussex
Coming from boutique Sussex vineyard Fox & Fox, Tradition is made from a blend of Pinot Noir with a tiny amount of Meunier with 9.5g/L dosage.
The nose on this wine is quite subtle, teasing us with light but fragrant notes of red apple and ripe peach.
On the palate, however, this is another remarkably charismatic wine from Fox & Fox. It is dry and bracing with fantastic acidity, leading to a fusion of peach with tangy apple and raspberry.
There's a real sense of journey, as the mid-taste evolves with nutty and savoury complexity. Red apple and currant on the lengthy finish with a bright twist of zingy citrus zest that just keeps on giving. A fantastic wine that is very capable of pairing with rich Christmas food.
Where to Buy: Contact Sussex Vineyards
EXTON PARK BLANC DE NOIRS NV
GRAPES: Pinot Noir RRP: £30 Region: Hampshire
Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this is the only Non-Vintage in our line up and forms part of Exton Park's signature NV range.
This wine is exceptionally bright and appealing, opening with colourful fruity notes of stone fruit and light red fruit that are lifted by the lively persistent bubbles.
This NV Blanc de Noirs is beautifully balanced; beginning with a crisp fresh bite before a ripe and creamy fusion of peaches and cream and tangy red fruit.
Hints of sweet brioche and spice, this wine is hugely versatile and can pair fantastically with nuts and cold meats.
Where to Buy: Exton Park
Jenkyn Place Blanc de Noirs 2010
GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £35 Region: Hampshire
Made from half each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this classic Blanc de Noirs from Jenkyn Place is the first of two wines in our lineup that was made by Dermot Sugrue from the same vintage of 2010.
Though still light in colour, the wine immediately shows its age through a mature nose of ripe apricot, vanilla and rich savoury notes.
The palate is broad and full but still greats the drinker with brisk acidity. The mid-taste is a fusion of ripe stone fruit and almond cream with hints of earthy spice.
The depth and complexity of this wine again makes it a very versatile food pairing; the poise of acidity and rich nutty characters should be more than capable of standing up to turkey, cranberry sauce and all the trimmings!
Wiston Blanc de Noirs 2010
GRAPES: Pinot Noir RRP: £49 Region: Sussex
What is there not to love about this wine? The stunning black and gold label oozes opulence, matching the amber gold nectar that sits inside the bottle waiting patiently for release.
The bubbles on this are fine and so very persistent, lifting the elegant aromas of toasted hazelnut, lemon zest with hints of fresh red berries and wild strawberries.
To taste, this wine is a masterclass in balance. It's refined and demure like a vintage Grand Marques Champagne, paired with that driving English acidity that gives the wine huge presence and freshness.
Dermot has outdone himself this year, with two stunning Classic Cuvée releases (Wiston & Sugrue Pierre) and an outstanding Sugrue Pierre Multi Vintage. However, this may just be his best wine to date, especially in the eyes of lovers of Pinot-based sparkling wines. A must try!
Where to Buy: Wiston Estate