Ambitious Sussex Sparkling producer Rathfinny Wine Estate has this month seen its brand new Rosé 2016 and Blanc de Noirs 2015 chosen as 'Sparkling Wine of the Month' at The Ritz London. It's only the second time in the Ritz's 113 year history that a non-Champagne has been given this title. No strangers to extravagance, founders Mark and Sarah Driver took to the iconic London hotel for an intimate and considered launch to celebrate both the wines and the landmark listing of Rathfinny at The Ritz.
Winemaker Jonathon Médard was customarily reserved while I took my first sip of the Blanc de Noirs 2015 amongst a group of enthusiastic guests. He asked me what I thought about the dosage, and then let out a wry smile when I gave him an agreeable nod. It's this level of humility and honesty that makes Rathfinny all the more endearing. It's a reminder that, behind all the investment and the polished branding, this is still a relatively young wine business.
The good news is that the wines once again don't put a foot wrong. The Rosé 2016 is a confident, somewhat more rounded and red-berry infused follow-up to the captivating inaugural 2015 vintage. And the Blanc de Noirs; it's something truly special, and absolutely the kind of versatile, food-friendly English sparkling wine that should be gracing restaurant wine lists up and down the country.
The placement of the Rathfinnny wines at The Ritz London feels perfect for building on both the brand's credentials and for making the most of the food-friendly nature of the wines themselves. It comes at the time of another equally exciting step forward for the Sussex estate, with a further 90,000 vines, approximately twenty-five hectares, having gone into the ground in Alfriston in the last week. Mark explained to me that a high proportion of Pinot Meunier vines (20%) were accompanied by 40% Pinot Noir vines to continue the Estate's penchant for red grapes, with the remaining 40% being Chardonnay. With Pinot-based sparkling wines being a personal liking of Mark, I do wonder if, or rather when, we will see a Pinot Meunier cuvée from Rathfinny.
Below are a couple of quotes from Mark Driver and Giovanni Ferlito, Head of Wine & Beverage at The Ritz, followed by my tasting notes for the two new releases.
“We’re delighted that the launch of the first release of Rathfinny’s Blanc de Noirs, the 2015 vintage, will be taking place at The Ritz London on 1st May.
Rathfinny is the second ever English sparkling wine to be featured in our ‘sparkling wine of the month’ calendar, in the hotel’s 113-year history. With a premium and complex style, I firmly believe Rathfinny represents some of the finest quality in sparkling wine production today, and I look forward to sharing with our hotel guests.”
Giovanni Ferlito, Head of Wine & Beverage at The Ritz
“I’m particularly pleased to show our first Blanc de Noirs as I love Pinot Noir within sparkling wine. The rich fruit flavours dance around the mouth and provide great length.
Having tasted our Blanc de Noirs a year before release, its generous red fruit character was extremely impressive even then, without the addition of a dosage. The third year’s bottle ageing and low dosage have given this wine an additional complexity, further showcasing its incredible purity of fruit.”
Mark Driver, Founder, Rathfinny Wine Estate
Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs Brut 2015
GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier PRICE: £37.00
The inaugural Blanc de Noirs is a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier. It underwent full malolactic fermentation and spent 36 months on lees before disgorging in February with 4g/l of dosage.
On pouring, I was taken with the appealing bronzed hue. The nose has an entrancing mixture of red apple, light red berry aromatics, with deeper toasted nut notes and that now-signature honeyed fruit character that has appeared in all of the Rathfinny sparkling wines.
To taste, the wine is brisk and youthful up front, with crisp and crunchy red apples and the tang of young raspberry and cranberry. The mid palate has a generous weight, with pleasing stone-fruit ripeness and supple mouthfeel. Very food friendly.
I had previously had the pleasure to encounter this wine pre-release during a visit to Rathfinny last year; it already tasted rather special then, however, the decision to wait another year was the right one.
Rathfinny Rosé Brut 2016
GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier PRICE: £35.00
The second vintage of Rathfinny Rosé Brut is a slightly more red berry dominated blend of 66% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier. It spent 24 months on lees and was disgorged with 4.5g/l, slightly higher than the 2.5g/l on the Rosé 2015.
With its pretty, blush colour in the glass, the Rosé entertains with its welcoming, feminine charms of raspberry, cherry blossom and light honeysuckle aromas.
To taste, again it's crisp and energetic upfront, much like the previous vintage was on release: tangy red currant, raspberry and wild strawberry flavours with an appealing presence on the palate.
Overall, the 2016 vintage feels like it picks up where 2015 left off. It feels a little more generous than the inaugural vintage did on release, which could be down to the increased dosage or perhaps a slightly riper vintage? That withstanding, this wine was a great demonstration of winemaker Jonathon's ability to deliver a consistent, elegant house style across three very different wines and now, across different vintages.