Great British Wine Chardonnay Spotlight Tasting

Introduction

Chardonnay, the most grown grape in England with around 23% (source: English Wine Producers) of vines planted in UK being of the famous white grape. Most of the planting is down to Chardonnay being a key component of English sparkling wine, and one of the ‘big three’ Champagne varietals used in traditional method sparkling blends and also in single varietal Blanc de Blancs. With a growing number of producers looking at producing still single varietal Chardonnay, we turn to the iconic and sometimes divisive grape for another diverse lineup in our Spotlight Tasting series.

Chardonnay is a grape varietal that has a colourful history which has led to a mixed reputation. From the indulgence and richness of Burgundian white wine – home to some of the very best examples of Chardonnay in the world, to the boom of over-oaked Australian wine in the 80’s & 90’s. The grape thrives in both warm and cool climate regions, and is grown all around the word in pretty much every commercial grape growing region. This spread and diversity leads to countless different expressions, from the steely and almost austere Chablis, to the silky buttery Californian Chardonnays. So, what of English Chardonnay? Current adopters, many of whom are included in our Spotlight Tasting below, have taken rather different approaches. From the rich and complex Kit’s Coty from Chapel Down and Gusbourne’s Guinevere, to the striking freshness of the examples we tasted from Hush Heath and Lyme Bay.

Our Chardonnay tasting was another fascinating journey of discovery as we carefully covered the bottles and tasted blind. Would existing GBW favourites come out top? Would there be a few surprises – of course! We also hid a couple of international ‘ringers’ in the lineup; a rather delicious St Veran from Domaine Cordier and a Stellenbosch Sterhuis Chardonnay from Johan Kruger – both wines are from the 2014 vintage.

Our full tasting notes for all eight wines, including our top three choices can be found below.

OUR TOP THREE HIGHEST RATED WINES

Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2014

REGION: Kent   RRP: £30

About the Winemaker: Chapel Down is the largest producer in England in terms of volume. Winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire produces two still Chardonnays as well as a range of Chardonnay-based sparkling wines.

A superb and inviting nose of green apple, toast, spice with hints of melon, citrus and mineral.

Striking palate with brilliant crunchy green apple and citrus leading to fuller creamy apricot and baked apple notes. Kit's Coty 2014 has exceptional poise and structure, it has a quality that is best described as something between the freshness of a Chablis and the depth and texture of an oaky white Burgundy.

This wine absolutely excites us – an English calling card demonstrating just what is possible with home-grown Chardonnay!

Where to Buy: Chapel Down

Hush Heath Skye’s English Chardonnay 2015

REGION: Kent   RRP: £16.00

About the Winemaker: Famed for their Vintage Sparkling wines, winemakers Owen Elias & Victoria Ash have turned a few heads with their precise and expressive still wines.

Hush Heath’s striking Chardonnay is produced with lots of effort to preserve the natural qualities of the fruit. No oak contact, minimum malolactic fermentation and texture added through time on lees (3 months).

Nose is quite austere, green apple and lemon sherbet with hints of tropical fruit and minerality.

Brilliant laser-like acidity that really grabs you; it’s super striking and lively.

Mouth-watering in its precision and poise – leaving superb presence on the palate as a zingy mineral finish really clings and has wonderful hold.

Where to Buy: Amazon

Nutbourne Chardonnay 2013

REGION: Sussex   RRP: £12.50

About the Winemaker: Established in 1980, Nutbourne Vineyards has been owned and managed by the Gladwin family since the early 90's, producing a vast range of still and sparkling wines. Wines are made on-site at Nutbourne by Owen Elias.

The Nutbourne Chardonnay opens up with quite an interesting nose; green apple, white peach, mineral and slightly savoury notes.

Punchy – lively dancing acidity that zings around the palate with crisp green apple & lemon.

Big on coxes apple flavours – finish tails off a little bit but the acidity remains potent and commanding.

Where to Buy: Nutbourne VineyardsThe English Wine Centre

THE OTHER 5 WINES (IN TASTING ORDER)

New Hall Limited Edition Chardonnay 2014

REGION: Essex   RRP: £9.50

About the Winemaker: With the first vines planted at New Hall in 1969, the Greenwood family now has five decades of experience in English wine and are particularly well known for their still white wines.

An open and fruity nose; aromas of tinned apricots with sweeter hints – very pleasant and appealing.

This wine is fruit forward with a small burst of acidity that falls away relatively quickly.

The New Hall is a colourful and fruity expression, though it feels like it’s slightly lacking driving force. We noted that it had lower alcohol at 10.5%, which might explain why it was less intense than the others. However, the wine should also be commended for being the most competitively priced in the lineup at under £10.

Where to Buy: New Hall

Gusbourne Guinevere Twenty Fourteen

REGION: Kent   RRP: £22

About the Winemaker: Producer of world class sparkling wines, but also two of England’s most complex still wine offerings. Under the winemaking helm of Charlie Holland, Gusbourne continues to go from strength to strength.

Great complexity on the nose, with lots of hazelnut, lovely toasty notes and hints of dried herb.

Palate is quite austere up front. The fruit has taken a back seat, and the wine feels quite tighter with light green apple and lime with laser sharp acidity.

Good complexity and hold on the palate with an underlying bitter nut character. On the night of the tasting the Guinevere felt a little tight, though it should open up with more time in the bottle.

Twenty-four hours after opening, the wine had certainly opened up and settled a little.

Where to Buy: Pre-Release Sample

Lyme Bay Chardonnay 2015

REGION: Devon   RRP: £17

About the Winemaker: A pioneer in fruit wines, Lyme Bay in Axminster, Devon entered the English Wine arena several years ago, at the healm of winemaker Liam Idzikowski.

Quite a different nose on this wine, a fusion of apple and spice, subtle minerality and a slight floral note which comes from a declared inclusion of Bacchus (14%) in the blend.

Vibrant crunchy green apple with a distinctive citrus character that leads to a creamy texture with slight hints of oak spice. Brilliant poise, exceptional structure and strong finish with zesty mineral qualities and floral hints.

If this was marketed as a white blend, I would rate it very highly. However we felt it's not quite a true Chardonnay as the Bacchus has left quite an imprint on the flavour profile. That doesn't stop this from being a hugely enjoyable wine!

Where to Buy: Lyme Bay Winery

Chapel Down Chardonnay 2013

REGION: Kent   RRP: £14.99

About the Winemaker: Chapel Down is the largest producer in England in terms of volume. Winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire produce two still Chardonnays as well as a range of Chardonnay-based sparkling wines.

The second of two wines from Chapel Down in the lineup, this is their entry-level Chardonnay and is made without oak contact.

A ripe apple and stone fruit driven nose – juicy and plush with hints of tropical and peachy notes suggesting a ripe harvest in 2013.

Quite full on the palate again with ripe fruit-focussed flavours. Good acidity keeps the wine fresh, with overall good balance and integration. A very easy drinking Chardonnay, though lacking the depth of our favourites from the lineup.

Where to Buy: Chapel Down

Simpsons The Roman Road Chardonnay 2016

REGION: Kent   RRP: £22

About the Winemaker: As established producers in the Languedoc, Charles & Ruth Simpson set their sights on Kent and planted their first vines in Barham in 2014. 

This is a very limited release of bottles from the Simpson's very first harvest.  Aromas of red apples with hints of stone fruit and the merest suggestion of oak.

A classic clean English Chardonnay expression, with that red apple character again shining through on the palate. Very youthful with a certain tightness evident that will improve with more time in the bottle, and it is worth bearing in mind that this was the youngest wine we tasted.

Whilst the wine is slightly lacking in complexity, the tightly wound acidity and poise makes this another exciting and fresh Chardonnay. An excellent first effort from Charles & Ruth’s new English wine venture - one to watch for sure!

Where to Buy: Not Available to Purchase

THE FINAL VERDICT

Of the five Spotlight Tastings we have conducted to date, this was the most consistent set of wines we have tasted. There was not a bad wine in the lineup, and there were some examples that reached new heights for still English wine. Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty is the real deal. For me it is the  of the first examples of still English wines made from internationally recognised grape varieties that truly jumps out and makes a name for itself. That a still wine from our fine country compared favourably to examples from the same vintage from Burgundy and Stellenbosch (and in my opinion blossomed), was a eureka moment. It is also worth noting that year on year the quality of the Kit's Coty has progressively improved, especially from '12 to '13 to '14. With other producer’s hot on Chapel Down’s heels, the next few years for English Chardonnay are going to be well worth waiting for!

Stay tuned in a month or so for our next single variety English wine spotlight on Pinot Gris. Please get in touch and let us know if you'd like to see us dive into a different variety.

John Mobbs
Founder of GreatBritishWine.com, John has been a prolific user on wine rating app Vivino for the last couple of years. Now a self appointed Great British Wine ambassador and with a mission to explore all corners of the UK to uncover the best producers and most exciting wines.

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