Spotlight Tasting: Retailer Own Label English Sparkling Wine

It was the first time that all three members of the GBW team were in attendance for a panel tasting. And the occasion was worthy of it. We assembled a line-up of 10 bottles; exclusive offerings available from our supermarkets and some of the biggest wine retailers in the UK. They are traditional method sparklers, all priced at £26 or under.

They are big volume wines due to their distribution channels, so as you may expect they are made by sizable producers. Denbies, Hush Heath and Ridgeview combine to make up 60% of the line-up, with big names Gusbourne and Chapel Down also represented. Interestingly, it's only Waitrose who have so far produced their own wine, from Leckford Estate; a farm they own - though the winemaking duties are handled by Ridgeview.

Arguably these represent the most accessible English Sparklers on the market. It's so important that these wines are a good advertisement for English Sparkling, because for many consumers this will be their introduction into what English Sparkling is all about. And I'm delighted to say they were were all dependable and recommendable. I had a fear some may be very simple and uninspiring, but there was a potency and sense of character to be discussed in every wine. I would say don't hesitate to grab one when you see it next.

We were careful to ensure strict blind conditions. All neck foil removed, corks popped, then bagged and shuffled excessively. The three of us each scored independently, marking against for appearance, nose, palate, depth/complexity and finish respectively. The wines were not revealed and the scores were not shared until the finish.

It's fair to say there was a sizable divide between the majority of the pack that scored well for entry-level wines, and our stand-out top three which did an excellent job of expressing themselves as premium offerings.

Please read on for tasting notes of our top three and all the other wines too.

OUR TOP THREE HIGHEST RATED WINES

Old Winchester Hill Blanc de Blancs NV

REGION: Hampshire   WINEMAKER: Ian Kellet, Old Winchester Hill
GRAPES: Chardonnay

This was an immediate stand out that out-muscled competition with it's grand style. Screamed maturity and complexity which must come from bottle age. It's toasty and yeasty with baked apple and other mature notes.

Superb balance with citrus and lively acidity running through it. It's dominant and macho. My preferred style of fizz. So much wine for the money.

Where to Buy: Naked Wines

 

TTD English Sparkling Brut 2011

REGION: Surrey   WINEMAKER: Denbies
GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier

A tiny hint of peachy hue perhaps suggesting high Pinot presence. Clean, fruity, nutty nose that invites. The attack is fast and keen to impress. It's super ripe, but not at all sweet. Strong citrus backbone but playful with cranberry and redcurrant, then pink wafer biscuit note adding some depth.

Hallmark English high acidity aids the wines persistency and emphasises the finish. A cheery wine that we highly recommend. Our supermarket champion!

Where to Buy: Sainsbury's

Chapel Down English Sparlking Reserve

REGION: Kent   WINEMAKER: Chapel Down
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc & Pinot Meunier

This immediately impressed with its authenticity and classic style. We agreed it showed like a wine made with craft and skill for a discerning palate. Good ripeness, weight and bite on the palate.

Pleasing rich, bready depth and serious brut finish. A sense of balance and poise at all times. Difficult to fault this in any way. A cracking wine for the money. 

Where to Buy: Marks & Spencer

 

THE OTHER 7 WINES (IN TASTING ORDER)

Chalk Valley Brut NV

REGION: Surrey   WINEMAKER: Denbies
GRAPES: Unknown White Blend

A lively start to our tasting. It's zingy with citrus and juicy green fruit. Nice vibrancy and length.

There was not much richness or depth. This was a bit like the first dance of the series on Strictly... entertaining and energetic, but on balance, better examples followed. 

Where to Buy: In Store Only

Finest English Sparkling NV

REGION: Kent   WINEMAKER: Hush Heath
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier

Flexing a vivacious appearance and lively nose. The nose and palate both bring orchard fruit and a hint of floral.

We all picked up on a distinct confected pineapple cube note. Suspected higher dosage here. It showed in the weight of the wine mid palate, then slowed the acidity and stunted the finish.

A playful wine that will please, but I'd struggle to say this speaks of what English Sparkling is achieving.

Where to Buy: Tesco

Balfour 1503 Foxwood NV

REGION: Kent   WINEMAKER: Hush Heath
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier

A definite and seemingly deliberate diversion from the norm. It's very bright with floral qualities and a prevailing sweetness. Doesn't present itself as a traditional method sparkler.

A linear wine which is cheery and highly drinkable. We observed many of these wines had a slant towards commercial appeal, but especially so with this example.

Where to Buy: In Store Only

Leckford Estate Brut 2012

REGION: Hampshire   WINEMAKER: Ridgeview
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier

The palate was full of crunchy orchard fruit supported by a subtle nutty depth.

Good structure and lift to the wine as well as a textured mouthfeel. It's clearly very well made, but it fell a bit short on intensity and complexity leaving a slightly lacklustre impression. Perhaps reflective of the challenging 2012 vintage?

Where to Buy: Waitrose Cellar

Marksman Blanc de Blancs 2011

REGION: Sussex   WINEMAKER: Ridgeview
GRAPES: Chardonnay

Suspected faulty on the nose which was confirmed by the strange wet cardboard palate.

Such a shame as we couldn't wait to try this Blanc de Blancs.

Where to Buy: Marks & Spencer

BBR English Sparkling Wine by Gusbourne 2013

REGION: Kent   WINEMAKER: Gusbourne
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier

You're not always guaranteed to end a blind tasting on a high, but this did not disappoint.

Undeniably expressive and complex showing a classic brut style. I found lemon curd, apple pie filling, sweet pastry crust and an intriguing background herbal note.

Nice texture and structure. Everything about this felt premium and the score marginally saw it miss out on the top three spots.

Where to Buy: Berry Bros. & Rudd

Robbie Priddle
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Robbie Priddle

Guest Writer at GreatBritishWine.com
Robbie is an unquenchable wine sipper with an appreciation for almost any and all wines, but a particular passion for Sparkling (English, no doubt), Loire Chenin and anything containing his beloved Roussanne. As a proud Welshman, who writes for a hobby, Robbie provides regular content for a few publications, but focuses on home-grown wines for us here at GBW.

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Posted in Spotlight Tasting.
Robbie Priddle

Robbie Priddle

Robbie is an unquenchable wine sipper with an appreciation for almost any and all wines, but a particular passion for Sparkling (English, no doubt), Loire Chenin and anything containing his beloved Roussanne. As a proud Welshman, who writes for a hobby, Robbie provides regular content for a few publications, but focuses on home-grown wines for us here at GBW.

Robbie on Vivino