I’ve periodically utilised St. George’s Day as a chance to highlight the diversity of English wine. Once a national holiday, St George’s Day is now a chance to remember the patron saint of England, famed for slaying a dragon and saving a princess before being executed for his Christian faith on April 23, 303.
While dragons are no longer slain or holidays taken, there is still much flag-waving in recognition of this historically significant day. This year, I’ve decided to keep things on a red and white theme, or more specifically our flagship grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These grapes are hugely versatile, and have been producing many of our very best wines in England. So, whether you have a taste for Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blancs sparkling, or still Chardonnay and both red and white Pinot Noir, I’ve got things covered here.
Sensational Pinot Noir
Lyme Bay Blanc de Noirs 2016
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Blanc de Noirs is one of the most exciting categories in English wine right now. As the black (or red) grape counterpart to Blanc de Blancs, these wines make Pinot Noir (or Meunier, of which a small parcel of fruit is included in this blend) the hero, bringing red fruit suggestions to the party. Devon’s Lyme Bay Winery have delivered a classic example here, offering a muscular style of English sparkling, packed full of texture and interest.
As soon as you pour this wine, you know that it’s going to be special. Its beautifully bronzed complexion is a clear touchback to the Pinot Noir, matched by an evocative nose of red cherry and raspberry, baked apricot pastries and subtle spice aromas.
The taste doesn’t disappoint, fronted by fresh, tangy flavours of citrus fruit and cranberry, before waves of soft, ripe red berries, stone fruit and gorgeous textures of honeyed pastry and toasted nut. This is a textbook example of the richness Blanc de Noirs can deliver, and very well priced too at £28.99.
Charles Palmer Pinot Noir 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Charles Palmer is one of those producers who is always there, working behind the scenes, making delicious, nuanced, vibrant English wines that seem to fly under the radar. This is their first still wine, and what a bold start it is! 100% Burgundy clone Pinot Noir, no oak, one incredible vintage and the result is a real ruby gem.
First off, in addition to the pretty garnet/ruby red hues, this wine’s nose is incredibly pretty. It’s as pure a sense of precise summer red berry fragrance as one can find. Wild raspberry, cherry, fresh strawberries are all there, with a hint of springtime blossom and a suggestion of black pepper.
This Charles Palmer Pinot Noir 2018 is packed full of concentrated red fruit flavours. It has all those delightful wonders the cherry and raspberry packed nose promise, seasoned with darker black fruit notes. The palate is light but generous: not thin, but soft and plush, almost generous, while exceedingly delicate. What a treat this is! Be sure to grab some before it all disappears!
Albourne Estate White Pinot Noir 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This wine, several vintages back, was one of the first ‘Blanc de Noirs’ style wines I tasted, either still or sparkling. It remains my favourite wine from winemaker and business owner, Alison Nightingale, who also makes a particularly fabulous and delicious range of sparkling wines.
The White Pinot Noir 2018 is the truest still Blanc de Noirs I’ve seen from Albourne in a visual sense; it’s very much a white wine with only the merest hint of colour, while previous vintages had a more distinctive pink hue. The colour manifests itself on the nose though, with red cherry, cranberry, peach skin and pink grapefruit aromas, with a hint of grass and minerality.
The palate grips you initially with its bright acidity and tangy, young red fruit flavours. But the mid-taste is surprisingly full, with more abundant cherry flavours, lightly creamy textures and a slightly grippy hold. Both youthful and bright, but also structured and textured, this is a very versatile English white.
Tickerage Blanc de Blancs 2011
Tickerage is one of those producers that I’ve been aware of, but their wines have always eluded me. That was until co-owner Zena Budd got in touch with me during the build-up to #theBIGenglishwinegoodfriday. After a few lengthy chats, I was tasting their wine and was immediately impressed. Coming from the tiny five-acre Blackboys vineyard, this Tickerage Blanc de Blancs, with some eight years of lees ageing, it is a real hidden gem.
This wine pours with a wonderful golden hue that reminds you that it’s spent a significant time ageing. The nose is similarly bold, with eccentric aromas of baked apple and stone fruit – think tarte tatin, with honeyed fruit and crisp, crumbly pastry.
Despite its maturity, the Tickerage is showing no signs of tiredness on the palate. The bubbles are lively and vivacious, and the brisk acidity and citrus notes upfront provide a perfect balance to a relatively generous dosage. It’s all about those ripe, juicy apricot and baked apple flavours on the mid-taste, complemented by biscuit and spiced pastry notes on the lengthy, accomplished finish.
Simpsons Gravel Castle Chardonnay 2019
Charles and Ruth Simpson initially said they wouldn’t make still wine but, after a few limited edition early releases, the exciting Simpsons Estate stunned the English wine world with their collection of delicious 2018 still wines.
This Gravel Castle 2019 has big boots to fill, and the first impressions from its bright, fragrant nose suggest it might just fill them. There are aromas of green apple, pear and white peach, those familiar, fragrant orchard fruit aromas that made the 2018 so appealing. There are hints of floral notes, as well as fleshy tropics urging you to get on and taste.
On the palate, there’s a bright volley of citrus and tangy green fruit upfront; it’s got that classic Kentish precision and immediacy we have come to expect from this estate. This vintage shows more minerality than I remember from the previous vintage, surrounding the precise, young fruit with an air of complexity and structure that works so well.