Balfour’s Winemakers’ Collection range – now in its third iteration – has been quietly maturing and deepening in quality and complexity over the years. Father and son winemaking team, Fergus and Owen Elias, have served up what Fergus described to me as Balfour’s best stills to date, saying that the range “allows us to go off-piste and try something totally new”. The overall theme of this year’s trio of wines demonstrates how the skilful use of oak can create English still wines with texture, weight and finesse.
As scarce limited releases, the price tags for these wines (£60 for the red wine and £40 a piece for the rosé and white) put these up there with the most expensive English wines to date. But these are truly textural, engaging wines and each comes with its own story and unique artwork.
Part of the theme of the Winemakers’ Collection wines is to embrace owners Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn ‘s love of art, and this year British artist, Henry Hudson, was commissioned to create the artwork for the labels. The digitally created illustrations depict the Hush Heath Manor gatehouse with its distinctive wood and timber frames.
Balfour Mary Rose Pinot Noir 2020
Grapes: Pinot Noir
I don’t think I’ve ever had a rosé quite like this; it’s as multi-faceted in character as it is in concept. This is Owen Elias’s contribution to the collection, and he’s thrown everything at it, including Rioja yeast as well as American and French oak.
One might expect something big and shouty, but no, this is a gentle giant. Its beauty will reward those with patience – let it get some air, and warm in the glass a little, and it blooms into something quite marvellous.
Copper or rose gold in hue, the nose of this wine is also intriguing, with aromas of balsamic-seasoned strawberries, red rose petals, and perhaps a crack of black pepper and light spice.
The palate has temperament. Serve it too cold straight from the fridge, and it’s a little lean and mean. But as it evolves, the palate somehow flits between white wine character (citrus, slightly viscous and mouth-coating, peach and cranberry) and red wine (balsamic, tannic hints, mulberry and strawberry) tendencies. There are also savoury spiced oak notes on the finish that are appealingly subtle.
It’s not an immediate wine, and over-chilling will almost certainly mute its appeal. However, those looking for a nuanced, intricate, textural rosé should certainly give this a try. There’s nothing quite like it out there.
Balfour Gatehouse Pinot Noir 2020
Grapes: Pinot Noir
The estate’s most expensive still wine yet, is this new Pinot Noir good enough to justify its £60 price point?
In a word – yes. Few English Pinots come close to this level of depth and intensity. I can think of one other, from a much talked about winery in Essex. Owen and Fergus Elias took three Burgundy clones of Pinot (828, 459 and 777) and aged for 16 months in a combination of French and American oak.
The resulting wine is a smoky and involving fusion of red cherry and ripe strawberry, with darker mulberry, black cherry and winter spice aromas – perhaps even a hint of incense.
The palate, despite its relative youth for a Pinot Noir (who would drink Burgundy at this age?), delivers even more than the ethereal nose. The Gatehouse has a wonderfully savoury, meaty depth to complement the rich black cherry body. The fruit is soft and supple, and so are the tannins that ensure a prolonged impression is left.
Outstanding – this is up there with the very best red wines I’ve tasted from England.
Balfour Cinque Ports 2019
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier & Arbanne
Completing the trio of Winemakers’ Collection wines, Cinque Ports is Fergus’s unique blend of the five white grapes permitted in Champagne. It’s largely Chardonnay (90%), complemented by Pinots Blanc and Gris, and the lesser-known Arbanne and Petit Meslier.
The fruit was sourced from two vineyards on the Hush Heath estate with ‘a dash’ of Kentish Pinot Gris, and was aged for nine months in Fontainbleau oak barrels. The nose is a curious fusion of grapefruit peel and white peach, as well as a definite floral touch.
The palate is deliciously textured, beginning with racy citrus and green fruit, which softens and leads to ripe orchard fruit and peachy warmth. There’s a nutty oaky streak, a hint of mint or herb, and the promised floral hints and orange blossom.
Overall in England, 2019 wasn’t a great vintage for still wine, but Cinque Ports is one of the most grown-up and accomplished examples I’ve had. Like the rosé, this might appear a little tight on opening, but with a little air, and not served too chilled, this wine shines.
In part two of the April round-up, John tastes through seven diverse sparkling rosé wines.
John tastes through seven vintages of Balfour Brut Rosé, including the newly released 2008 Archive Collection.
John tastes through four delicious sparkling wines and two textural 2021 still wines in his October round-up.
A look at the top new English red wines, as well as a retrospective look at a duo of favourite English Pinot Noir.
John has turned his attention to English Chardonnay in both still and sparkling form for this month's round-up.
Stephen tours seven Kentish winemakers in a day and looks at the region's approach to wine tourism.