Black Chalk Paragon & Inversion Launch Tasting

Ahead of the launch of brand new technical premium tier wines, ‘Paragon’ and ‘Inversion’, I caught up with Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver of Black Chalk to understand what makes these wines so unique.

See below the interview for my tasting notes. The Black Chalk Paragon and Inversion 2020 will both go live for sale on the Black Chalk website on 10th May, with pre-orders opening on the 7th May.

The last time I visited Black Chalk in 2020, the winery was just a shell. Now you have a fully functioning state-of-the-art winery (which these two wines were some of the first to be made in). What else has changed in the last four years?

“It feels like such a long time ago now – the days of no winery, Covid, Lockdown and just Zoë and I trying to keep the vineyards going! It feels like a lot has happened but not much has changed in terms of what we want Black Chalk to be. The biggest change is that we are a growing team. Zoë has been promoted to Winemaker alongside me; we have Becky Herbert as Marketing Manager, and James Matyear and Jim Bache as our incredible vineyard team. Nick Baker heads up our tasting room team and Justin Bache is keeping us on track as Finance Director. We will also be taking on a new Assistant Winemaker (Andy Wiles) and a Sales Manager in May. It is all starting to feel like a grown-up business with some great people all pulling together to make it a success. 

In terms of winemaking, we have learnt a lot over the past four vintages and accepted the risk of frost versus the warm summer days that the location of our vineyards offer. In general, Zoë and I have just had an amazingly fun four years trying to make wines we feel are the best examples that Hampshire and England can make in any given vintage (not an easy job and one which requires an open mind). We have also added two still wines to the range: ‘Dancer In Pink’ (in 2020) and ‘Rumour Has It’ (in 2022).” Jacob Leadley

How did you set about the creation of a premium tier of Black Chalk wines? Was there something specifically you wanted to bring to the wines stylistically to contrast with the existing Black Chalk wines?

“We wanted to make small batch premium wines. We settled on Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blancs as we felt it was with these that we could make wines with another level of focus and detail. A lot of it came down to the blending table in 2020 – hours of looking at how the different clones worked together for Inversion and how the fruit and oak balanced for ‘Paragon’. As always, it is imagining how the wines will develop in bottle following secondary fermentation that becomes tricky. However, the purity of the fruit and acid profile of both wines made this a little easier to judge. 

All of our wines are made to be different to each other or perhaps designed to showcase another element of Hampshire or light touches of winemaking. ‘Inversion’ and ‘Paragon’ do this in bucketloads.” Jacob Leadley

Can you tell us a little more about the specific clonal selection of grapes used in the two wines?

“’Inversion’ is created specifically around the 777 Burgundian Pinot Noir Clone, making up 67% of the blend, supported by Noir clones 386, 521 and Meunier 817. It was blended to really showcase the power of the 777 clone, with minimal oak and no Malolactic Fermentation to mask it – it is a real expression of English Pinot, elegant, textured and absolutely full of bright red fruit. 

‘Paragon’ is crafted using a mixture of premium Burgundian clones (95, 121, 76 and 131), all grown in our Upper Levels vineyard, and picked specifically for this wine. In fact, for some of the fruit we picked certain areas of the rows of vines separately, to ensure only the best quality went into the final blend.” Zoë Driver

Zoë Driver & Jacob Leadley at a recent tasting
The Paragon & Inversion wines in the glass

How have you explored the use of oak, old and new, in the making of these two wines?

“Oak (from our 2300L cask)  is a major component of ‘Paragon’; we wanted to create a 100% Chardonnay wine that offered a different dimension to those that are long lees aged. The oak allowed us to manage the acidity and with careful blending we feel the balance between opulent oak and clean, fresh, ripe Chardonnay is where we wanted it to be. Inversion has almost no oak at all – a small amount of old oak added for complexity at the blending table – but I doubt anyone would know it was there.” Jacob Leadley 

What do the names Paragon and Inversion represent in these two wines?

“’Paragon’ is us having a bit of fun – we don’t really think it is the very best! But we are always trying to push ourselves to make a better wine. We also feel that Hampshire (The Test Valley in particular) is a sweet spot for Chardonnay (for sparkling wine) so this wine is showcasing that fruit.  ‘Inversion’ is a little simpler – taking black grapes and inverting them to become a white wine but with all the character of the Pinots left on full show.” Jacob Leadley 

Price points can be a touchy point in English Sparkling Wine, with most premium tier wines being priced at £100 and well beyond. At £65.00, the Inversion and Paragon remain accessibly priced. How important was that for Black Chalk?

“Yeah, important – there was lots of chat about this internally. We want to make accessible wines but £65 isn’t cheap and neither are our Classic (£40) and Wild Rose (£45). Are we making accessible wines? I am not sure. I think they are great value, as I know the level of effort and care that goes into making them from the whole team. We are always going to be a smaller producer so our prices need to reflect that but at the end of the day we want people to buy the wines and enjoy them. Hopefully, at these price points people can.” Jacob Leadley

What do you think about the ageing potential for the two wines?

“Great – I would give both wines 5-10 years in bottle. They will age in this time but I think both will evolve and grow in their own ways. They are very different wines (this was a conscious decision by Jacob and me) but both had zero Malolactic Fermentation and have low pHs with good acidity (like all Black Chalk Wines) which should provide great longevity.” Zoë Driver

Over the last couple of years, you have been working hard to establish a market for Black Chalk, and English Sparkling Wine, in Japan. What can you tell us about the journey you have been on there?

“We have really enjoyed this journey. Japan is a fascinating country and well known for its meticulous attention to detail and dedication to craftsmanship. English Wine is a great fit in a country that values quality and reputation. We have found that Black Chalk with its fruit forward, precise style works perfectly with a range of Japanese cuisine, and these pairings have been the cornerstone of our approach to the market. The wines (including ‘Paragon’ and ‘Inversion’, in a couple of weeks) can be found at many Michelin star restaurants across Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. We have worked closely with the British Embassy to highlight the English Wine Industry and hope to grow the market in the coming years.” Jacob Leadley

Black Chalk Paragon 2020

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Made from Burgundy clone Chardonnay, this is Black Chalk’s first Blanc de Blancs, and boy does it make an impression. The wine was made without fining or Malolactic Fermentation, and 46% was fermented in a new Tonnellerie Rousseau oak cask. The wine spent 26 months on the lees and was disgorged in July 2023.

This wine is quite extraordinary, its nose complex and lifted, with struck match and nuttiness that gives off fine Burgundy vibes to me. The fruit is bright and fresh, with green apple, lemon and floral notes, underpinned by a pronounced, but not overwhelming oak spice. I also get a hint of tangerine or orange zest, which I usually only find in the very ripest still English Chardonnay.

The palate is gorgeous and precise, but gushing with ripeness and exuberance. With green and red apple flavours, this is super ripe and supported by pear and light stone fruit flavours. The mousse is supple and soft, whilst the fruit continues to weave between tingling mineral and salinity and superbly integrated nutty oaky textures.

This has all the precision you would expect from a non-Malo expression but without the occasional greenness of the resulting acidity. It’s remarkably sleek and slender but still has that signature Hampshire raciness, and the influence of impeccably fragrant and nuanced oak.

Black Chalk Inversion 2020

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Based predominantly around the powerful Burgundian 777 Pinot Noir Clone, like the ‘Paragon’ this wine was made with no fining or Malolactic Fermentation, and with a minimal intervention approach. A tiny proportion of oak (3%) was used for complexity, and the wine also spent 26 months on lees before being disgorged in July 2023.

What a contrast to the ‘Paragon’! The red fruit on this wine is immediately noticeable with its nose of cranberry, and cherry as well as fragrant red apple and stone fruit richness. This feels even more fruit-forward than the ‘Paragon’, and it embraces and amplifies the qualities I have come to expect from a Hampshire Blanc de Noirs.

On the palate the fruit is even more expressive, but in a clean and fragrant way, rather than being a huge fruit bomb. It’s all English red berries, with cherry, raspberry and tangy cranberry and redcurrant notes. There are some floral hints in there too, as well as a more rounded red apple character, and just a hint of autolytic pastry – perhaps more strawberry shortbread than biscuit.

This is another hugely successful wine, and whilst perhaps not as ‘stand-out’ as the frankly remarkable ‘Paragon’, I think this will develop considerably with a few more years in bottle.

Posted in Articles, Wine Launch.

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