With Christmas less than a month away, soon to be followed by New Year, there will be lots of reasons to indulge in plentiful supplies of English sparkling. I’ll be taking a look at some of the best examples, both in the prestige categories and those that are more wallet-friendly, next month. This month, however, I’ve decided to focus on the ever-diversifying still English wine category. All of the wines from this month’s round-up are made from the fantastic 2018 vintage, and demonstrate just how exciting the non-sparkling stuff is right now!
This month’s highlights were so good that I have selected two equally superb Wines of the Month. First up is yet another smashing wine from Simpsons Wine Estate. Their highly anticipated Roman Road Chardonnay 2018 (£27.00 – Roberson Wine) is, in my opinion, one of the finest examples of still English wine made to date. It’s texturally sublime and packed full of concentration and crispness that sees it being likened to something in between a Chablis and a Montrachet. Fellow Wine Garden of England members, Hush Heath, have also knocked it out of the park this month with their 100% Pinot Meunier red, The Red Miller 2018 (£40.00 – Hush Heath). This wine’s pale complexion hides surprising depth, and is a real wine lover’s wine. Their This Septered Isle 2018 (£40.00 – Hush Heath), a seven white grape blend, was equally unique and worthy of attention.
Elsewhere, we’ve got an equally diverse array of still wines. Urban winery, Blackbook, grab your attention with their Little Wonder 2018 (£18.00 – Blackbook Winery), a red made from the practically unheard of Cabernet Noir variety, packed full of deep bramble fruit character. Winbirri’s Solaris 2018 (£14.50 – Winbirri) is the best example I’ve had of this also underrated grape, packing bags of fruit character and a vibrant, zesty freshness. And, finally, we have a duo of still whites from Sussex’s Beacon Down Vineyard: Pinot Gris 2018 (£15.95) and Bacchus 2018 (£14.95), both of which really impressed, particularly with their food pairing potential. I’ve also had a fascinating preview of their new Riesling 2018 which vineyard owner, Paul, describes as a Kabinett-style Riesling. I’ll have a full review of that next month but it’s one to watch out for, for sure.
Overall, I really feel this selection of 2018 wines demonstrates just how quickly the quality and variety of our homegrown still wine is expanding. Vive la 2018 vintage!
Wines of the Month
Hush Heath The Red Miller 2018
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Pinot Meunier
As well as the brilliantly unique This Septered Isle white blend, this month Hush Heath has also served up one of the most innovative and captivating English red wines of the year, The Red Miller, by veteran English winemaker Owen Elias. It’s made from Pinot Meunier which was fermented on skins for three days, and spent a short time in French and American oak.
I’ve never had a Pinot Meunier-made red wine before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was a lovely pale brick red hue and a richly aromatic nose. There are bright wild red berry aromas of raspberry and cherry, with delicate notes of toasted spice and black pepper, as well as a suggestion of darker winter berries.
The palate on this wine really captivated me, as its light body and complexion gave way to many hidden depths and complexities. There is a playful fusion of summer berries, paired with darker spiced winter berries and dark cherry. There’s a bright acidity but also a silky softness that compliments the fruit really well.
This wine’s nuance comes in the form of a lightly grippy cured meat complexity that could only come from the Meunier grape. And the lengthy peppery spice and almost gravelly, mineral finish is an absolute delight.
- Buy from Hush Heath Estate £40.00
Simpsons Estate Roman Road Chardonnay 2018
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Chardonnay
This is the third vintage of Simpsons’ Roman Road Chardonnay, and while the first two had suggestions of brilliance, this 2018 vintage feels like the full realisation of the dream that this young vineyard could, in fact, produce world-class Chardonnay.
The nose shows the first signs of beauty; there’s crisp citrus, white peach and crunchy green apples. It’s immaculate and Chablis-esque with lovely hints of minerality, suggestions of toasted oak, tangerine peel and spice.
To taste, it’s the punchy, tangy orchard fruits upfront that grab your attention and makes your mouth water. But then, softer apricot stone fruit flavours and hints of tropical fruit envelope the crispness.
Throughout, there’s this tingly, bright mineral seasoning that you can’t help but admire, and a delicious spiced nut and white chocolate undertone that makes it excessively moreish.
- Buy from Roberson Wine £27.00
2018 Vintage English Still Spotlight
Hush Heath This Septered Isle 2018
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Arbanne & Pinot Meunier
This is definitely one of the most unusual concepts for an English white blend. It is, in fact, a blend of all seven grape varieties that are permissible for use in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier will be familiar to most, along with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. However, Arbanne and Petit Meslier will be much less well-known.
The nose is subtle, yet striking. There’s a flurry of fresh citrus aromas, combined with light stone fruits and floral hues of honeysuckle, and a nostalgic note of ice cream soda.
To taste, there’s a bright, immediate bite that grabs your attention. It’s bold and commanding but then evolves to layers of luxurious patisserie cream and soft vanilla custard.
In fact, the mid-taste is really quite a wonderful surprise; there’s a weight and creaminess to the wine that I really didn’t expect. The structure is fantastic, too, with the finish returning to a pungent, dancing citrus fiesta.
Overall, it does feel like this is perhaps 6-12 months on the young side but there are great foundations here, and I’m not surprised that Hush Heath suggest it has the ageing potential of five to seven years.
- Buy from Hush Heath Estate £40.00
Winbirri Solaris 2018
REGION: Norfolk GRAPES: Solaris
While Winbirri is most well-known for its multi-award-winning Bacchus, and increasingly more so for their impressively rich red wines, it is their Solaris that is my particular favourite wine from the Norfolk producer.
I’ve never had a Solaris quite as sumptuous and open as this! The ripe 2018 fruit generously leaps out of the glass with aromas of peach and mango, with zesty lime, gooseberry and floral hues.
The taste is similarly charismatic with a tropical fruit fusion of papaya, grilled pineapple, mango and fleshy peach flavours, with hints of ginger and lychee.
Overall, a brilliantly structured wine that combines fruit opulence and zingy acidity – we really should be taking more notice of Solaris as a single varietal white grape variety.
- Coming Soon from Winbirri (2017 Currently Available)
Blackbook Little Wonder 2018
REGION: London GRAPES: Cabernet Noir
I tasted this last year with winemaker, Sergio, at the Blackbook winery post-harvest, and it was already showing a lot of potential (and depth). Now released, this unusual English red is made from the much lesser known Cabernet Noir.
Its deep colour is echoed by aromas of dark bramble fruits, cherry and damson with hints of tobacco and green pepper.
To taste, initially it feels quite young with bright acidity but there’s a really welcoming warmth to this wine overall. There are bramble fruits, tobacco, ripe cherry and damson floral hues – hard to tell this was an English red with all this going on.
Building on the bramble fruits and winter berries, there’s also a pleasing sour cherry and chewy, leathery texture. Overall, while it’s still a little on the fresh side right now, it is going to be interesting to see how it develops given a bit more time.
- Buy from Blackbook Winery £18.00
Beacon Down Bacchus 2018
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Bacchus
A mutual friend introduced myself and Paul Pippard, co-owner of Beacon Down Vineyard, to each other this month, and so I had my first chance to sample their 2018 still wines. Paul and his partner, Al, planted their vines in 2015 in East Sussex, and the first harvest followed two years later in 2015. Their first wines, produced in 2017, picked up a Silver (Pinot Gris) and Bronze (Bacchus) at this year’s IEWA, so I was very keen to taste the follow-up vintage.
The Beacon Down Bacchus opens with a textbook nose of aromatic floral notes of elderflower with signature lime zest and the opulent tropical fruit hues which the brilliant 2018 vintage blessed us with.
To taste, there’s a lovely zingy fusion of lime zest, tangy grapefruit and vibrant papaya flavours.
This is very well made, with dancing acidity and a lovely finish that lingers. This wine’s energy and punch make it very food-friendly, particularly with moderately spiced Asian food.
Beacon Down Pinot Gris 2018
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Pinot Gris
Paul and Al have worked with Stopham Estate to create their still wines, and after the massive success of winemaker Simon Woodhead’s own Pinot Gris, it’s no surprise that this is yet another gem.
The nose carries a balance of freshness and opulence; there are crisp orchard fruit aromas and citrus, paired with peach and honeysuckle notes that draw you in.
The taste profile offers a similarly impressive balance of fragrant floral notes, punchy citrus flavours and fleshy white peach richness. In fact, it’s the richness that is the standout quality of this wine; there’s a sumptuous weight to the fruit and a light viscosity that gives it such a pleasing presence on the palate.
Overall, this is a delicious English white wine, and another example of why Pinot Gris is really starting to gain the attention of both growers and producers alike.
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