With the English wine harvest almost wrapped up for another year, talk about 2019 has been largely positive despite the changeable weather over the course of the month. This week, Chapel Down’s CEO, Frazer Thompson, confirmed that 2019 had been exceptional, and their second-highest ever vintage with equivalent to 92% of last year's record harvest (source: Drinks Business).
This month at Great British Wine, we’ve been exploring the recent trend of zero dosage English sparkling wines. Most English sparkling wines are released with a dosage that typically ranges from 5g/l to 12g/l, but a few brave producers have this month released special edition wines in their unsweetened, natural form. There are two big-name releases here, the first of which is Hambledon’s long-awaited Première Cuvée Rosé (£69.50). This is a masterful, deeply coloured rosé that is sure to captivate drinkers this Christmas. Hush Heath has also just released their Winemakers Collection Blanc de Blancs 2012/2013 (£80.00) which impresses with its elegance and purity. And, finally, we have Dermot Sugrue’s Cuvée #Zodo which was released as a small run limited edition as part of a special mixed case (see below for details).
So does zero dosage work in English Sparkling Wine, a category that is already defined by its energy and charismatic acidity? In my opinion, it’s definitely a style that is more for the discerning drinker. These wines are bone dry and racy with a certain astringency and purity on the palate that won’t please everyone. In the context of the three wines tasted, the Hambledon felt the most complete, and ultimately one of the most distinguished English sparkling wines I’ve had the pleasure of sampling this year.
Elsewhere this month, I have included a duo of solid own-label releases from Morrisons, as well as a lovely light English Pinot Noir from boutique producers, Hoffmann & Rathbone.
Wine of the Month
Hambledon Première Cuvée Rosé
REGION: Hampshire GRAPES: Pinot Meunier
It’s here at last! This wine has felt almost mythical with suggestions of winemaking genius from industry professionals and the occasional glimpse of a bottle on social media appearing over the last couple of years. And, now it’s here, it really doesn’t disappoint.
Hambledon’s new Première Cuvée Rosé NV is a first of its kind in the English Sparkling Wine category. It’s made exclusively from the Pinot Meunier grape, often a component of traditional method sparkling wines, but rarely left to sing solo. Not only that, like all of the sparkling wines featured this month, it’s zero dosage.
This first release is predominantly made of juice from the 2015 harvest with additional barrel-aged reserve wine added to the blend. It spent 35 months on lees before release, and further disgorgements will be made with more lees ageing in due course.
The first thing that you notice about this wine is the striking colour, and its aromas are similarly charismatic. There are wild winter berries, pomegranate with savoury intensity and an almost Burgundian nuance of forest floor and toasted oak. Served blind, you could almost be fooled that you were sniffing a Pinot from Burgundy.
But then the taste: a burst of tangy cranberry and raspberry upfront commands your attention. It then eases to softer, plump ripe cherry and strawberry flavours. There’s a certain savoury edge to the mid-taste, and a suggestion of smoke and roasted nuts that’s oh-so wintery and welcoming.
There’s nuance at every turn, and enough texture and malolactic roundness to make this a triumph, and, in my opinion, the most balanced and welcoming of the three zero dosage wines.
- Buy from Hambledon Vineyard £69.50
More Zero Dosage Releases
Hush Heath Victoria Ash Blanc de Blancs
REGION: Kent GRAPES: Chardonnay
Part of Hush Heath’s brand new Winemakers Collection, this Blanc de Blancs is a blend of juice from the 2012 and 2013 vintages that spent twelve months in oak, and then five years on the lees.
The nose on this wine is charming. Baked apples and energetic citrus peel partner exquisite toasted nut and hints of coconut shell complexity.
To taste, it’s unsurprisingly crisp and perky thanks to that distinctive English acidity and zero dosage. But it’s not an arresting assault on the taste buds as the lack of dosage lets the honesty of the fruit speak.
There are bright orchard fruit flavours, with a softer, rounder nod towards peach and light, soft almond nougat notes. The real standout qualities of this wine are the sapid salinity and mineral notes that also provide a lengthy, lingering presence.
It’s exquisite, almost understated, though while a little sugar may have added additional depth on the mid-taste, it may have masked this wine’s subtle charms. Some may be put off by the wine’s comparative austerity to the many wines with dosage, but I found this Blanc de Blancs a fantastic talking point, and a memorable encounter overall.
- Buy from Hush Heath Estate £80.00
- Available from Harvey Nichols
Sugrue The Trouble with Dreams Cuvée #Zodo
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Billed as an experimental, mythical prototype, Dermot Sugrue’s #Zodo is a very limited release of 100 bottles. It’s essentially a zero dosage take on the Sugrue ‘The Trouble with Dreams’ 2014 vintage, being a classic blend without the addition of sugar.
Right out of the bottle, this has all the hallmarks of a Sugrue classic. The nose is captivating with a fusion of toasted hazelnut, dried fennel, red apple and apricot, and just a suggestion of savoury funk.
To taste, again the signature complexities of the Sugrue label show through. There’s lots of nutty pastry complexity, with dried apricot, and strong autolytic, bready notes. And then there’s a tense, racy structure behind it all, with a strong, crisp citrus intensity.
Ultimately, I felt that the acidity was a little too commanding for me when drinking solo. However, when paired with the right food (we tasted it with a selection of nigiri sushi), it came into its element. The #Zodo was particularly delicious with grilled eel nigiri.
I do think it’s another Sugrue wine that is once again in it for the long haul, and one that is very much worth revisiting in a couple of years.
- Not currently on sale; only available as part of mixed case from dermotsugrue.com
Top Own Label Buys
Morrisons The Best English Sparkling Brut NV
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
This was the better-performing of two relatively recently released English sparkling wines from Morrisons (the vintage 2010 at £25 fell a little short of expectation). It’s a classic blend of Chardonnay and the two Pinots that has been aged for approximately two years on lees.
The nose on this was a little muted, though strikingly clean with citrus peel, green apple and light stone fruit notes. It did open with a little time in the glass where hints of pastry and toasted nut show through.
To taste, this was very refreshing, with crunchy green orchard fruit, a hint of honeydew melon and those light biscuit notes.
Overall, a very well-made wine that demonstrates great typicity as a young English sparkling wine. It’s made for Morrisons by the ambiguous Rolling Green Hills, whom Fiona Beckett appears to have connected to a big name producer.
- Buy from Morrisons £20.00
- Available in store at Morrisons
Morrisons The Best English Dry White Wine
REGION: Devon GRAPES: Bacchus blend
This is a Bacchus-based blend that comes to Morrisons, and is another great effort own-label wine from Lyme Bay that demonstrates the energy and fruit concentration of the great 2018 vintage.
There is a fantastic nose, full of pungent aromas of lime peel, grapefruit, tropical fruit and pink grapefruit, with just a suggestion of elderflower.
The palate is punchy, intense and commands your attention from the very first taste. It’s a super zingy mix of citrus fruit, and an energetic, tangy tropical fruit fusion of grilled pineapple, pink grapefruit and freshly squeezed lime.
You could not want any more from an English white blend.
- Buy from Morrisons £14.00
- Available in store at Morrisons
Delectable Pinot Noir
Hoffmann & Rathbone Pinot Noir
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Pinot Noir
Not only is this the first red wine from boutique English wine producers, Hoffmann & Rathbone, it’s also unique in that it’s a blend of Pinot Noir from multiple vintages. It’s 100% barrel-aged, and the oldest component has rested for more than four years.
Like most English Pinot, this has a pale complexion with garnet hues and a slight brick colour. The nose is classic Pinot Noir: red cherry and cranberry and then a hint of dark chocolate and polished wood.
To taste, there’s the classic fusion of tangy red fruits and berries. However, there’s an appealing softness to the fruit that is sometimes lacking in English Pinot Noir.
Overall, a very delicate expression but there’s a light suggestion of Burgundian savoury and nuance, and a subtle texture on the finish that makes this a very pleasing drop of English red wine.
- Buy from Honest Grapes £23.70
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This month's round-up features three deliciously different English sparkling wines, a trio of fresh Bacchus and a striking white blend from Devon.
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