It’s hard to believe that the Independent English Wine Awards is already enjoying its sixth year. The competition has grown in scope and stature since its inauguration in 2017 – and while I, unfortunately, had to bow out of judging this year due to other commitments – I was hugely excited to hear the results of this year’s judges’ work.
A total of 12 wines were awarded Gold Medals, just under 10% of the total entries, which is indicative of the judges’ typically high standards. Taking the top steps of the still and sparkling wine results were both an entirely new name and a very well-established producer. On the still side, The Wharie Experience took the Still Trophy for their Pinot Gris 2020. This wine’s rose-gold hue captivated the judges, as did its its sumptuous toasty richness and plush ripe stone fruit character. The IEWA has a habit of being a platform for emerging talent in England – and this year, it feels like it’s Wharie’s year; they also took a second Gold Medal for their Orange Bacchus.
On the sparkling side, something a little less maverick in style but equally engrossing was the Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs 2018. The late Steven Spurrier’s estate is no stranger to followers of the English Wine Industry. Having had their first harvest in 2011, Bride Valley have already celebrated many cherished awards. But this 2018 wine feels like a real ‘coming of age’ for the vineyard, and is one not to be missed with its racy freshness and accomplished elegance.
Photo Credit: Ed Dallimore
Selected quotes from the judges
“In the innovative brilliance that we saw from the top wines on the day, it’s clear to me that the English Wine category continues in its progress – sparkling world class, and at its best, the still wines now too. The Trophy Winners, Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs 2018, and newcomer The Wharie Experience’s Pinot Gris 2020, were truly outstanding, and created such a buzz in the room. I will be seeking them out for my cellar for sure.”
Liam Steevenson MW, Chair of Judges
“The Gold bracket was closely fought but ultimately we found our winners. And the Best in Shows from Bride Valley – sparkling – and The Wharie Experience – still – couldn’t have come from more different places, and just show the depth and breadth of success in English Wine today.”
Holly Plumeridge, Judge / Head of Off Trade, Alliance Wine
As with my previous year’s coverage on the IEWA, I’ve focused here on the Gold medal winners, but the full list of all medal winners can be found over at www.iewa.uk
The Gold Medal Winners
Focus on the Overall Winners
Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs 2018
If I were to summarise what encapsulates the ideal English Sparkling, and specifically Blanc de Blancs, I would say fragrant orchard fruit, a hint of floral blossom, racy citrus freshness and tingling minerality. Bride Valley has all of those characters – in spades.
The nose is so beautifully fragranced and fresh, and you just know you’re in for a treat when you get to taste it. The impeccable precision, beginning with crunchy green apples and zingy lemon, is balanced with a super soft mousse and supple white peach.
There are also suggestions of lightly toasted brioche and tingling saline minerality running throughout.
Overall, this promises immediate gratification on release. However, thanks to all that racy energy and ripe fruit, it will also be a wine to lay down and age.
The Wharie Experience Pinot Gris 2020
Grapes: Pinot Gris
Region: East Sussex/Hampshire
The Wharie Experience was a total unknown for me until I heard from Alex Taylor the results of this year’s competition. It is the brainchild of Swiss oenologist, Guillaume Lagger, who set up this exciting vineyard and winery project after studying in Switzerland.
This rose-golden Gris captivated me from the first moment I poured and took a sniff. A vibrant, complex nose of peach skin, roast almond and red apples jumps out, with roasted spice and vanilla hints.
The palate is a textural wonder; dry red apple notes lead to soft honeyed peach and apricot flavours. I loved the textures this wine demonstrated. There’s a real silkiness on the mid-taste, and the finish of roasted nuts and ginger spice leaves an exciting, lasting impression.
Overall, this is an incredibly exciting and textural expression of Pinot Gris. It’s an absolute must-try.
“I’m absolutely thrilled by these results – my congratulations to all medal winners. They really showcase the amazing diversity and capability of English wines from right across the country, and the Gold Medal category in particular showcases a level of winemaking that the judges clearly believe is world-class. This was our sixth year running The IEWA competition, and the progress made across that short time-frame is staggering. The levels of quality, professionalism, dynamism, innovation and ambition have all gone through the roof. Bring on IEWA23!”
Alex Taylor, IEWA Founder