The IEWA, now celebrating its seventh year, is back again with another set of fantastic and diverse English wines gaining accolades. Unfortunately, for the second year running, I was ruled out of attending the judging day due to unforeseen circumstances (rail strikes!). Still, I have been working with IEWA founder, Alex Taylor, to try some of the best wines in the competition.
This year, just over 11% of the entries took home a Gold – very much in line with the Gold-to-entry ratio of previous years. The wines that took the top medals all came under the scrutiny of Head Judge, Liam Steevenson MW, who worked alongside four panel heads, Susy Atkins, Lee Isaacs, Tom Wedgery and Holly Plumeridge.
In 2023, sparkling wine again reigned supreme, taking twelve of the sixteen Gold medals, showing just how consistent the quality of sparkling wine from across the country now is. Busi Jacobsohn took the Sparkling Wine Trophy with their sublime Blanc de Noirs. It’s a real stand-out wine from this stylish producer and the must-try sparkling wine from this year’s competition. Though there is a lot of quality and diversity to be found in the other Gold medal sparkling wines, particular highlights for me included a Seyval Blanc sparkling from Godstone in Surrey and Kent’s Woodchurch Classic Cuvée 2017.
On the still wine side, perhaps indicative of both a challenging 2021 vintage for still English wines and the fact that many from the 2022 vintage have only just been bottled, there were just a few highlights. Overall Still White Trophy winner, Oastbrook Pinot Blanc 2022, is a delight and shows consistency with their sparkling Classic Cuvée, which garnered a duo of Golds. Biddenden Gamay Noir 2022 was a joyous favourite amongst judges, with Liam hailing its playful, bombastic red fruit as “the highlight of the whole competition”. Meanwhile, Tuffon Hall picked up their fifth Gold medal in five years of entering the IEWA for their soon-to-be-released and brilliant Bacchus 2022. Rounding things off nicely is Welcombe Hills Twelfth Night, a blend of Bacchus and Sauvignon Blanc that brings a real ripe tropical richness to grassy, herbaceous notes.
Photo & Bottle Shot Credit: Pete Axford
Selected quotes from the judges
“The sparkling wines stole the show as expected, but the quality of some of the still wines was super impressive and the Trophy winner, in my opinion, is a truly exceptional wine.”
“The IEWA has since its conception been one the the most enjoyable competitions that I have judged in. Alex and his team have managed to pull together a group of industry experts that all seem to get on! I truly think for many of us it is one of the highlights of the working year.”
Liam Steevenson MW, Chair of Judges
“The Busi-Jacobsohn Blanc de Noirs 2018 is a deserved Trophy winner with great autolytic complexity and depth of flavour but still fresh and lively. The best Busi wine I have tasted to date and a confirmation that they have really hit their stride.”
Susy Atkins, Wine Writer, Author and Presenter
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
Busi Jacobsohn Blanc de Noirs 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
I like it when a producer and specific wine that showed promise early on goes on to achieve acclaim to build on those early signs. Busi-Jacobsohn have quietly been gaining pace since their inaugural release three years ago. What’s more, I had a pre-release taste of this wine back in 2021 before it went on to become my Wine of the Month in June 2022.
One year on and it’s even more charismatic, expressing a bold nose of red apple, oat biscuit and caramelised pastry, with hints of dried cranberry and roasted nuts.
The palate is racy and tense, with bright, brilliant acidity and a rush of lemon and tangy cranberry, before exploding with all the promised dry biscuit complexity, as well as some generous stone fruit richness. There’s also a hint of almond cream in the background.
This is a coming-of-age wine for Busi Jacobsohn. Or, to quote Susy Atkins, “they have really hit their stride.”
Oastbrook Pinot Blanc 2022
Grapes: Pinot Blanc
Another producer delivering on early promise is Oastbrook Estate, led by charismatic owner-winemaker team, America and Nick. This Pinot Blanc is a calling card for a grape that’s tipped to become significant in English still wine.
On the nose, this has a lovely fruit-forward mixture of pear, white peach and nectarine, with a hint of honeysuckle and pear drop sweets.
While generously fruity, offering all the peachy goodness that the nose promised, this has a crunchy, bursting acidity cutting through it. Superbly made, the structure of the Oastbrook Pinot Blanc is both immediately gratifying yet texturally refined.
Biddenden Gamay Noir 2022
Liam Steevenson MW Comments: “For me this was the highlight of the whole competition, not just because its light, juicy, fruity style was so enjoyable, but because it points to a style that I think many more English winemakers should be aiming for. Super fun and friendly wine. I will buy lots of this wine this summer.”
Judges’ Comments: “Great colour, bright and cheerful, with red and blue fruit in abundance and a touch of flint and smoke on the nose. Vibrant morello cherry, spice and earth. Refreshing, with decent acidity, and low tannins. A delicious, fun wine.“
“Congratulations to all medal winners this year! It’s a privilege to pull together The Independent English Wine Awards each year, and getting medals out there is a really special part of that, and the culmination of an insane amount of hard word by growers and producers across the country.
This year there are medals to celebrate across so many styles, and the category winners across Sparkling, White and Red are all absolute slam-dunk wines; the judges were so impressed. They are three wonderful standard bearers for English Wine; objectively outstanding and technically excellent, but really exciting, fun wines too – consumer-friendly and super-accessible. And it’s not just those top wines – as a whole the standards set a new high bar for domestic wine.
There is always the inclination to look for little trends in results, but I’m going to zoom out. The things I can detect here in the seven years of The IEWA are overwhelming: increases in quality and momentum, innovation and enterprise. And that is so incredibly exciting!”
Alex Taylor, IEWA Founder
John’s Other Gold Medal Highlights
Godstone Seyval Blanc Brut 2020
From 25-30 year old vines, this is made from a very ripe vintage, with winemaking duties handled by Deepika Koushik of Plumpton College.
The nose has lemon zest, ripe apple, pear and floral tones. To taste, there’s an immediate lemon zing and green apple burst, and then ripe pear and peach with soft, creamy layers.
It’s a delicious bottle of wine, well priced, though available in limited quantities through the cellar door at Godstone Vineyard.
Woodchurch Classic Brut 2017
This is a blend of 51% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Noir and 17% Pinot Meunier that appeals in the glass with fine bubbles and golden tones. On the nose, rich aromas of baked apple, toasted brioche and honey let you know that you’re in for a treat.
To taste, the Woodchuch delivers on its golden promise, with a generous fruit-forward palate of ripe apple, apricot and peach. There’s a zesty acidity to bring structure, as well as an almond and marzipan complexity to elevate a thoroughly crowd-pleasing style of English Sparkling Wine.
Oastbrook Classic Cuvée 2014
This Classic Cuvée has golden hues, a developed nose of pear and apple pudding, citrus zest and almond cream croissant.
The palate is immediately brisk and packed with lemon citrus and punchy green fruit, but that transitions to baked apple, toasted brioche and a hint of cream.
This wine has now spent 87 months on lees, and that brings a harmonious, indulgent hug to this wine.
Described by Furleigh as an off-dry sparkling wine, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect here. It’s a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots Noir and Meunier, which I understand is from the 2016 vintage, and has a generous 21g/l of sugar.
Despite the sweetness, this wine packs a bursting, crunchy acidity upfront. A lemon and green apple burst awakens the senses, but before it overwhelms, there are waves of ripe red apple, peach and baked apple, as well as a backdrop of sweet pastry.
Adnams Classic Cuvée
With an impressive 48 months on lees, the nose has an intriguing blend of pastry, red apple, lemon and a hint of spice – very inviting.
To taste, vibrant, vigorous acidity contrasts with salted pretzel and roasted almond complexity. The fruit is linear, crisp red apple and citrus led, while the finish is a mixture of citrus zest and saline, mineral textures. This is a classic, yet complex expression, and punches well above its modest price point.
Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs 2018
With fragrant orchard fruit, a hint of floral blossom, racy citrus freshness and tingling minerality, this Bride Valley has all those signature English Blanc de Blancs notes that make it immediately gratifying.
Impeccable precision, beginning with crunchy green apples and zingy lemon, is balanced with a super soft mousse and supple white peach, as well as indulgent, developed notes of brioche and nutty pastry that continue to evolve as this wine matures.
Welcombe Hills Sauvignon Bacchus 2022
This is not the first blend I’ve had of ‘England’s Sauvignon Blanc’ (Bacchus) and actual Sauvignon Blanc, but it is the most successful example I’ve tried.
The palate is surprisingly full and rounded, with ripe pear and juicy tropical fruit, integrated acidity and then grassy, floral and herbaceous tones. There’s a generous richness to this wine, and I can see why it appealed to the judges.
Artelium X Vagabond Nature Series Cuvée 2017
On the nose, there’s an interesting fusion of floral, lemon zest and bruised apple, with sourdough and grassy, meadow flower tones.
The palate is both refined yet textural. There’s a fine bead of bubbles interweaved with orchard fruit flavours, a direct lemon zest core and laser-sharp acidity. This is all seasoned with layers of biscuit and toast. This wine is quite a conversation piece thanks to its intricacy and structure.