Tasting Event: Wine Gang Winter Wine Fair

Date Visited: Saturday 14th November 2015
Location: Vinopolis, London
Entry Price: £25.00

The Wine Gang is a collaboration of five wine experts in the UK, residing at www.thewinegang.com they offer in depth and fully independent reviews of the wines available throughout the UK for just £19.99 a year – well worth checking out their site for a free 35 day trial. They also organise various events and wine fairs throughout the year, and with a stellar line-up of English wine producers at the fair, I could not miss this one! The Wine Gang’s Winter Wine Festival was hosted at the sadly soon to be closed Vinopolis, just a short stroll from Borough Market at London Bridge Station.

The line-up of English wines at the fair was mostly sparkling, with Ambriel Sparkling Wine, Bluebell Vineyard, Biddenden, Camel Valley, CarrTaylor, Denbies, Exton Park, Hush Heath, Nyetimber and Wiston Estate all present. The guys from urban winery London Cru were also there with their 2014 lineup, which I hope to revisit in more detail soon.

Of course, there was a huge selection of wines from other parts of the world, but I did notice a real buzz around the English wine area. Brad Greatrix had started the afternoon with a Masterclass talk on the superb range of wines from Nyetimber, comparing both the different wines and also a vintage comparison on the Classic Cuvée and Blanc de Blancs. Whilst I unfortunately missed the Masterclass session, I did catch up with Brad for a tasting of the Blanc de Blancs 2007 and the newly released Non Vintage Rosé. It was also a huge privilege to try the beautifully rich and complex late-disgorged Blanc de Blancs 1998 (more on that shortly).

I was really pleased to see another familiar face in Zoe Dearsley of Hush Heath. Previously manager at the excellent Majestic store in Weybridge, I had previously enjoyed many a discussion on English wine with her. It’s great to see Zoe’s passion and enthusiasm for English wine has resulted in her working for one of England’s most well-known English Sparkling Wine producers.

Overall it was an excellent event, and a great opportunity for a side by side comparison of some of the best Sparkling Wine that England has to offer. I thought it would be best to summarise the day with a selection of my favourite wines that were tasted on the day, so lets get started...

wiston_rose2011_LWiston Estate Rosé 2011

Winery: Wiston Estate, Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
RRP: £35.95

I have to hand it to Wiston, this Rosé really stood out and was perhaps my favourite wine that was show. It’s a blend of 57% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir.

Often lighter and more easy drinking, this vintage release from Sussex had a surprisingly weighty texture. There is a really yeasty textured backbone to it, giving unrivalled structure to accompany the ample red fruit flavours of strawberry with crisp lemon freshness and acidity.

This is the most luxurious English Sparkling Rosé I’ve had; it drinks just so well, with a perfect balance of fruit, acidity and sweeter hints.

Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2011

Winery: Exton Park, Grapes: Chardonnay
RRP: £39.95

This newly released Blanc de Blancs 2011 from Exton Park is the Hampshire vineyard’s first vintage release. 100% Chardonnay that has spent 36 months on its lees and a very small production of 2500 bottles.

Lovely rich nose of baked apple pudding with hints of caremelised sugar and toasted brioche.

Really delicious palate, which is fresh and clean upfront with a rich mix of citrus and green apple. Persistent bubbles lead to a texture mouse and lengthy finish with hints of biscuit.

Balfour Brut Rose 2011

Winery: Wiston Estate, Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
RRP: £35.99

The star of a strong sparkling showing from Kent’s Hush Heath, their Balfour Brut Rosé 2011 is a blend of 46% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Meunier.

Very clean fresh nose of lemon, red berries with slight hints of darker fruit and creamy yeasty notes.

Very refined on the palate, the acidity is mild with just hints of sweetness, this allows the fruit to do the talking. Think summer berry mix of raspberry and strawberry, creamy texture, light mousse and just a hint of mineral and biscuit.

Very refreshing and a perfect English Rosé.

Ambriel Blanc de Noirs NV

Winery: Redfold Vineyards LLP, Grapes: Pinot Noir
RRP: £27.50

This is a rather tasty 100% Pinot Noir sparkling from Ambriel in West Sussex. It spent approximately 3 years on its less and has spent a further year and a half in the bottle since disgorging.

Citrus and red berries on the nose with nice hints of biscuit and pastry.

This had a more textured mouthfeel than the other two Sparkling wines on show from Ambriel, and was better for it. Initially citrus focussed on the palate, seasoned by hints of cherry and raspberry, followed by a nice toasted brioche complexity.

Biddenden Pinot Reserve 2010

Winery: Biddenden Vineyards, Grapes: Pinot Noir
RRP: £26.50

Whilst Kent’s Biddenden Vineyards have previously focused on the more traditional English growing grapes of Germanic type, their newly released Pinot Reserve represents a diversification and move towards Champagne-style sparkling wines.

Made from 100% Pinot Noir and made in the traditional method, this has a fresh clean nose of apple, citrus and just the slightest hint of red berries.

Very dry on the palate with a slight creamy weighty texture, the perfect partner to the citrus and apple palate. Some nice brioche notes in there too. Very promising, I also enjoyed Biddenden’s Dornfelder still red wine, which I will be returning to in the next week or so.

Bluebell Blanc de Blancs 2010

Winery: Bluebell Vineyard, Grapes: Chardonnay
RRP: £24.00

Not only the most cost effective (at £24.00 a bottle) English Sparkling Wine in my selection, but also one of my favourite English Blanc de Blancs currently on the market.

This wine has a rich nose of those familiar sparkling Chardonnay (100%) notes of baked apple and lemon with additional stone fruit and nutty hues.

Bluebell’s trademark fruit clarity is ever present in this wine, with a really tangy green apple and citrus bite. Then those delicious layers of baked pastry, honeyed stone fruit and slight nutty complexity.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1998

Winery: Nyetimber, Grapes: Chardonnay
RRP: n/a

Whilst not officially part of the tasting table line-up, I was very fortunate that to try this after it had been opened for the Masterclass session.

100% Chardonnay that was harvested in 1998 and not disgorged until 2011. This late release Blanc de Blancs has an amazing rich golden colour, accompanied by honeyed stone fruit, toasted brioche and vanilla.

The taste was rich and intense, creamy texture whilst retaining fresh citrus character and high acidity. Whilst the fizz was less pronounced than the more recent vintages, the flavour was rich and biscuity with lots of lingering intrigue.

Denbies Noble Harvest 2010

Winery: Denbies Wine Estate, Grapes: Ortega
RRP: £19.99- £29.99

I recently reviewed Denbies delicious Noble Harvest Dessert Wine, which was is the first English dessert wine to be listed in Waitrose.

The Noble Harvest, which is made from 100% Ortega, is so rich with tropical fruit flavours, aromatic floral notes and orange oil. Obviously sweet, but with a refreshing acidity to keep everything under control.

Was really great to hear from Elizabeth Marett of Denbies that this years Botrytis affected Ortega harvest is very promising and should expand on the limited 3000 release of the 2014 Noble Harvest.

LDN CRU Syrah 2010

Winery: London Cru, Grapes: Syrah (of Spanish origin)
RRP: £20.00

Really impressed with the latest releases from urban winery LDN CRU. Whilst not of English origin, this Syrah is made from grapes grown in central Spain and then vinified in Central London.

I tried this from the barrel earlier in the year, and it has really developed into something beautiful. Hugely inviting nose of intense black fruit with a peppery spice.

Full bodied, rich acidity paired with deep dark blackcurrant and blackberry sweetness. Lots of spiced flavours with a distinct savoury edge, this wine just grabs you with two hands and doesn’t want to let go. My favourite of a stellar line-up from London Cru.

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