I've featured some remarkable wines so far in my monthly Great British Wine Round-Up articles which is no more apparent than in last month's superstar English Sparkling line-up. However, I'm often asked why English wine is not very accessible, both from a price and a retail availability point of view. Two genuine highlights this month come in the form of Three Choirs Stone Brook 2017 (£9.99, Majestic) and Sainsbury's Taste the Difference English Sparkling (£20.00, Sainsbury’s). Both wines demonstrate fantastic English wine typicity, clock in at a price point that won't break the bank and are available nationwide from their respective retailers. I've also included a couple of other recent still single varietal English wine releases in the form of Greyfriars Old Vines Chardonnay 2017 (£13.50, direct) and Hidden Spring Vineyard Bacchus 2017 (£17.95, direct).
At the other end of the price scale, September saw the unveiling of one of the most anticipated English wine launches in quite some time. Nyetimber unveiled their 1086 Prestige Cuvée wines to much fanfare, prompting heated debates on social media surrounding price point, prestige and heritage. Is an English Sparkling wine worth £150-£175? Time will tell, however, the wines have already struck a chord with wine critics and leading sommeliers. What I will say is that it is clear after tasting both wines that the fruit selection has been meticulous and that patience has rewarded Nyetimber with two of the most exquisite, balanced and complex wines ever produced in this fine country of ours. Everything from the concept, the pricing and the packaging through to the actual wines is a bold and affirmative statement from Nyetimber and is a big step forward for the industry as a whole into the previously untapped ultra-premium sparkling wine category currently dominated by Champagne.
This month has also seen the holding of the annual South West Vineyards Association (SWVA) competition. Be sure to check out the full list of trophy and medal winners on the SWVA website. The big winner in the 2018 competition is Dorset's Langham Wine Estate, who picked up three Gold Medals, two trophies and the overall trophy for ‘South West Wine of the Year’ for their Langham Estate Classic Reserve 2011 Magnum. As a big lover of longer bottle-aged sparkling wines, I used this as an excuse to finally pop open a bottle that I had been holding on to since my visit to Langham Estate back in 2016.
Three Pocket-Friendly English Wines
Three Choirs Stone Brook 2017
REGION: Gloucestershire GRAPES: Siegerrebe, Solaris & Phoenix
New to the Majestic wine range is this fresh and fruity white blend from Three Choirs in Newent, Gloucestershire. It's a complex blend mainly consisting of Siegerrebe, Solaris and Phoenix.
For a bottle of wine with such a diverse make-up, it's full of character and charm, opening up with a fresh and fragrant nose of lime zest, hedgerow, elderflower and tropical fruit.
Described as being off-dry, this wine is beautifully balanced thanks to the exhilarating, zesty punch that commands your first taste.
The softer, slightly sweeter notes of tropical fruit salad, a fusion of citrus fruits, ripe pear and passion fruit leap out. It's really a rather lovely drop and is only £9.99 in the mix 6 deal at Majestic.
- Buy from Majestic £9.99
Sainsbury’s TtD English Sparkling 2014
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
This is a bit of a hidden gem. A true traditional method English sparkling, made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier by Denbies Wine Estate and sold on the supermarket shelves for just £20!
What's more, it's fantastic for the price, impressing with its charismatic nose of candied apple and peach with delicate notes of sweet, flaky pastry.
The palate's a crowd-pleaser too, with a fantastic crisp, zesty embrace of lemon and crunchy red apples.
This is a fabulous entry-level introduction to English sparkling. This wine ages fantastically too. I've recently enjoyed a few bottles of the older 2011 vintage which demonstrated great evolution in the form of rich nutty, pastry complexity.
Probably the best mainstream own-label English wine on the market right now.
- Buy from Sainsbury's £20.00
Greyfriars Old Vine Chardonnay 2017
REGION: Surrey GRAPES: Chardonnay
Our friends over at Greyfriars are continuing to push the boundaries in winemaking in Surrey, with a unique limited release of Old Vine Chardonnay 2017. This wine is made from a small parcel of grapes from the oldest (nearly 30 years old) vines on the vineyard. What's more, it was wild fermented in 2-year-old oak before ageing for a further 6 months in oak.
The Greyfriars has got a great nose on it, with a fusion of baked apple, peach, tangerine peel and perfumed vanilla oak aromas.
It's punchy and full of citrus intensity to taste, leading to crisp Granny Smith, white peach and tangy grapefruit. The oak is less pronounced on the palate, with more textural qualities and lightly spiced notes.
This Chardonnay was only bottled a couple of months ago, and I feel it needs a good 6-12 months to be truly ready to drink. However, it's still showing a lot of character for the first still Chardonnay to be produced in Surrey.
- Buy from Greyfriars £13.50
Nyetimbers Prestige Cuvée Wines
1086 Nyetimber Prestige Cuvée 2009
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
September was completed with a moment of indulgence and opulence with Nyetimber's announcement of its Prestige Cuvée '1086' wines. The Vintage 2009 is a blend of 46% Chardonnay, 43% Pinot Noir & 11% Meunier having spent 6 years on the lees and a further 2 years under cork. The majority of the Chardonnay comes from the Old Manor plantings of 20-year-old (at the time of harvest) vines.
The wine pours with a beautifully intense nose, rich with oaty biscuits, toasted brioche, dried citrus peel and apricot.
To taste, this 1086 is broad with its indulgent yeasty intensity, while its tiny streams of fine bubbles ensure a supple and elegant mouthfeel.
The significant bottle ageing allows for a superbly integrated acidity, resulting in a beautifully rounded sparkling wine. However, that trademark English freshness and vibrant orchard fruit character will continue to age gracefully for at least another decade.
This is a hugely impressive and appealing wine, but then it really had to be for the hefty price tag of £150.
- Buy from Harrods £150.00
1086 Nyetimber Rosé 2010
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
The 1086 Rosé is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay that spent approximately 5 years on the lees and 2 years under cork before release.
With its autumnal hues of pink and orange leading to a charismatic and unique nose of wild winter berry fruit, crushed minerals and hints of herbaceous winter spice and savoury notes, you know you are in for a treat here.
The palate is initially brisk and almost austere, however, with a little air and time in the glass, the tension explodes into an appealing fusion of ripe red fruit and cassis. Honeyed pastry notes add weight, while a precise and clean mineral streak provide a robust and elegant backbone to this delicate but expressive Rosé.
For a moment I was lost in the glass with the perfect balance between clarity, elegance and underlying complexity, before the returning realisation that few will be able to sample the brilliance of this wine at the wallet-busting price point of £175. However, are these wines really any more of an outrageous proposal as a bottle of Dom Perignon or other similar prestige cuvée Champagne? After all, at this price point in Champagne, you are not only paying for exceptional winemaking but for the story, theatre and spectacle of an aspirational luxury product. The Nyetimber 1086 wines confidently satisfy all of these qualities.
Now celebrating 30 inspirational years pioneering an exciting emerging industry, Nyetimber has once again elevated English sparkling wine to new heights with 1086.
- Buy from Harrods £175.00
This months other highlights
Langham Classic Cuvée Reserve 2011
REGION: Dorset GRAPES: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
With this wine winning the title of South West Wine of the Year at the SWVA annual competition, I decided it was high time to revisit this perfectly aged beauty.
It's made from 50% each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and while I tasted a standard-sized bottle with 36 months on the lees, it is the magnum with 48 months on the lees that took home the top gong.
From the moment you pour, you know you're in for a treat: there are golden tones and extravagant aromas of candied apple, dried stone fruit and sweet, crisp, flaky pastry.
Dosage is generous at 10.5 g/l, but with the extended amount of time under cork, the wine is gorgeously rich, lush and soft. Enveloping flavours of baked apple, ripe apricot and citrus peel combine with a deep toasted nut and yeasty complexity.
It all finishes with a delicious, zingy citrus peel note, while hints of bitter nut and sweet vanilla linger longingly.
- Buy from Langham Wine Estate £67.00 (magnum)
Hidden Spring Bacchus 2017
REGION: Sussex GRAPES: Bacchus
This month has seen Hidden Spring take a bold step forward with the launch of a brand new winery. The East Sussex producer, re-established in 2015 by new owners David McNally and Chris Phipps, is working towards an annual production volume of 25,000 bottles with sparkling wine releases targeting 2020.
I had the chance to sample the latest still wine from Hidden Spring, this gorgeous, youthful Bacchus 2017.
On pouring this wine, I was immediately reminded of why I enjoy Bacchus so much. Spring-fresh aromas of citrus fruit, pear and grass fill the air with light floral tones.
This wine is delicately textured, loaded with bright, zingy lime and grapefruit up front, before softening to riper tropical fruit notes with a mellow weight thanks to partial barrel fermentation and 9 months spent on lees. There are grassy and mineral notes to finish, rounding off a delightfully textured Bacchus.
- Buy from Hidden Spring £18.95
Winbirri Vintage Reserve 2013
REGION: Norfolk GRAPES: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
Winbirri is a producer I've been eager to sample more wines from for quite some time now since their historic win in last year's Decanter World Wine Awards.
It's a vivacious pour with lively bubbles and a light golden hue, with classic aromas of green apple, pear and white peach.
The palate begins with a brisk, green apple and citrus bite, soon easing to softer, fleshy ripe peach with honeyed pastry notes. The dosage feels generous but is reined in by the crispness which lingers pleasingly on the finish.
This is definitely a producer I plan on exploring more in the coming months.
- Buy from Waitrose & Partners £28.50
In my previous e-mail I may have confused some English white wines I recently bought in M&S. There was a Gloucestershire one that I think was harvested etc by the good people from Denbighs, but the very budged priced Ownsworth’s Holywell Maiden – Solaris (a lovely Grecian grape) and Ortega (?) (bottled by Halfpenny Green Vineyard, Lincolnshire, does not seem to have come under you radar.)