It’s rare to have a chance to taste English Sparkling Wine with over a decade of age. It’s even rarer to have a chance to taste seven vintages of the same wine side by side. But that’s exactly what we did on a wet November evening with Richard Balfour-Lynn and father and son team Owen and Fergus Elias of Balfour Winery. Hosted at Balfour at Bow Wine Vaults, the latest wine bar and brasserie to come under the growing Balfour venue umbrella, a journey through the vintages of the wine that established the estate awaited.
Co-founder, Richard Balfour-Lynn, opened the event by explaining the estate’s original one-line business plan, ‘If we can’t sell it, we’ll drink it’. Owen Elias, who has been winemaker with Balfour since the very beginning, recalled the time, when he was winemaker at Chapel Down, that Richard met with him with a brief to make a sparkling rosé wine. The task was simple: to make a sparkling rosé that was better than Billecart-Salmon. Lofty goals, but Owen was the man for the task and set about making the very first unofficial vintage 1000-bottle release of the 2003 vintage – the first fruit from young vines. The wine was a resounding success and paved the way for the first Balfour Brut Rosé vintage in 2004.
The Elias winemaking thread runs through every vintage, with son Fergus officially working full time at Balfour since 2014 and ultimately picking up the baton as head winemaker two years ago. The estate’s success story is very much down to the meeting of these two families – the vision of the Balfour-Lynns and the Elias duo is a formidable force.
During the twenty years that have passed since the first vines went into the ground, huge expansion in facilities and the wine range have happened. The first Balfour winery was established in 2010, bringing winemaking and Owen Elias in-house, and in 2018 a major expansion in both winery and visitor centre was launched. Tourism remains a huge part of the Balfour ethos, and the number of wines produced at the winery each year has grown to over 30.
But this evening was all about celebrating the icon that is Balfour Brut Rosé. For the first time, the winery has launched an extended lees-aged version of its totemic wine. With around fourteen years on lees, the Archive Collection Balfour Brut Rosé 2008 is a rare chance to try a unique English sparkling wine. Just 120 bottles of this gloriously aged, copper-hued beauty have been released, priced at £120. The non-malolactic fermentation approach to this wine, in all its vintages to date, ensures the wine retains a bright and surprisingly youthful acidity and crispness to balance the more mature notes of preserved citrus, black tea and candied apple.
Before we tasted the 2008, we tasted a trio of even older vintages: 2004, 2005 and 2006. These wines impressed even more, being made during the formative years of Balfour and reaching nearly two decades of ageing. But that characterful thread of preserved orange peel, red apple and mature red fruit pastry notes was evident throughout. More recent vintages were also presented, beginning with the 2010 (possibly my highlight of the night), before moving on to the more recent and particular warm vintages of 2014 and 2018. It was fascinating to think that, given another decade, or perhaps even longer, we may be tasting these recent vintages with a similar level of impressive development and complexity.
Overall, the tasting session was a real eye-opener for me. I have amassed quite a collection of English sparkling wines over the years I have run this website, and I had focussed on building up an archive of vintages in particular of English Brut and Blanc de Blancs wines. Have I missed a trick by not collecting some of the English Sparkling Rosé greats? This Balfour Brut Rosé vertical would absolutely suggest that I have.
Balfour Brut Rosé 2004
Blend: 50% Chard, 50% PN
The copper hue set the stage for most of the vintages, and the nose was a mixture of shortbread, orange peel and dried cranberry.
The bubbles were deliciously soft but persistent, with soft cherry shortbread and dried strawberry flavours. It still retains surprising freshness, with a toasty finish.
Balfour Brut Rosé 2005
Blend: 52% PN, 44% Chard, 4% PM
The nose on the 2005 felt slightly more savoury than the ’04, with some hints of balsamic-dressed strawberry, black tea and mushroom.
The palate again delivered soft and persistent bubbles, though the red fruit was a little less prominent, with more of a focus on preserved citrus flavours.
Balfour Brut Rosé 2006
Blend: 55% PN, 40% Chard, 5% PM
The nose on the 2006 was a lot fresher than you would expect from a sixteen-year-old English Sparkling Rosé, with lots of dried raspberry and citrus.
The palate felt a slight jump in acidity, and a more of a focus on cranberry and raspberry flavours, with complexities of ginger biscuit and tea.
Balfour Brut Rosé 2008 Archive Collection
Blend: 53% PN, 38% Chard, 9% PM
Disgorged: August 2022
With fourteen years on the lees, this was a real textural delight. The nose is a mixture of wild raspberry, strawberry and dried cherry, with hints of candied apple, ginger and orange.
The palate had a wonderful composure, with enveloping layers of ripe red fruit, buttery pastry and ginger biscuit. What a delight!
Balfour Brut Rosé 2008 Original
Blend: 53% PN, 38% Chard, 9% PM
An interesting contrast to the Archive Collection, this is one of the original bottles disgorged back in 2010 with now twelve years under cork.
This wine still demonstrated striking freshness, but with more mushroom and savoury hints, as well as black tea and orange peel.
Balfour Brut Rosé 2010
Blend: 46% PN, 45% Chard, 9% PM
A contender for wine of the night for me, this 2010 vintage demonstrated a timeless opulence, with aromas of almond croissant, cherry shortbread and sherbet.
The balance was sublime – there was a lot of tangy raspberry and redcurrant here, combined with pink grapefruit and deeper ripe red fruit. Look out for a Late Disgorged version in the future!
Balfour Brut Rosé 2014
Blend: 48% Chard, 39% PN, 13% PM
This 2014 vintage also impressed me – it was a warm vintage for England, and I have found many wines to be short-lived.
But Balfour’s non-malo approach shone through, with zippy acidity and crunchy red apple countering plush, ripe red berry and honeyed flavours – lush.
Balfour Brut Rosé 2018
Blend: 41% PN, 30% PM, 27% Chard
Disgorged: May 2022
The latest vintage demonstrates a BBR at the beginning of its journey. This is the most red grape dominant vintage to date, with a fragrant nose of youthful red berries and cherry blossom.
The palate on the 2018 is all about the crisp and tangy red fruit, with suggestions of riper red cherry and a noticeable crystalline mineral edge.
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