English Vertical Series: Flint Silex Blanc

Flint Vineyard’s Silex Blanc has been a wine I’ve greatly enjoyed since its conception. It’s one of a few English white blends to have real conviction and distinctive style. Owner and head winemaker, Ben Witchell, perfectly summed up this wine’s approach by saying, “What you’re seeing is the evolution of a winemaking style, the exploration and innovation without any limitations”.

With a new vintage on the horizon (launching next month but with pre-orders available right now), I recently caught up with Ben, Oliver Pugh and Dan Kirby to taste through the Silex Blancs, including a pre-release review of the new 2022, as part of my ongoing English Vertical Series.

The line-up was captivating, as we tasted through oldest to newest vintage, including a very early wine that laid the foundations for Silex Blanc the following year. That wine was Venn Blanc, a blend of the big three Champagne grapes in still form, which introduced the concept of an English blend being fundamentally formed around varieties of Pinot. The Pinots, and particularly Pinot Noir, have remained the foundation of the blend, with Blanc and Gris also featuring. The wine from the colder vintage of 2021 is the only of the seven not to feature any Pinot Noir, with the white varieties doing the heavy lifting.

Even though its overall style has constantly evolved, and its grape variety make-up has differed significantly from vintage to vintage, this five (plus one) wine vertical of Silex Blanc did show threads of consistency throughout. Texture and structure were the elements inherent in the make-up of the wines – increasingly so as we worked towards the more recent vintages. Minerality was also prominent throughout most of the vintages, appropriately so for a vineyard named Flint and a wine called Silex (the French word for Flint). 

All seven vintages side by side, from 2017 (left) to 2022 (right)

Flint Silex Blanc 2022

This is the first vintage of Silex Blanc that underwent 100% Malolactic Fermentation and was aged for twelve months using Burgundy barrels, stainless steel and amphora.

This wine’s golden hue comes from the Pinot Noir dominance, and the extended barrel and amphora ageing likely playing a role. The nose is striking and diverse, with a complex blend of orange skin, red apple, dry straw and pungent citrus fruits.

The palate is equally elaborate and packed with textural, waxy citrus skin. There’s a slightly grippy texture, with some almond nuttiness and suggestions of creaminess that mirror the 2021 vintage. This has the most pronounced, lingering finish of all six wines. Overall, the 2022 is very exciting and another step forward in terms of sensory and textural development.

Grape Blend: Pinot Noir (50%), Pinot Blanc (40%) & Chardonnay (10%)
ABV: 12%
Residual Sugar: 0.5g/l
TA: 8.3 g/l

Flint Silex Blanc 2021

Taking the blend back to two varieties, Silex 2021 was a Chardonnay-dominant blend with fruit from Martin’s Lane Vineyard, and the remainder being Pinot Blanc from Flint’s own vineyards. 10% of the grapes were crushed, destemmed and fermented on skins for texture, and just one-third underwent Malolactic Fermentation.

The Chardonnay stands out on the nose, with aromas of green apple, lemon and citrus fruits, with hints of pear and melon.

The palate is bright, crisp and initially lean, with an Alsatian freshness and delicate texture. The wine broadens on the mid-taste, with generous ripe apple and pear flavours and a creamy weight, before a chalky finish lingers. A considered, if slightly understated, vintage, but still retaining that signature structure and texture of Silex.

Grape Blend: Chardonnay (60%) & Pinot Blanc (40%)
ABV: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: <0.5g/l
TA: 9.3g/l

Flint Silex Blanc 2020

This is the most diverse Silex blend to date, with Bacchus from Martin’s Lane Vineyard joining a trio of Pinots. The grapes were whole-bunch pressed, partially fermented in oak and once again, partial malolactic fermentation of 40% of the total wine was used.

This was probably the most stylistically different of all seven wines tasted. The nose is very open and opulent, with herbaceous, minty, grassy aromatics of Bacchus, and tropical fruit and lime notes.

The palate has a zesty, punchy lime and grass flavour, with grapefruit and pithy citrus notes. There’s a very generous tropical, peachy warmth to the mid-taste, together with spicy, nutty complexities and again, a mineral streak that starts to thread through the vintages of Silex.

Grape Blend: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris & Bacchus
ABV: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: 1 g/l
TA: 8.0 g/l

Flint Silex Blanc 2019

The 2019 vintage was mostly whole-bunch pressed and underwent fermentation in stainless steel with ageing in used oak barrels from Pouilly-Fuissé. As with the 2018 vintage, partial (70%) malolactic fermentation took place to combine with the freshness of a non-Malo component (30%).

What a contrast to the 2018 and 2022 – this vintage has a leaner nose that’s really quite mineral. It also has chalky, flinty aromas, waxy citrus zest, and green orchard fruit notes.

On the palate the acidity is bursting with a tingling flinty minerality and slight saltiness. With a little air, the palate broadens to peach and ripe apple as it warms and evolves into a delicate but lengthy floral finish with a hint of ginger.

Grape Blend: Pinot Noir (10%), Chardonnay (30%), Pinot Gris (50%) & Pinot Blanc (10%)
ABV: 12%
Residual Sugar: 1 g/l
TA: 8 g/l

Flint Silex Blanc 2018

For the first vintage of Silex Blanc, the grapes were whole-bunch pressed, fermented in stainless steel and aged in barrel for six months. The Pinot Noir underwent malolactic fermentation. However, the typically ripe Solaris didn’t.

This inaugural vintage of Silex was a big step up in character compared to the Venn Blanc, with a nose of defined orange skin and peach, orchard fruit, floral notes, and a hint of nuttiness and mint.

The palate is full and fleshy, with stone fruit and ripe apple, that evolves to a tropical, floral fusion and a hint of honey. This vintage is very fruit-forward and became extremely expressive with pungent tropical fruits as it warmed.

Grape Blend: Pinot Noir (70 %) & Solaris (30 %)
ABV: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: 3.1 g/l
TA: 8.7 g/l

Flint Venn Blanc 2017

Not officially a Silex Blanc, this Venn Blank is one in a series of experimental wines made exclusively for Flint’s Venn Club. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Despite being the oldest wine of the seven, this has a really fresh nose of red apple, pear and lemon, with hints of peach skin, white pepper and almond.

The palate is crisp and quite classic, like a still expression of an English sparkling wine. The flavour profile is the most linear of the wines, with red apple, peach, melon and a slightly weighty texture.

Grape Blend: Pinot Noir (55%), Chardonnay (23%) & Pinot Meunier (22%)
ABV: 11%

Posted in English Vertical Series.

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