English Vertical Series: Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs

Only a handful of wines in the world can lay claim to legendary status in such a short time frame. Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs is one of those wines. It went on to define what was to become modern English Wine in the mid-nineties, when this then unknown Sussex-based sparkling wine house took on the best sparkling wines in the world, and emerged victorious.

Since that day, Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blancs has been a beacon of quality, arguably the best wine, pound for pound, in the Nyetimber range. In my opinion, this wine truly demonstrates Nyetimber’s pursuit of excellence. It’s the one wine in the core range that eschews the estate’s predominant focus on Multi-Vintage. Instead, the Blanc de Blancs is only made in the very best years to ensure that consistency is achieved through balance and finesse while still accounting for vintage variation.

This becomes all the more evident in a vertical tasting of these wines. This is despite multiple changes in both winemakers (from the Mosses, to Peter Morgan, Dermot Sugrue and Belinda Kemp and finally the arrival of Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs in 2007) and production methods (from full malolactic fermentation to non-malo and back again). There is a consistency, a stylistic tiptoe between finesse, exuberance and delicacy, that is all the more evident when trying a cross-section of the estate’s best wines side by side.

I recently caught up with one half of the husband and wife winemaking powerhouse at Nyetimber, Brad Greatrix, for a tasting through seven vintages of Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs. The tasting covered the aforementioned three eras of winemaking, the stylistic changes, as well as quite distinctive differences in both time on lees and corkage. What impressed the most was the longevity of these wines. English Sparkling Wine with decades of ageing is certainly not easy to come by. However, if you look hard enough, and with a little luck, you can get hold of some of these mature Nyetimber bottles. Otherwise, buy a case or two of the recent vintage and lay it down for years to come. This is what I have been doing, which will allow for some rather indulgent future tastings.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2014

The current vintage, which really brings Hampshire into the forefront with approximately 80% coming from the county, is arguably the most accessible on release, following a couple of leaner vintages (2013 and 2010). This straddles the ripe orchard fruit forwardness of the 2014 vintage with the tension and precision of the acidity in the Hampshire fruit. The resulting wine is superbly composed and structured.

The nose really sets the expectation high, with a piquant fusion of ripe orchard fruit and citrus, baked apple and peach, and a pleasing buttery brioche warmth.

There’s a real sense of balance to this wine, along with all the classic Nyetimber BdB traits of baked apple and pastry – so very inviting.

Dosage: 9.5g/l
Time On Lees: 6 Years
Time Under Cork: 8 Months

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2013

The 2013 vintage was perhaps the most tightly-wound Nyetimber wine on release; whilst the wine continued the now established full-malo expression, it carried the traits of the leaner year and cooler growing season.

With that said, some two years on from release, this slightly understated sparkling is starting to come into its element. The nose opens with a distinctive nuttiness, a hint of almond croissant with red apples and white peach, and an appealing floral fragrance.

The palate has mellowed a little, with suggestions of creamy almond nougat that has just started to hug the crunchy orchard fruit core. I felt that 2013 was the most distinctively mineral of all of the vintages. It’s incredibly elegant, and, I think, a vintage that is really in it for the long haul – Brad agreed and suggested a long life ahead of up to two decades.

Dosage: 9.5g/l
Time On Lees: 5 Years
Time Under Cork: 3 Years

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2010

The 2010 vintage was another that shared some characteristics with 2013, being a cooler year, with Brad explaining that whilst the Pinots were much riper, the Chardonnay shared a lot of similar characteristics to ’13.

Aromatically (and this became the theme from this stage in the tasting onwards), there is a noticeable uplift on the autolytic yeasty character. With pronounced notes of toasted sourdough and citrus zest, this wine also has a fragrance of ripe sweet apples, floral hints and mineral tones.

What impressed me was just how youthful and focussed this wine still feels on the palate, with a core of crisp, crunchy green apples and juicy yellow plums.

Citrus notes of lemon and yellow grapefruit provide a linear backbone, with salted sourdough toast and, like the 2013, a lingering minerality which both give this 2010 wine complexity and structure.

This is remarkably youthful for a twelve-year-old English Sparkling Wine.

Dosage: 9g/l
Time On Lees: 5 1/2 Years
Time Under Cork: 5 1/2 Years

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2009

This was my favourite wine of the vertical. The 2009 already held a sweet spot for me, being the wine that cemented both Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs as a firm favourite of mine, but also Blanc de Blancs as an English Sparkling style. This was, like 2014 and the 2003 vintage (to follow), a generous and ripe year, which sits wonderfully at this stage of development alongside the extended lees age this bottling has seen.

The nose is markedly more biscuity than the three wines that preceded it. Still, it also brings an abundance of nectarine, peach pastry and perhaps even a suggestion of caramelised fig. Yet, despite those developed tertiary notes, the fruit is still fresh and evocative.

The palate delivers exceptional balance; the stone fruit generosity that the nose promised is there, but also there’s vivid citrus fruit of lemon or perhaps yuzu. It is the creamy almond croissant notes that really seals the deal though.

Dosage: 10g/l
Time On Lees: 10 Years
Time Under Cork: 1 1/2 Years
Technical Notes: Full malo, first fruit outside of Manor Vineyard & 3% new oak

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

2007 saw the arrival of husband and wife team, Brad and Cherie, at Nyetimber. Their first vintage maintained the noughties’ approach of zero malo – and this perhaps showed more than on the 2003.

Despite its relative age, and compared to the wines that preceded it, the 2007 has a noticeably fresher and greener nose. I picked up aromas of green apple, pear and citrus, but also an elegant floral tone as well as toasted bread.

To taste, the acidity immediately breaks through, commanding attention and making its presence known. Again, I found the flavour profile to be predominantly green orchard fruit and citrus at its core, interweaved with light pastry as well as minerality and lemon zest on the finish.

I think this wine perfectly demonstrates a winery in transition – a zippy, youthful nerviness combined with the promise of structure and refinement. However, it’s only a first glimpse of what Cherie and Brad would go on to deliver for Nyetimber.

Dosage: 12g/l
Time On Lees: 12 Years
Time Under Cork: 2 Years
Technical Notes: Non-malo, first vintage by Cherie & Brad

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003

This is perhaps one of the most famous and most acclaimed vintages from Nyetimber, taking many national and international medals and trophies. 2003 was a hot and dry vintage that Brad described as “about as ripe as you will get in England”, and that puts it stylistically alongside the younger 2009 and 2014 – though, as with 2007 there was no malo used on this wine.

I found this wine to be the most autolytic and yeasty of all seven, which was curious as it actually had spent significantly less time on lees (nearly ten years, with a further nine under cork) than the other significantly aged examples.

The wine’s golden cloak is immediately endearing, as is its rich, complex nose of toasted brioche and golden, buttery baked orchard fruit.

The palate continues with this enveloping richness. I picked up on suggestions of vanilla or spice even, but there was no oak used in this wine. Perhaps it is the result of a decade under cork?

It’s easy to see why this wine has received so much attention – few sparkling wines in the world outside of Champagne can combine the broadness of expression yet reined in restraint that this wine still shows at nearly 20 years old.

Dosage: 12g/l
Time On Lees: 9 1/2 Years
Time Under Cork: 9 Years
Technical Notes: Non-malo

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1998

Stepping back to the ’90s, this is wine coming from the original era of winemaking led by Stuart and Sandy Moss, and it still confidently stands the test of time.

Quite clearly the most nectar-like in hue of the seven wines, the ’98 has a developed nose of toffee apple, preserved lemon and waxy lemon skin. Despite having 22 years on lees, it was overly autolytic in character.

To taste, again this was more on the side of caramelised fruit and pastry, with a rich nuttiness but still a briskness and citrus bite. The bubbles were pleasingly forthcoming for an English Sparkling of this age, though I did find the wine had a slightly confected note which jarred slightly, affecting the overall balance.

Dosage: 8g/l
Time On Lees: 21 Years
Time Under Cork: 2 Years
Technical Notes: Full-malo

Posted in English Vertical Series.