Before we kick off with a much delayed first seasonal selection of English wines, I must apologise. This site has been rather quiet since the start of the New Year, as I’ve had a lot going on in my life outside of wine, including a very close family loss and a job change. In all honesty, I have still been tasting a lot of superb new wines – but my heart and my mind did not feel truly in the right place. So I’m finally bouncing back with some recent highlights from the last four months.
My Wine of the Month is the outrageously good Langham Blanc de Blancs 2018, with its harmonious fusion of orchard fruit precision and nutty, salty complexities. It’s another stand-out from one of English Wine’s rising stars. Keeping things bubbly, and contrasting quite nicely, are the rather inviting Albury Blanc de Noirs from Surrey and the deliciously developed All Angels Classic Cuvée 2014 – three very different sparkling wines, but all worthy of your attention.
On the still side, a new vintage (2020) of Woodchester Valley Orpheus Bacchus is here, and it’s another of the stand-out wines in this feature, just narrowly missing out on Wine of the Month. Concluding things nicely is a trio of bright and intriguing still Chardonnays: Oxney Chardonnay 2020 serves up a textural, complex approach whilst the lightly oaked Denbies Chardonnay 2019 and Whitehall Madeline May Chardonnay 2020 both tickled my tastebuds pleasingly.
Langham Blanc de Blancs 2018
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
This has to be one of the most distinctive English Blanc de Blancs out there, combining angular precision and youth with immense breadth and depth. The latest from Langham provides aromas of red apple, roasted nuts and sourdough bread – there’s a real heady fragrance that fills the air.
So far so good, but the supple palate on this wine really seals the deal. The bubbles are soft and more textural than dominating – think still wine depth and texture with a supple, slender effervescence.
The flavours are expressive, with bruised apple and citrus zest, supported by the promised toasted nuts and yeasty textural complexities. It’s bone dry at 3g/l, but there’s still a warmth of white peach and a hint of creamy, sweet vanilla brioche, but without the sweetness.
This is a sparkling wine for lovers of fine still wine and is a real steal at under £40.
All Angels Classic Cuvée 2014 Long Aged on Lees
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris
Despite the fact that our Editor, Stephen, has written about All Angels, Mark Darley’s wines had somehow escaped my attention until New Year’s Eve 2021. This is a rather special long lees aged wine (6.5 years version of the first vintage of All Angels Classic Cuvée 2014), and what an introduction it was!
The nose is refined and composed, initially intriguing with nutty, toasty complexity, clean orchard fruit, lemon zest and a definite mineral note.
The palate is refreshingly bright and brisk; crunchy orchard fruit and zesty citrus fruit combine well, and the promised autolytic complexity helps to season and complement, rather than dominate, the flavour profile. There are some creamy suggestions and perhaps even peachy notes, but this wine remains youthful and zippy.
What I really enjoyed was the yeasty, slightly salty, nutty finish. It’s very accomplished and leaves a real, lasting impression.
Albury Blanc de Noirs 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This is a brand new wine from Albury Estate and their first Blanc de Noirs, made from 100% Pinot Noir from 2018. This is another superb example of the ripeness that the 2018 vintage brings.
I loved the colour this wine exhibited on pouring: slightly bronzed from that warm vintage and with tiny streams of persistent bubbles. The nose is equally inviting, with aromas of red apples, cranberry and a light seasoning of mineral and spice.
The palate is lovely and fresh, with crunchy red apple and tangy redcurrant flavours. I loved the acidity on this; it’s bouncing and bursting with citrus energy but supported by deeper orchard fruit roundness and subtle red fruit suggestions. It’s superbly balanced, and the light hints of tangerine or pink grapefruit made this a delight to drink.
Woodchester Valley Orpheus Bacchus 2020
It’s well known that I’m a self-confessed Bacchus lover, and one of my most memorable encounters with the grape was the Woodchester Orpheus Bacchus 2018. After skipping a vintage, the Orpheus is back and it’s better than ever.
On the nose I immediately got smoky, flinty minerality and herbaceous grass (think Pouilly Fumé), as well as fragrant citrus, stone fruit and tropical hints.
The palate steals the show and instantly charms with a ripe, almost fleshy fusion of peach, mango and a twist of tropics. It’s pretty ripe for a Bacchus, but before the fruit overwhelms, pungent, tangy lime and ringing minerality take hold with a hint of rosewater or lychee. This lingers long into a profound, prolonged finish.
This is one of the very best expressions of Bacchus that exists in this fine land, and therefore very likely one of the greatest in the world.
Oxney Estate Chardonnay 2020
This is an appetising Chardonnay from Oxney Organic who continue to produce wine with a minimal intervention approach. This 2020 Chardonnay was fermented in old oak and was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
On the nose there are notes of lemon zest, greengage and green apple, with layers of vanilla, spice and hazelnut.
The palate is a similarly textural experience, beginning with crisp citrus and orchard fruit flavours, and then a softer mid-taste with a hint of cream and toffee apple. The finish is considered and textured, with a nutty and slightly oaty grip – intriguing and rather tasty, too.
Denbies Chardonnay 2019
I didn’t have particularly high expectations of this wine, it being a first Chardonnay, or at least first in recent times from Denbies, and also one from a pretty undistinguished vintage. But it really did show up to the party quite nicely.
The wine was made with Chardonnay that was matured in oak for nine months before bottling last year. The nose is a little shy but pleasantly appealing, with fresh citrus zest, crisp orchard fruit and a hint of nuttiness.
The palate is more expressive, with crisp, green orchard fruit flavours and warmer peachy tones. The oak is only a light seasoning, more textural than anything else, and this considered approach results in a clean and well-made expression of cool-climate Chardonnay.
Whitehall Madeline May Chardonnay 2020
This is the third wine I’ve tried recently from this family-run Wiltshire vineyard and it’s perhaps the most immediate, being a crisp and clean expression of Chardonnay from the warm 2020 vintage.
The nose is bright and breezy, with bursts of citrus, green apple and pear, as well as white pepper and mineral.
The taste is lean and clean, focussing on the crunchy core of green orchard fruit and zesty citrus. But there’s also a pleasing kiss of white peach, and a dry finish that brings some mineral and lemon zest structure.
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