As English Wine Week draws to a close once again this weekend, I’ve used this month’s round-up as a chance to highlight some of my favourite and most interesting English Sparkling Wine discoveries. This selection aims not to talk about the most well-known or the most famous but to look at a cross-section of some of the most diverse styles from some exciting and emerging talents. I’ve included examples of classically styled sparkling wines from the familiar grapes, and those made from more unusual varieties such as Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner.
Busi-Jacobsohn Blanc de Noirs 2018 is one of the most grown-up and expressive wines I’ve had recently and is my ‘Wine of the Month’. I’ve followed the progress of this young and exciting producer since they entered the market a couple of years ago. Each release from Douglas and Susannah feels like a step up from the last, and if this Noirs is a sign of things to come, then they are certainly an estate to continue to watch closely.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about Everflyht’s inaugural releases in my short feature on them yesterday. Still, I had to include their outstanding Rosé de Saignée in this article to ensure that people hear about it. Another hugely expressive new release is the Coolhurst Demi-Sec Rosé 2017 – a one-of-a-kind wine that absolutely captured my attention with its deep, enveloping Pinot goodness. Two youthful Classic blends that also caught my attention were the indie-focused Westwell Wicken Foy NV and Hidden Spring Classic Cuvée 2019. Both offered bright and precise expressions of English Sparkling whilst incorporating delicate textures and complexities.
On the more experimental side, Albury Wild Ferment Blanc de Blancs 2017 made from 100% Seyval Blanc also impressed. Seyval,a sometimes maligned grape, rarely shines on its own (well, outside of the hands of the great Peter Hall of Breaky Bottom, that is), but this does show some real signs of quality and distinction. Finally, Meophams Signature Brut 2019 which was another surprise hit for me. The Kentish operation behind this wine continue to undergo significant transformation under the Bassi family who took over the estate in 2014. It’s made from 100% Reichensteiner, a grape I have never got excited about, but I think they’ve done an exceptional job with this Brut. Packed full of zippy, crunchy citrus and orchard fruit acidity, it’s my favourite from their range of three sparkling wines.
Busi-Jacobsohn Blanc de Noirs 2018
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
I’ve been looking forward to tasting this wine ever since I had a very promising sneak preview with Douglas and Susanna Busi Jacobsohn when I visited them down in Sussex in July last year. This is a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Pinot Meunier with 3 years on lees, and it was definitely worth the wait.
A true Blanc de Noirs in character, this wine has an opulent and open nose of red apple, cranberry and raspberry but also with rich peach and buttery pastry aromas.
To taste, the palate is expansive and deep. This is another of those generously styled 2018 vintage wines but it’s the red fruit which really grabs you. All the juicy red apple and red fruit flavours that the nose promised are present. Yet there’s a definite richness to the soft peach and baked orchard fruit notes here.
It’s the most charismatic and deep wine from this producer to date – fitting for the colourful characters, Douglas and Susanna, behind the estate.
Everflyht Rosé de Saignée
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
This wonderful Saignée Rosé, where the colour is extracted from skin contact during pressing rather than the blending of red wine, makes a statement by design. Founder Sam Ellis describes this wine as “a departure from some of the lighter, paler styles of Saignée on the market, providing an interesting contrast to recent trends”, and that’s absolutely what you’ll first notice about this wine’s vibrant cloak.
It’s a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier, with all of the fruit coming from the 2019 vintage. The nose is as confident as the wine’s vivid colour, with evocative aromas of ripe cherry, wild raspberry and dried strawberries. I also picked up a definite vanilla, smoky note which is explained by 35% of the wine having been fermented and aged in old Burgundy barrels.
The palate doesn’t let you down, with all the red fruit forwardness that the nose promises. This is a real summer red berry pudding fusion, supported by a multi-faceted textural journey of winter spice, vanilla and a slightly savoury earthiness which I find that a high proportion of Meunier brings to a blend.
I thought this was outstanding, and it has made me an immediate fan of what Everflyht are doing.
Coolhurst Demi-Sec Rosé 2017
Grapes: Pinot Noir
A brief encounter with Coolhurst’s Demi-Sec Rosé a year or so back left me yearning for more. And yet its limited supply meant waiting for the next vintage.
It’s another beauty – pale salmon in hue, with a nose of strawberry shortbread, ripe raspberry and dried cranberries.
The visceral and generous palate is a triumphant marriage of sweetness and acidity. It has all of the promised ripe red fruit, sweet pastry and generous indulgence, and also that wonderful cherry and earthy character you get from ripe Pinot Noir. But it’s the English acidity that makes the richness and sweetness approachable.
So what did I pair this indulgence with? I went off-piste and matched it with a Korean barbecue, which is full of sweet, spicy, fatty, meaty goodness. And, oh my, what a perfect match that turned out to be.
Westwell Wicken Foy NV
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
Westwell deserve the tag, ‘undiscovered gem’, more than most producers in England. They never make a commonplace wine, and while I always think of them as an Ortega powerhouse, their work with Traditional Method sparkling is always spectacular.
This is a NV release based on 2019, with approximately 20% reserve wine going back from 2018 to 2014 in the blend. Its lightly bronzed, glistening golden hue is matched by fragrant aromas of red apple, pear and citrus, with a definite seasoning of nuts and toasted bread.
The palate is crunchy and invigorating, packed full of crisp orchard fruit and lively lemon sherbet freshness. But it’s the depth that really shines here; there’s an abundance of toasty, roasty nuttiness, with hints of nougat and almond pudding.
Overall, this is a sensational but sensibly priced offering – and one that has been released exclusively for independent wine retailers. What’s not to love here?
Hidden Spring Classic Cuvée 2019
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
This was my first tasting from a selection of wines made by Hidden Spring, and it’s a traditional blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The nose is very classic, with fragrant green orchard fruit and lemon zest as well as pastry and coconut shell suggestions.
The palate is crisp, zippy and commanding, with zesty intensity and crunchy orchard fruit flavours. However, there is a deeper generosity in the form of ripe red apple, with notes of red fruit as well as hints of roasted almond on the finish.
Overall, this is really solid, refreshing and enjoyable.
Albury Wild Ferment Blanc de Blancs 2017
Grapes: Seyval Blanc
This is the latest vintage of Albury Organic Vineyard’s most limited and exclusive wine. For this 600 bottle release Albury took hand-picked Seyval Blanc which went through wild ferment using native yeasts that were found in the vineyard. Before disgorgement the resulting wine underwent secondary fermentation and spent four years on the lees.
This wine opens with a vibrant, zesty lemon peel and yuzu note, following through to green apple and pear fragrance. I also noted that it has a very subtle but prominent floral note, which suggests this is not made from the classic Champagne varieties.
The Albury has a very immediate freshness and intense linear acidity, a real signature of the Seyval Blanc grape. But this wine not only demonstrates the variety’s typicity, it also brings about unique qualities and textures imparted from the Wild Ferment.
What this wine really demonstrates is that the non-classic varieties should not be overlooked. With time and patience, and the right approach in the winery, something distinctive and unique can be forged.
Meophams Signature Brut 2019
Continuing to demonstrate that it’s not all about that famous Champagne grape trio, Meophams Signature Brut is a Traditional Method sparkling wine made from 100% Reichensteiner. This grape is a German cross between Müller-Thurgau and Madeleine Angevine x Calabreser Froehlich.
Winemaking is handled by Nick Lane of Defined Wines, and this was one of the very first sparkling wine releases from Kent’s flagship contract winery. Expect floral hints and lots of crunchy green orchard fruit with lemon zest on the nose.
The palate contains punchy but ripe apple and pear flavours. There’s plenty of taut, zesty acidity but also a fairly ample dosage that brings a generosity to balance all those crunchy fruit flavours.
Overall, this is a very appealing and fruit-forward expression that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This isn’t trying to be a Champagne clone, and therefore stands out with its flamboyant energy.
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This month, John's focussed on 2021 vintage English wines, with a delectable trio of white blends, as well as four textural still releases.
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