This month I’ve decided to dedicate my round-up to the wonderful grape that is Chardonnay. This wonderfully diverse grape is grown all around the world in many of the most respected wine regions – and it’s also doing great things in England. What started as an exploration of still wine expanded to cover sparkling, (Traditional Method and Pét-Nat). I think this selection really demonstrates just how dynamic and diverse English Chardonnay is, whether you like rich oaked styles or lean, precise examples.
It was tough to pick a Wine of the Month, as many of these wines were exceptional, but I ended up back in Kent with Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2018 (£30.00). The Kit’s Coty Chardonnay was one of my very first English Wine loves, and this is unquestionably their best vintage to date – and up there with the very best English still wines I’ve covered.
Also placing very highly on my favourites list this month was the Langham Blanc de Blancs 2017 (£36.00) which was released early this year. It’s another marvellously textural journey from Tommy and the team. Exton Park’s Blanc de Blancs RB|45 (£49.00) was hugely impressive, as was that unique Woolton Chardonnay Pét-Nat 2020 (£24.00).
Back in still wine territory, there was lots of promise and a variety of styles. The precise expressions of Bride Valley Chardonnay 2019 (£19.50) and Skye’s Chardonnay 2020 (£20.00) will entertain those that like their Chardonnay lean and clean. Meanwhile, I enjoyed an array of oaked, textural wines from Artelium, Oastbrook and Lyme Bay, all from the promising 2020 vintage.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t a conclusive list of all of the English Chardonnays out there, and there are a few notable omissions that I have covered earlier in the year. As such, I’ve included some links at the end of the article with other Chardonnays of interest.
Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2018
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
The wonderful warmth of the 2018 vintage, together with the already proven brilliance of Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Vineyard, has resulted in the best Chardonnay from Chapel Down to date. The Kit’s Coty is whole bunch pressed and then fermented in old French oak barrels for nine months.
The Kit’s ’18 allures on the nose with its peach skin, nectarine and honeysuckle openness, together with vanilla, spice and hazelnut.
To taste, it’s a sumptuous mixture of ripe stone fruit and crisp orchard and citrus fruits. The mid-taste is supple and generous, and the 13.5% ABV brings a glamorous richness to the wine.
The textured nutty and spiced complexities seal the deal – this is a must-try for English Wine lovers.
Langham Blanc de Blancs 2017
If a producer earns the title of best sparkling winemaker in the world (IWSC), they could either rest on their laurels or double down on what makes them special.
Langham opted for the latter in what is one of the most distinctive, most typically ‘Langham’ wines to date. What makes this unique is that there was no sulphur dioxide added at all during the winemaking process.
On the nose the Langham is rich with red apple, pear, roasted walnut and freshly toasted sourdough, with a hint of fennel.
The palate is spellbinding, with a fusion of crunchy orchard fruit, roasted salty nuts, toasted herbs and almond pastry. It’s so beautifully textured, ushered in by a soft, supple mousse and wild purity. Superb.
Bride Valley Dorset Chardonnay 2019
Another superb wine from Dorset, this comes from Bride Valley, which was planted by the late, great wine icon, Steven Spurrier, with his wife Bella in 2008.
This is a glistening example of English Chardonnay, with fresh, clean, green orchard fruit and lemon zest, together with light floral tones and a distinctive mineral note.
The palate is packed full of crunchy green orchard fruit, with crisp apples and greengage, and hints of white pepper and lemon. The bursts of crisp, electric energy and purity of the fruit are really appealing.
Exton Park Blanc de Blancs RB|45
Completing the range of Exton Park’s new RB series, the Blanc de Blancs RB45 is perhaps the most unique of the series. While it maintains the estate’s Reserve Blend approach, it’s the first wine from Exton Park to feature prominent oak ageing (25% in second use Bordeaux and Burgundy barrels) and malolactic fermentation (30%).
The result is an engrossing, textural wine that still retains that signature, glistening Exton Park minerality and purity. The nose is hugely inviting with orchard fruits, citrus zest, white peach and a lick of Burgundian oak.
To taste, it’s the brisk, tingling acidity and chalky minerality that take me right back to the chalky hills of Exton Park. The mid-taste intermingles crunchy green apple, citrus zest with light creamy waves and a touch of creamy lemon posset.
Artelium Artefact #2 Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2020
This is one of three wines from the stylish ‘Artefact’ range, celebrating both the artistry of winemaking, and Artelium’s collaboration with artist, Sarah Emily Porter. Sarah’s paintings are a melding of art and science through the meticulous measuring of paint and tilt angles, representing the precision, art, and science in English winemaking.
This Chardonnay, which was fermented and matured in a single French oak puncheon barrel by winemaker, Owen Elias, has expressive aromas of orchard fruit, lemon zest and vanilla spice.
The palate is nicely poised and punchy; there are crisp, taut crunchy apples and zesty flavours, then a lightly peachy weight that leads to a lengthy finish of mineral and spiced notes.
Already tasting wonderfully textural, this will surely improve further with a year or two in bottle.
Oastbrook Chardonnay Oak 2020
It already feels like we have got to know America Brewer and Oastbrook, as she already has a few vintages under her belt through a partnership with winemakers. But this Chardonnay 2020 marks a milestone as it’s the first home-grown Oastbrook release.
And it’s very classy. Don’t let the ‘Oak’ on the label put you off – it’s just a seasoning. This Chardonnay is understated and elegant: there’s a bright nose of red apple and citrus zest, with a mineral, struck match note, just a hint of spice and also suggestions of nectarine and tangerine.
What I really enjoyed about this were the delicate textures throughout and the thoughtful use of oak.
Woolton Chardonnay Pet-Nat 2020
Something you don’t come across every day is a Chardonnay-based English Pét-Nat that is off-dry in style. Kentish vineyard, Woolton, was planted in 2011 and has launched an array of diverse wines this year.
You’ll first notice the hazy appearance of the wine. That’s because with Pét-Nat the wine is transferred from tank into bottle mid-fermentation with the yeast, where it continues to ferment, and naturally creates carbon dioxide and bubbles in the bottle.
The pale lemon hues are echoed by a of nose of lemon zest, sherbet and ripe pear, with a hint of toasty lees.
Taste-wise, there’s an initial burst of citrus energy and green apple crunch. It’s really rather delightful, with a light off-dry sweetness that adds body and a light generosity compared to the sometimes bracing dryness of most Pét-Nat wines. Intriguing but delicious.
Lyme Bay Chardonnay 2020
Sporting a grown-up new look, Lyme Bay continues its affiliation with Essex fruit as this Chardonnay comes from ‘English Wine region of the moment’, the Crouch Valley.
The wine was fermented in a mixture of stainless steel, new and old French oak barrels and is quite a textured, distinctive style of Chardonnay.
Aromatically, there’s a characteristic tangerine/orange peel note that I’ve picked up in Essex Chardonnay before, along with orchard fruit, vanilla and winter spice.
The palate is curious, providing a fusion of green apple, poached pear and peachy notes with an underlying bitter orange complexity. I really enjoyed the layered textures on this wine, though the fruit still feels a little young and nervy. Another to watch to see how it develops.
Balfour Skye’s Chardonnay 2020
Made from Burgundy clones from two of Hush Heath’s vineyards, this is an unoaked Chardonnay that boasts crisp fruit and tingling mineral notes.
The nose on this Skye’s Chardonnay is fragrantly appealing with peach and nectarine skin, ripe pear and citrus aromas.
What I enjoyed about this wine when it opened up was its clarity. It’s not as bold as some of the other examples here, but there’s something in its understated white peach, crisp green apple, tingling citrus and mineral finish that keeps you coming back.
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