It’s been a busy few weeks in English Wine once again. Much of the end of last month and the first few days of April were dedicated to #BigEnglishWineEaster. The industry and its supporters collectively raised nearly £6000 in support of beneficiary charities, The Drinks Trust and Hospitality Action. On a less positive note, the beginning of this month has seen vineyards across the country (and much of Europe) having to contend with brutal frosts following a burst of warm weather. Crippling frost damage has been reported across Burgundy and Piedmont in particular, and reports have started to come in to suggest parts of England were hit severely – particularly in the South West. My thoughts are with all growers, both homegrown and overseas, during this particularly troubling time.
Onto better news, and I’ve once again tasted some brilliant new Great British wines. I’ve focussed on two of my favourite varieties for April: Chardonnay and Bacchus. On the Chardonnay front, perhaps one of the most exciting still wines to come out of England thus far is Danbury Ridge Chardonnay Octagon Black 2018 (£52.00). It may be pricey, but this is a truly game-changing wine, and I’ve since purchased a couple of cases for future enjoyment. Also proving interesting, and a little more pocket-friendly, are the latest Simpsons Wine Estate Gravel Castle Chardonnay (£16.99) and the limited release Albourne Estate Chardonnay Barrel 22 (£19.99), both of which offered two contrasting takes on English Chardonnay.
I close off on three exhilarating examples of Bacchus. All of them demonstrate the intensity and classic varietal aromatics of the grape, and are ideal for both springtime drinking and food pairing. Nutbourne Bacchus 2019 (£13.50) is exceptionally bright and excellent value for money. Finally, Urban Foxes Bacchus 2018 (£17.50) and Denbies Vineyard Select Bacchus (£14.95) both take a textural but vibrant approach too.
Danbury Ridge Chardonnay Octagon Block 2018
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Coming from one of the most exciting new estates in England, just 888 bottles of this Chardonnay were produced from the Octagon Block in 2018. It’s the oldest plot on the estate, spanning 12 acres of ‘Danbury Gravel’. This well-drained, low-density site has proven to produce spellbinding wines.
The nose is an intoxicating fusion of peach skin, Acacia honey, pear and orange peel. The oak is complex and textural with notes of toasted spice and nutmeg.
Tasted blind, you would be hard pushed to identify this as an English Chardonnay. The palate has breadth and depth, both from the soft, peachy and vibrant tropical fruit, and the citrus cut-through. The mouthfeel is divine – that 14% ABV helps to present a fuller, more involving palate, and adds as much texture as the oak brings grippy nuttiness.
This is the most complete Chardonnay I have tasted from England – tasted blind, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a warm climate Burgundy, or perhaps even a cooler climate South African Chardonnay. I have to take my hat off to Liam Idzikowski. To have achieved that on one of your first releases is remarkable. Look out for more on Danbury Ridge later this week.
Albourne Estate Chardonnay Barrel 24 2018
This was a lovely surprise this month from Albourne Estate – I’ve long been a fan of Alison Nightingale’s wines, particularly her still wines, and this very limited Chardonnay is one of her most interesting yet.
It’s made from a single 500-litre American Oak barrel of 2018 Chardonnay, from which the wine was directly bottled by hand, unfined and unfiltered. The nose is perfumed and involving, with toasted oak, hazelnuts and dried mint, and bold caramelised peach and apricot notes too.
The palate is something else as well. Brisk, bold but subtly tempered acidity integrates nicely with a stronger focus on those peachy, dried apricot notes the nose hinted at. The oak is prominent, proud, but not overwhelming. This wine had a real nuttiness, and grip too. It’s almost got a Jura-like rawness to it – distinctive and delicious!
Simpsons Gravel Castle Chardonnay 2018
It’s become a custom that the Simpsons Gravel Castle Chardonnay is one of the early English wine releases each year. It’s unoaked, expressive, punchy and great for drinking in springtime.
The nose is very classy with fresh citrus, green apples, a hint of pear, and an unmistakable chalky minerality.
The palate is brisk, crisp and zippy, focussing on the energetic zesty citrus and crunchy orchard fruit characters the nose promised. There’s a hint of tangy tropics, but again it is the tingling minerality and steely clarity that really stand out on this wine.
Nutbourne Bacchus 2019
Following on from my reconnection with Nutbourne and their Nutty Brut last month, they also released their new Bacchus 2019 to celebrate Bacchus Day last month. The label features a painting of London’s Albert Bridge by owner, Bridget Gladwin.
The nose has a really fresh, intense character, with lime zest, green apple and gooseberry notes leading the way. There’s a certain Sauvignon-like character to the aromatics – a comparison that I am finding more and more relevant to the recent crop of intensely aromatic Bacchus wines.
The palate demonstrates these characters too, with a real focus on zesty citrus and green fruit flavours. It’s almost spritzy with its lively energy, supported by hints of peach and a floral, perhaps even slightly herbaceous finish. It’s very tasty, and excellent value for money, too.
Urban Foxes Bacchus 2018
Another follow-up from a producer I featured last month (‘virtual winery’, Urban Foxes, and their striking Blanc de Blancs made with Pinot Blanc), this beautifully textured Bacchus proved to be equally impressive.
The nose provides classic Bacchus aromatics, with floral notes of elderflower and meadow flowers, zesty lime, grapefruit and suggestions of tropical fruit.
There’s zingy, floral and grassy notes… so far, so Bacchus, right? I happen to be a big fan of English Bacchus, but something about this really stood out. There’s a real rounded edge to it, with the tangy tropical fruit contrasting nicely with the grippy, zesty, mineral finish. This is extremely appealing.
Denbies Vineyard Select Bacchus 2019
This is the latest vintage of the Denbies Vineyard Select Bacchus. Like all of the wines in this range, it’s partially barrel-fermented, which brings a different textural character to the table.
Aromatically it’s packed full of pungent, intense zesty aromas: grapefruit and lime peel with gooseberry, grassy notes and a hint of tropical fruit.
Lip-smacking acidity delivers a high octane crunch of zesty citrus fruit and tangy tropics. Again, I found this less floral and more grassy than many examples of Bacchus. It’s packed full of green fruit and citrus notes, and again it has an engaging textural quality, but it doesn’t hinder the overall freshness of this wine.
John takes a look at a selection of still and sparkling English Chardonnay.
A look at the 2020 vintage of Danbury Ridge Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Crouch Valley, Essex.
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A look at the top new English red wines, as well as a retrospective look at a duo of favourite English Pinot Noir.