The festive season is here – and so this month I’ve decided to focus on indulgence. Calling English Wine indulgent in the past might have felt a bit hyperbolic. However, the days of lean sparkling wines and insipid reds are thankfully (for the most part) in the past, and we have some truly outstanding wines that can be brought out during a celebration without anyone feeling short-changed.
I had to think long and hard about this month’s Wine of the Month. Typically, I look for a wine that offers both outstanding quality but also excellent value for money. With the latter in mind, I have previously avoided naming a prestige sparkling as a Wine of the Month. However, I believe with Nyetimber’s 1086 Rosé they have curated something truly exceptional that can stand alongside the greats of Champagne. The just-released 2013 is a masterclass in poise and precision, lifted by bright, perfumed red fruit and unparalleled ageing for an English rosé. It’s an absolute treat, though it does come with a big price tag – £175!
I follow up with a trio of truly remarkable sparkling wines that demonstrate the diversity of the category: Albury Classic Cuvée 2018 magnum brings delicate floral tones and refined, slender bubbles. There are only 100 bottles out there and this is a big bottle that just cries out for a celebratory opening. Digby Blanc de Blancs 2013 (£59.99) builds on the label’s reputation for extended ageing, and serves up one of the most brilliantly balanced Blanc de Blancs of the year. Contrasting in style, Harrow & Hope Pinot Meunier Blanc de Noirs 2019 (£41.99) brings about an intense mixture of red fruit hints, savoury richness and brisk freshness.
On the red side, I’ve searched across the country and outside of the obvious places for this curious trio: first up is a real standout – the Oasthouse Red Reserve 2022 (£27.90) from Warehorne superbly demonstrates the potential of the much-talked-about but very scarce Divico grape. Blended with Pinot Noir, this wine delivers a balance and richness that is found in a very few English red wines. Martin’s Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 (£42.50) from Lyme Bay ticks all the boxes that have put Essex Pinot Noir on the map and can be thought of as something that straddles the fruit vibrancy of New Zealand Pinot and the deeper, savoury hues of Burgundy. And what about Knightor Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (£27.50)? The Cornish producer may have been creative in the growing process (the grapes are grown under glass in Cornwall), but the resulting wine is surprisingly intense.
I end on two even more unusual, but brilliant releases. Arriving just in time for Christmas is Denbies Orange Vermouth (£32.00), bringing rich tropical and stone fruit with orange zest and spice. And then finally we have Chilworth Manor Glögg (£17.50), which is a resourceful British take on Swedish tradition, and essentially a supercharged mulled wine that is packed full of sweet red fruit and festive spiced notes.
Nyetimber 1086 Rosé 2013
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
I have to admit, even with my penchant for English Wine, there’s been a tradition in the Mobbs household to go all-out on Christmas morning with a high-end prestige Champagne such as Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs or Rosé. Nyetimber does also feature heavily on the big day too, with their enticing Tillington release, but this year I’m going to be bringing out the big guns with their 1086 Rosé.
The latest 2013 release is a blend of 64% Pinot Noir and 36% Chardonnay, with 14% of the overall blend being red wine that saw a brief period in oak. The resulting wine has a confident hue, and a visceral nose of raspberry, cherry and rhubarb, with hints of caramel and cashew nut.
For this release, Cherie Spriggs has further explored the impact of cork age, with the maiden bottles having been disgorged back in July 2020. Three years’ ageing under cork has prompted the development of caramelised flavours which support the brisk, fresh brightness of the 2013 fruit. There are lovely savoury and nutty undertones, as well as hints of spice and toast, but it’s the poise and structure that really make this stand out as one of the finest English Sparkling rosés released to date.
Albury Classic Cuvée 2018 Magnum
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
Something of a rarity, with only 100 bottles released, and made from the much-lauded 2018 vintage, Albury’s Classic Cuvée in magnum is a red-dominant blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, with around five years on the lees before recent disgorgement.
The nose immediately impresses with its refinement. There’s a mixture of peach skin, red apple, and pastry, with hints of bready, savoury development.
The palate is ethereal and refined, with fine beads of bubbles as well as soft waves of peach, nectarine and orchard fruit. There are floral tones and hints of cranberry, and while soft and slender, it retains a clean, brisk acidity. This is a very delicate and composed magnum, ideal for a generous pouring on Christmas morning – and throughout the day!
Digby Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013
This was one of my favourite new English releases from 2023, and one I’ll certainly be revisiting over the festive period. Digby have waited ten years to release this, their first Blanc de Blancs, crafted from Chardonnay from both Hampshire and Dorset.
Despite its significant ageing (nine years on lees and a further year under cork), this Blanc de Blancs has delicious rampant freshness. The fruit is bright, almost perfumed, with yellow pear and floral hues, an orchard full of apples, as well as generous suggestions of croissant and pastry complexities.
The palate is bold and expressive, bursting with racy, citrus and crunchy green apple intensity. The mid-taste softens to white peach, with a hint of honeyed pear and softer creamy textures. The finish is fresh and lingering, with a lightly saline oyster shell minerality.
Harrow & Hope Pinot Meunier Blanc de Noirs 2019
Grapes: Pinot Meunier
This was a brand new release for Harrow & Hope, made from the increasingly popular Pinot Meunier with 15% barrel fermentation and just under three years on lees.
The wine is lightly golden, and has a vibrant nose of red apple and candied cranberry, with floral and light savoury hints.
What I really liked about this wine is while it has a broader, savoury richness and suggestions of creamy weight, it has a bright acidity that melts away to the lengthy ripe flavours. Superbly balanced and certainly adaptable to festive fare.
Warehorne Oasthouse English Red Reserve 2022
Grapes: Divico & Pinot Noir
I tried Warehorne’s first release at the end of a round table tasting with a couple of great English Wine-loving friends, and this was one of the highlights of the evening. These Kentish producers have gone big with Divico, blended together with Pinot Noir.
The nose is a beautiful vibrant and fruitful mixture of red cherry and raspberry, with darker black fruit of blackcurrant, blueberry and savoury spiced hints.
For a young English red, this wine packs a lot of lovely character. The fruit is soft and sumptuously rounded, with ripe cherry and blackcurrant, supported by a plummy warmth and soft, fine tannin. Overall, this is a really strong calling card for Warehourne – I’m sure we’ll be talking more about them in the not-too-distant future.
Lyme Bay Martin’s Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020
Grapes: Pinot Noir
The grapes for this wine come from a vineyard that really resonates with me: it was the first I visited in Essex and the one I think really put the region on the map. This is made from Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir clones Fr1801 and F105(s), harvested on October 9th, 17th and 18th, with each clone being treated individually. The wine was macerated on skins for ten days after fermentation and then aged in barrel for 10 months.
On the nose, generous black pepper and spice aromas are interweaved with ripe cherry, cassis and raspberry, with hints of earth and winter spice.
The palate is bright and rich, beginning with a fusion of tangy raspberry and soft, juicy cherry. There’s a lovely, supple softness and richness to that full-bodied cherry, resulting in a wine that straddles the style of a confidently oaked Burgundy and the softer, slender ripeness of great New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Knightor Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2020
Grapes: Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon
You would have thought ripening Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in England would be impossible – and you would usually be right, however, Knightor down in Cornwall have pushed the boundaries and grown these varieties under glass. This 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet blend is the resulting wine that was aged in French oak barrels for over a year.
Deeper in colour than I would have expected, the wine has a peppery, spicy nose with blackberry and earthy tones.
It’s got a lovely bite of tangy blackberries and currants, with well-integrated spice, wood bark flavours and a gentle soft cherry with light tannin. This wine has enough about it to elevate it above curiosity value, and I would be happy for it to grace my Christmas dinner table.
Something to Finish with
Denbies Orange Vermouth
This is a brand new innovation and I believe the first Orange Vermouth in England. Winemaker Andy Kershaw worked with Silent Pool Gin to transform Solaris which didn’t quite make it into the still wine bottling.
The intention was to make Vermouth that retained the dry, aromatic quality of the Denbies Orange Solaris. It’s hugely successful, with a nose that combines the mango and apricot richness of the Solaris with familiar festive notes of winter spice and orange peel.
This is a dry Vermouth that opens with exotic stone fruit and tropical fruit, without veering into sweet territory. The spice and botanicals are deftly integrated without overwhelming the vinous nature of the Solaris. Drink neat over ice, or blended with Denbies sparkling for the ultimate Surrey Hills winter cocktail.
Chilworth Manor Glögg
Grapes: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
In a bid to find the most festive English bottle out there, I think I’ve absolutely nailed it with Chilworth Manor Glogg. Building on Swedish tradition (co-founder Mia Wrigley hails from Sweden), they have also worked together with Silent Pool and blended Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with cloves, cardamon, citrus, sugar and a drop of gin.
On the nose, it’s spices at the forefront with clove, cinnamon and allspice, with aromas of raisin and tangerine peel as well as ginger.
This is Christmas in a glass, with its red fruit, orange peel, dried cranberry, sweet cherry in the background and vibrant winter spice. This is a sweeter take compared to the Denbies and, thanks to that extra boost from the gin, packs quite a warming punch. Think of it as a slightly punchier take on mulled wine, especially if served warm.
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For the July round-up, John takes a look at nine delicious English Sparkling Wines from across the country.
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