Great British Wine Round-up July 2023

After last month’s big focus on top-notch and diverse English still wines, I’ve returned to sparkling wines with an equally impressive line-up. English Sparkling Wine continues to be our hero product and, in my opinion, just goes from strength to strength. The nine wines featured in this month’s round-up come from producers with a multitude of different backgrounds, regions, approaches and grape make-up – but they are all outstanding.

The Wine of the Month is keenly fought in months like this; all of the first three wines were contenders and representative of the very best their respective producers have put out. But Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2014 gets the title. Remarkably, it’s the first time I’ve given a wine from Exton Park the WOTM title, considering it was a vineyard I was besotted with from the early days of GBW. This new wine feels like an encapsulation of the beauty and precision that makes this place very special.

The Blancs continue to shine, with Hundred Hills Blanc de Blancs 2019. I’ve not had a wine that didn’t impress from this outstanding Oxfordshire estate, and this is up there with some of the best prestige offerings from England. Chapel Down Grand Reserve is the only one of this big trio that clocks in at under £50, and it’s one of the most compelling and mature wines from the Kent powerhouse to date.

Elsewhere this month, a duo of (local to me) Surrey sparkling wines from Chilworth Manor and High Chandon also impressed with their finesse, whilst Balfour’s latest Blanc de Noirs 2019 continues to stand out. Back to Hampshire, with Bluestone Classic Cuvée offering a brisk, crisp, refreshing take, and the Rosé Brut from county mates Chilcomb Valley which impressed in the Independent English Wine Awards 2023. As did Minerva Brut 2019, a sparkling wine from Bath that is showing a lot of promise for a maiden release.

Exton Park Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2014


Grapes: Chardonnay
Region: Hampshire

Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2014 is a wine I have been patiently anticipating for quite some time. It was their 2011 Blanc de Blancs, their very first vintage wine, back in early 2016, that brought this vineyard’s chalky, mineral, visceral sparking wines to my attention.

The long-awaited follow-up vintage is an absolute triumph, made from 20-year-old Chardonnay vines that thrived in the Indian summer of 2014. The resulting wine has spent six years on lees and a further two under cork, underlying Exton Park’s commitment to serious ageing.

The wine has a glorious, light golden hue, delicate streams of fine, persistent bubbles, and a nose that transports me straight back to Exton Park. There’s lemon zest, oyster shell and salt water, piquant green orchard fruit and light suggestions of warmer, peachy ripeness.

On the palate, it’s everything that the nose promised, with intense, zingy citrus fruit, crunchy green apple and a racy saline freshness. The ripeness of 2014 manifests in white peach and a hint of tropical fruits, while a suggestion of roasted almond or coconut shell adds an intriguing finish. However, the acidity and the driving freshness, just keeps it on the leaner, fresher, elegant side that many 2014 vintage English sparkling wines struggle to stay on.

Few wines encapsulate an English producer’s signature style, their drive for purity and energy, like the Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2014. This is truly special.

Hundred Hills Blanc de Blancs 2019

Grapes: Chardonnay
Region: Oxfordshire

Keeping things on the path of crystalline Blanc de Blancs, this is another engaging release by the purveyors of fine sparkling wines that are Hundred Hills.

The nose is fragrant and packed full of aromas of ripe apple, peach and orchard blossom, with the estate’s signature exotic yuzu citrus hints and a whisper of oak.

One of few wines to go through full malolactic fermentation at Hundred Hills, this brings a generous, engaging richness of baked apple and stone fruit, whilst a linear streak of minerality and intense citrus fruit counters it perfectly.

The finish is long and indulgent, with chalky minerality lifted by creamy, nutty nougat complexities that linger indefinitely. This is a gentle but engrossing wine, and just as refined as some of the pricier prestige English Sparkling offerings.

Chapel Down Grand Reserve 2019

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Kent

Whilst it is a new name, Grand Reserve is more of an evolution of the already established Three Graces label by Chapel Down.

Three Graces typically now has less than 8g/l dosage added to it, but this new wine has just 3g/l – less than half, and the wine is so much more expressive for it.

It’s alluringly golden in colour, with a lifted nose of ripe red apple, lemon peel, roasted almond and sourdough toast. All these nutty, yeasty, bready complexities come to the forefront.

The palate is both rich and evolved, with ripe apple and peach representing a great year, but also nuanced and structured, with a lively thread of acidity and a newfound freshness thanks to the significantly lower dosage.

High Clandon The Gloriana Cuvée 2018

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Surrey

This month I re-visited several of my local Surrey producers while I participated in the first Vineyards of the Surrey Hills Summer Spectacular and presented wines from all five producers in the group.

This latest wine from multi-award-winning High Chandon was one of the stand-outs tasted, with its focussed, fragrant nose of green apple, pear, and citrus fruits, suggestions of ripe white peach and gentle brioche notes.

The palate is soft and refined, with ripe orchard fruits, soft white peach and warm buttery brioche flavours. There’s also a fine mousse and a lovely mouthfeel with a hint of honey on the finish which rounds off an elegant and refined sparkling wine.

Chilworth Manor Brut Rosé 2019

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Surrey

This month’s second wine from my home county is Chilworth Manor Brut Rosé 2019. Set in the estate of a charming and historic manor house in Chilworth, this comes from the estate’s third commercial vintage and is an entirely red grape blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

While the paler of the two rosés featured in this round-up, the Chilworth has a pleasingly classic nose, with aromas of raspberry, cherry, strawberry shortbread and bursts of lemon.

The palate is initially brisk and bright, with citrus notes, tangy cranberry and raspberry flavours. The mid-taste is more rounded, with hints of strawberries, cream, pastry, and a soft, delicate mousse. This is the best wine I’ve had from Chilworth to date.

Balfour Blanc de Noirs 2019

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Kent

Another new vintage I eagerly awaited was the follow-up to the Balfour’s bold and beguiling first foray into Blanc de Noirs (the 2018 vintage). The latest vintage, 2019, does not disappoint.

On the nose, bold aromas of cranberry, blood orange, ginger spice and red apple stand out, with an underlying roasted almond nuttiness.

The palate is broad and generous, with a rich mouthfeel, despite a leaner vintage in 2019 and a reduced dosage of 7g/l. It entertains with apricot, tangerine and red berry flavours, interweaved with nutty pastry, bitter orange and winter spice – profound and delicious!

Bluestone Classic Cuvée 2018

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Hampshire

This is another incredibly fresh and fragrant example of English Sparkling from Bluestone Vineyard. It’s a blend of 52% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier with 36 months on lees and a lower dosage of 6g/l.

Golden in hue, I found the nose on this wine immediately appealing, with a citrus mixture of lemon and yellow grapefruit, fragrant green orchard fruit, and a hint of white blossom and toastiness.

Much like the rosé, this wine’s flavour profile is brisk and racy, with vibrant, crisp acidity, and punchy apple and pear flavours. It’s certainly another one for the acidity lovers (of which I’m one) and one of those wines that demonstrates the purity and laser-pointed expression of fruit that often comes out in Hampshire and now Wiltshire-based vineyards.

Chilcomb Valley Rosé Brut NV

Grapes: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
Region: Hampshire

Chilcomb Valley is one of the latest arrivals from Hampshire, with winemaking duties being again handled by Hambledon.

This is a blend of half and half Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, made with juice from both the 2019 and 2020 vintages. It pours with a confident light red hue (this is a proper rosé), and captivates with aromas of cherry, cranberry, lemon zest and peach.

Bold in colour, the Chilcomb doesn’t shy away from its classic red fruit flavours of tangy cranberry, red cherry and raspberry. This wine has a generous richness, with a soft mousse and well-balanced dosage, and delicate notes of strawberry shortbread on the finish.

Minerva Classic Cuvée 2019

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Region: Somerset

Perhaps something of an undiscovered potential gem of English Wine, Minerva arrived on the scene with little fanfare, yet big ambitions. Their vineyard is just outside Bath, and was planted in 2015, following in the footsteps of our Roman ancestors, who also grew vines in this same area.

The Minerva Brut 2019 is their first vintage, and it claimed an impressive Gold at this year’s IEWA competition. Classic in composition (Chardonnay 45%, Pinot Noir 35% and Pinot Meunier 20%), with winemaking duties handled by Emma Rice, the wine immediately impresses with its persistent bubbles and light golden colour.

On the nose, crisp, fresh orchard fruit and lemon zest are predominant up front, with layers of croissant pastry and wet stone minerality.

I found this wine sang on the palate, with its preference for lean, clean, expressive fruit. There’s crunchy green apple, a hint of rhubarb and the expected racy citrus, but also finely woven layers of pastry, minerality and salted sourdough. Accomplished and highly drinkable, overall this is an exciting and hugely promising debut.

Posted in Monthly Round-Up.

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