As we have broken into British Summer Time, and with the longer and hopefully warmer days ahead, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the latest and greatest wines made from Chardonnay. This world-famous grape has already been a significant component in both blended and single-variety English Sparkling Wine. However, it also holds its own in still wine, particularly in warm years like 2014, 2016 and 2018.
The 2020 vintage was another of those years, bringing us nicely onto a trio of still wines from the vintage. Hitting it out of the park is yet another outstanding release from Danbury Ridge in Essex’s Crouch Valley. The about to be released Octagon Block Chardonnay 2020 is perhaps their finest moment yet, and a must-try for lovers of premium Chardonnay. Another familiar favourite, Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2020, also impressed with its Chablis-like precision and ripe, rounded warm fruit. Finally, Denbies Wine Estate has produced an equally compelling Vineyard Select Chardonnay 2020. At £23 a bottle, I would be hard-pushed to think of a better-value English Chardonnay.
My search for great Chardonnay also took me to Dorset. Winemaker Tommy Grimshaw gave me a sneak preview of his, as yet unnamed, still Chardonnay 2022 – it hugely impressed and prompted me to post about it on Instagram here. Being the head winemaker at Langham, Tommy also served up a rather brilliant and pure expression of sparkling Chardonnay in the Dorset estate’s new Blanc de Blancs NV. In contrast, the mature and developed Winbirri Blanc de Blancs 2013 offers baked orchard fruit and brioche richness at a very attractive price. Keeping things budget-friendly, The (Wine) Society’s Exhibition English Blanc de Blancs 2018 proved to be a playful, fresh and fruit-forward option and a great starting point for those who want to explore English Blanc de Blancs without breaking the bank.
Stay tuned for next month as things take a pinker turn when I focus on a selection of spring-friendly English rosé wines.
Danbury Ridge Octagon Block Chardonnay 2020
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
It’s almost a given now that each release from Danbury Ridge Estate goes one-up on the previous bottle I’ve tried. But Liam Idzikowski has struck gold again – this is the most complex, complete wine that the much talked about Essex estate has produced to date.
On the nose, there are floral, orange blossom top notes with fragrant nectarine, peach and pears. There’s also that lovely tangerine peel that I always get from Liam’s Chardonnay, plus ample spice, gravelly minerality and a hint of caramelised fruit.
To taste, whilst the acidity is bright and in fine form, it’s the immersive ripeness of the fruit that is most noticeable. All of those ripe apple, stone fruit and poached pear flavours sing, cut through with zesty lemon and brisk acidity. And there’s this interweaved, slightly honeycombed texture and a somewhat smoky minerality that underpins everything.
It’s all so finely woven, but the sum of its parts results in a Chardonnay with more presence, nuance, and structure than England has seen before.
Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2020
Kit’s Coty Chardonnay comes from Chapel Down’s prized vineyard in Kent, and this latest 2020 vintage is a particularly classy effort.
The nose is bright and brilliant, with fresh green apple, pear and white peach, as well as lemon zest and mineral aromas.
Immediately on tasting it, I found this a fresher and slightly more delicate expression than I’d experienced previously. It’s almost like Chablis with its dancing acidity, crunchy orchard fruit and tingling minerality. There’s body too with soft, ripe white peach and light suggestions of creaminess.
The finish is rather saline, with citrus zest and light spice from very considered oak use. This stood out as a favourite in a recent Kit’s Coty Chardonnay vertical tasting, which I’ll be posting about next month.
Denbies Chardonnay 2020
The final still Chardonnay in this round-up, this latest release from Denbies was another strong contender for Wine of the Month but was pipped at the post by the Danbury Ridge. It is, however, at £23.00, less than half the price, which makes it one of the best English Chardonnays out there from a price-to-quality ratio.
2019 saw Denbies’ first foray into single variety Chardonnay for some time, with a wine that impressed considering the challenges of that vintage. But this 2020 is a big step up, immediately attractive with its ripe, fruity nose of red apple, pear and apricot and warm buttery notes with hints of spice.
The palate is full and fleshy in a way that I don’t recall a Surrey Chardonnay ever having. Waves of peach, apricot and buttery apple please the palate, whilst a fresh, citrus-laced acidity freshens things up and lingers with a lasting finish.
The oak is brilliantly judged, and more of a seasoning than a pronounced flavour. This will surprise a lot of people.
Langham Blanc de Blancs NV
This is the latest bottling of Langham’s always impressive Blanc de Blancs. While based on the 2019 vintage, this is the first time that Langham has released the BdB as a Non-Vintage, with winemaker Tommy Grimshaw blending 2019 base vintage with 39% reserve wine from 2018.
On the nose, there’s that classic Langham oxidative top note; it’s lightly nutty, but this wine is all about the pure fruit freshness. Expect fragrant green apple and a hint of white peach, with waxy lemon skin.
Initially, the palate comes across as quite lean and linear, with a focussed core of crunchy green apple and waxy lemon zest. However, I found that given a little time in the glass, a more rounded white peach and pear softness opens up, which works well with Langham’s signature soft, fine bubbles.
The finish is saline with light nutty notes. I think this wine will really benefit from a little bit more bottle and lees age. This is really accomplished winemaking
Winbirri Blanc de Blancs 2013
There are not many places that you can find a ten-year aged English Sparkling Wine at just over thirty pounds. But Winbirri is one of those places; offering a slice of their 100% Chardonnay sparkling for £31, this is yet another big hit from the Norfolk producer.
The nose promises waves of toasted brioche, preserved lemon peel, crunchy apples and hints of baked stone fruit, with light savoury suggestions.
The palate is a real treat for the senses, beginning with zesty, pungent citrus and green orchard fruit, before revealing its deeper, richer, biscuity charms. And just when the buttery brioche notes start to settle in, it’s back to that racy, fresh lemon intensity.
The Society’s Exhibition English Blanc de Blancs 2018
When looking for another more accessible Blanc de Blancs, I happened across this Wine Society own label Exhibition Blanc de Blancs 2018. It’s made from Chardonnay by Ridgeview, and spent 48 months on the lees.
The nose is fruit-forward, with ripe orchard fruit, hints of peach and lemon, and a twist of floral perfume.
The palate is brisk and clean, a signature of Ridgeview’s sparkling wines, and the flavours of green and red apple and lemon curd make this immediately appealing.
There’s a hint of peachy warmth, and just a smidgen of toasted brioche, but this remains fresh and fruit-focussed throughout. Overall, this is solid value for a vintage English Blanc de Blancs.
For the latest in the English Vertical Series, John tastes through eight vintages of Chapel Down's flagship Kit's Coty Chardonnay.
Stephen takes a look at a cross section of 2021 still wines from Norfolk.
The first round-up of the year sees John tasting a diverse selection of still and sparkling wine new releases from across the country.
A look at the 2020 vintage of Danbury Ridge Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Crouch Valley, Essex.
John takes a look at some of the latest and most exciting new English sparkling wine releases just in time for Christmas.
This month, John's focussed on 2021 vintage English wines, with a delectable trio of white blends, as well as four textural still releases.