After last month’s flurry of super still English wines, I’ve turned my focus to some of the latest and greatest Great British sparkling wine releases. This month’s top pick from me is the Digby 2013 Vintage Reserve Brut (£42.00) which put a massive smile on my face with its sublimely aged balance. It’s a real celebration of the relationship between grape blend and patience and is a must-try, in my opinion. Speaking of patience (and another wine made by Dermot Sugrue), it feels as if we have been waiting for ever for the brilliantly bright Sugrue South Downs Cuvée Boz Blanc de Blancs 2015 (£59). It’s one you’re going to want to exercise forbearance with – buy a case and lay it down for five to ten years.
Leaping out of Dorset are two fantastic new NV blends from Langham Wine Estate. It’s fair to say that Langham appear to have something of a Midas touch, and the Pinot-dominant Culver NV and Chardonnay-dominant Corallion NV, priced at a very competitive £27.50, bring a complexity that is rarely found at this price point.
Keeping things fresh and youthful, Black Chalk’s latest Classic 2017 (£35.00) follows in the footsteps of its multi-award-winning predecessor. Similarly, it feels like Rathfinny continue to up their game with the arrival of the latest vintage of their precise and crisp Blanc de Blancs 2017 (£39.50). And finally, I wanted to close on another look at Exton Park RB28 Blanc de Noirs, which I had tasted as part of Exton Park’s brand relaunch. It’s an eye-opening Blanc de Noirs that is a great demonstration of the Hampshire producer’s approach to blending from a large library of reserve wines.
Overall, it’s been a huge month for sparkling wine releases from some of my favourite producers. It’s great to see producers like those featured in this round-up consistently deliver such high-quality wines.
Digby 2013 Vintage Reserve Brut
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
This new release Vintage Brut, made from the punchy 2013 vintage, is a stellar return for Digby. It’s made predominantly from Chardonnay (65%), with 25% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier, and the bottle I tasted has spent an impressive 75 months on lees.
All that lees ageing really shines through on the nose as there are bags of pastry and nutty complexities. There’s toasted almond, croissant and vanilla cream, partnered with baked apple, white peach and even a light floral hint.
The palate has an immediate and direct brisk bite – a signature of the lean, high-acidity 2013 vintage. But partner that with over six years of ageing, and you’ve got an incredibly layered, structured sparkling wine.
There are waves of nutty pastry and creamy almond croissant which are intertwined with the energetic citrus and green apple directness of this wine. My only regret is that I didn’t pair it with food. Digby suggest pairing with Japanese food – I think they have got it spot on here!
Sugrue South Downs Cuvée Boz Blanc de Blancs 2015
Dermot Sugrue is no stranger to a Blanc de Blancs – he’s released a plethora of supreme examples, including three vintages for Wiston, plus wines for Jenkyn Place, Ashling Park and Goring Estate. However, this new Cuvée Boz is particularly special, being the first BdB under Dermot’s own label. It’s a very personal wine that he has dedicated to his late brother, Barry (‘Boz’).
This wine is made entirely from Chardonnay grown on chalk at Jenkyn Place in Hampshire and is unoaked. The resulting nose is bright and effervescent, with aromas of bright orchard fruit, lemon zest and just a hint of pastry.
The palate is what I would describe as crystalline, initially quite lean and packed full of tension with bursts of citrus and crunchy orchard fruit. There’s a subtly involving wave of peach, baked apple and sweet floral hints, but the predominant character is of precision and purity, helped by glistening minerality on the finish.
As with many of Dermot’s new releases, this wine’s best years are still to come; Dermot himself feels like this could age for a couple of decades. It’s certainly going to be a fascinating wine to return to in a few years.
Langham Corallion Classic Cuvée NV
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
After an epic 2020, I was hugely excited to try the latest releases from Langham Wine Estate. I was hugely impressed by the duo of Classic Cuvée NV wines released around a year ago, and the latest, based on the 2018 vintage, have arrived.
The new Corallion is a blend of 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier with a very low dosage of 1.5g/l.
The nose draws you in immediately with its vibrant orchard apples, candied citrus peel and fennel aromas. It’s captivating and it’s beautiful.
Of the two wines, this has the lighter palate, being prominently Chardonnay-based. There’s the expected crunchy orchard fruit but it’s ripe apples rather than tart apples. The low dosage is enticing but this wine doesn’t miss the sugar or feel out of balance. Instead, it’s a triumph of purity, with surprisingly grippy citrus and a savoury, mineral finish.
Langham Culver Classic Cuvée NV
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
Favouring the red grapes, Culver is 55% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier, also with a low dosage at 2g/l.
With a slightly more golden colour than the Corallian, the nose feels bigger and richer, with red apple, peach and pear aromas, and crispy pastry and sourdough bread notes.
To taste, the Culver continues to charm, offering a brisk, crisp bite of red apples that opens and evolves to softer waves of baked apple, cranberry and deeper savoury notes. Like the Culver, it’s the lengthy finish – part apple skin, part toasted nuts and part minerality – that will keep you returning.
This wine is a real celebration of character. It’s quite unlike almost any other English sparkling wine I’ve tasted – I wholehearted recommend it.
Black Chalk Classic 2017
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Now in its third vintage, Black Chalk’s latest Classic 2017 has big boots to fill after the 2016 cleaned up at the awards last year. And fill those boots this wine does!
The nose is very inviting, with candied apple, white peach, and honey roasted winter nut aromas.
Taste-wise, this wine’s harmony once again proves to be its finest asset. There are brisk, clean and crisp apple and orchard fruit flavours, with lively citrus bursts complementing riper red apple and peach. It’s suitably complex, with crisp pastry and toasted almond notes and a pleasing creamy softness.
This is another fine vintage from Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver. I would love to see how Black Chalk wines age, but their wines are never around long enough to experience this!
Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs 2017
One producer that I have followed particularly closely, tasting every wine of theirs from day one, is Rathfinny. It doesn’t feel like four years ago since they launched, but this month sees the Sussex champion launch their fourth vintage, 2017.
The nose on this Blancs was really expressive, with an almost perfumed mixture of ripe apple, Asian pear and honeysuckle, and a light suggestion of crisp pastry.
Precision is something that has been part of the signature style of Rathfinny, and this third Blanc de Blancs is no different. The taste is a brisk fusion of crunchy apples, lemon zest and peach, but there’s also suggestions of tropical fruit in there.
I’ve found Rathfinny’s Blanc de Blancs consistently gratifying, and while this is undoubtedly chiselled and angular in youth, I fell for the expressive purity of the fruit.
Exton Park RB28 Blanc de Noirs
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Exton Park’s Blanc de Noirs, for anyone that hasn’t tried it before, almost flies in the face of convention compared to the often brooding, muscular character that Noirs can offer. Instead, it’s refined, restrained and ultimately, almost perfumed.
The RB28 is made entirely from Pinot Noir, and has bright and fresh aromas, with citrus, honeysuckle, apple and just a dash of cranberry.
The palate on this wine really sums up that Exton Park ‘house style’. There’s a fusion of brisk, crisp acidity and crunchy orchard fruit, with suggestions of tangy redcurrant. The mid-taste is softer, with notes of ripe peach, melon and a seasoning of pastry notes.
The RB 28 has a lean profile, further brightened by striking minerality, but it’s rounded by a silky soft mousse and ripe fruit suggestions.
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