After the recent indulgences of more traditional sparkling wines and exceptional Pinot Noir, this month I’ve turned my attention towards another category of wine: non-classic sparkling wines. While Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier have rightly cemented their names as the grapes of choice for sparkling wine in England, there’s also a whole host of other varieties that winemakers are working with.
Seyval Blanc is the grape that first comes to mind, and my absolute favourite from this variety is Peter Hall’s Breaky Bottom Seyval (read this article for my thoughts on the present and older releases). But what are other producers doing with this variety? Three out of the seven wines in this feature are based on Seyval Blanc. They are arguably the strongest wines in the selection thanks to blending with other varieties that introduce depth and structure to the typical linear acidity of Seyval Blanc.
Dalwood’s Brut 2017 (£28.00) was the star of this line-up for me, blended with a portion of Pinot Noir. This wine has a brilliant sense of balance with its precise fruit, low dosage and yeasty complexities. Also hugely successful was a completely new discovery for me – the Breezy Ridge Classic Cuvée Brut 2017 (£26.00). Their winemaker, Daniel Ham, blended they Seyval together with Solaris and Muscaris, resulting in a generously fruity, aromatic sparkling blend. And Woodchester Valley’s Cotswold Classic 2018 (£19.95) represents excellent value, and is a very consumer-friendly offering, edging towards off-dry with its rich mix of Seyval Blanc and Pinot Blanc.
From here, I delve deeper into the unknown, with a quartet of sparkling wines made from lesser-known varieties. These often result in a lighter, aromatic expression, such as Danebury’s brisk Sparkling Cossack 2016 (£29.00), made predominantly from Auxerrois. Then there’s the Müller-Thurgau-based Chilford Hall Graduate Brut (£23.95), and the Little Waddon Col Fondo from Dorset (£20.00) which is made from Phoenix. I end on a traditional method sparkling blend of Müller-Thurgau, Huxelrebe and Reichensteiner made by Dermot Sugrue. Truly unique, the Three Squirrels Brut 2014 (£19.99) was a fascinating curiosity from Hertfordshire and introduced to me by Matt from Grape Britannia.
Dalwood Brut 2017
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Seyval Blanc & Pinot Noir
Proof that hard graft, meticulous farming, and a real understanding of your grape varieties’ strengths all pay off, is the progress Mike Huskins and his team at Dalwood have made in just a few years.
This wine has an appealingly light golden hue and fine streams of bubbles, lifted by a nose of toasted brioche, orchard fruit and gentle nuttiness, with a seasoning of lemon zest and floral aromas.
Where this wine really excels is the balance on the palate. Energetic, crisp acidity is countered with ripe, juicy orchard fruits, a hint of ripe peach and a background seasoning of brioche. The dosage of 6g/l feels bang on the money, appealing to both sparkling aficionados and everyday fizz drinkers alike.
Breezy Ridge Classic Cuvée 2017
Grapes: Seyval Blanc, Muscaris & Solaris
This is the second release from this young, funky and promising producer in Dorset. Becky and her husband, Joe, grow a selection of non-classical varieties, three of which feature here : Seyval Blanc (74%), Muscaris (19%) and Solaris (7%).
It pours a lovely golden colour, and there is a distinctive, eccentric nose: aromas of peach and honeysuckle, with a hint of lychee and tropical fruit.
The winemaking approach to blending here is so well-judged, as the wine combines the direct, energetic character of Solaris, with some ripe, fruity, aromatic richness. Again, I got peaches, lychee and mango flavours coming through, with a nice bit of creaminess, pink grapefruit and orange rind on the finish.
The Breezy Ridge was a very welcome surprise, backed up by decent branding and a family story behind it all, which I will be looking at more closely in the coming weeks.
Woodchester Valley Cotsworlds Classic 2018
Grapes: Seyval Blanc & Pinot Blanc
If there was one producer out there who has taken Seyval Blanc and made it super-accessible, it’s Woodchester Valley. This is the latest release, from the warm and generous 2018 vintage, blended again with a quarter Pinot Blanc.
The nose on this was one of the more generous of the line-up, focussing on ripe orchard fruit, with hints of caramelised fruit and buttered brioche.
The palate delivered on the promise of the generous nose, with apple, pear, peachy hints and baked fruit pudding richness. Overall, I found this ventured a little on the sweeter side for me, but there’s no doubting that this is a real crowd-pleaser, and great value too.
Danebury Sparkling Cossack 2016
Grapes: Auxerrois & Pinot Gris
Coming from one of Hampshire’s most established and boutique producers, this is always an interesting wine. Danebury’s Sparkling Cossack, a blend of Auxerrois and Pinot Gris, now leaps forward into a new vintage.
The Cossack opens with a fresh, clean nose with aromas of grapefruit, white peach and light toasty notes.
Don’t over-chill this. I found this particular vintage to be a little tight straight out of the fridge, but, once it warmed a little, the light stone fruit, floral fragrance and zesty citrus fruits shone through. It’s versatile with food. I paired it with a hearty, tomato-rich beef pasta bake, and this wine complemented it very well.
Little Waddon Col Fondo 2018
Probably the most unique wine in the line-up, this Dorset fizz is made from the lesser-known Phoenix grape, and it’s also a Col Fondo. Col Fondo is an Italian sparkling wine method where the secondary ferment happens in bottle and the yeast remains inside.
The residual yeast brings a cloudy appearance, while the nose is reminiscent of citrus zest, chalk and almonds.
Overall, while this wine is a little unusual in style, it’s also approachable. There’s a fun, lively and almost chalky lemon and lime palate, eased with soft bubbles and gentle peachy flavours.
Chilford Hall Graduate Brut 2016
Grapes: Müller-Thurgau & Pinot Noir
As the most northerly vineyard (based in the Cambridgeshire Downs) featured in this round-up, Chilford Hall is also one of the longest established, having been founded in 1972. Their Graduate Brut is a traditional method sparkling made from Germanic variety, Müller-Thurgau, with a dash of Pinot Noir.
The Graduate is aromatically appealing, with aromas of ripe apple and pear, citrus zests and a hint of nectarine. The palate delivers a rounded, softer expression of sparkling wine. With generous pear and peach flavours, there’s also a certain off-dry note. However, the crisp acidity keeps everything in check.
Müller-Thurgau-based sparkling is not something you come by every day, so I went in not knowing what to expect. However, I must say that this was a most pleasant drop, reminiscent of a decent Prosecco, but with a little more bite.
Three Squirrels Brut 2014
Grapes: Müller-Thurgau, Huxelrebe & Reichensteiner
A traditional method blend of Müller-Thurgau, Huxelrebe and Reichensteiner, with five years on the lees, is not something you come by every day. This is a Dermot Sugrue wine (surely his most unique blend to date?), and it comes from 25-year-old vines in
Hertfordshire from Hazel End Vineyard.
Unsurprisingly, this wine is somewhat off the chart when it comes to character. The nose of baked buttery apples, toasted brioche and truffled savoury hints is right out of the Dermot Sugrue playbook.
The palate is off-beat, yet undoubtedly endearing. Again, there’s rich buttery, baked fruit notes with a distinctive creamy, savoury fusion on the mid-taste. This is unusual, and potentially divisive, but a charismatic and textured ride throughout, especially for a sub-£20 entry point.
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