After last month’s foray into the less conventional sparkling wines from lesser-known grapes, I decided to follow up this month by focussing on some of the latest and greatest traditional method English Sparkling Wines made from the classic varieties. Before we get onto the wines themselves, I also had to mention #TheBigEnglishWineEaster, or #BEWE for short. We’ve just announced the plans for this year’s industry collaboration to support local producers and hospitality, so be sure to stay tuned for a whole series of virtual events, tastings and other such frivolities.
Once again, deciding on my Wine of the Month was tough; the wines all offered a unique and delicious experience. Indeed, three of the wines came from labels that have long been amongst my all-time favourites: Sugrue South Downs’ Trouble With Dreams, Chapel Down’s Three Graces and Gusbourne’s Blanc de Blancs. Ultimately, the sheer beauty and complexity elevated Gusbourne’s Blanc de Blancs 2016 (£59.00) to the position of Wine of the Month. However, Chapel Down’s Three Graces 2016 (£35.00) and Sugrue South Downs’ TWD 2015 (£45.00) were both also stand-outs and arguably up there with the best vintages of these superb wines to date, offering finesse and a real sense of structure and balance.
It was also great to explore a handful of exceptional sparkling wines from smaller producers. I haven’t tasted anything from Nutbourne Vineyards for quite some time. However, upon hearing our friends at Hawkins Bros. wax lyrical about their latest Nutty Brut 2016 (£26.00 – Hawkins Bros.), I had to give it a try. I found it generous and fruit-forward but still keeping that brisk, familiar English crispness. Next up were two very different takes on Blanc de Blancs, beginning with Urban Foxes’ captivating and charismatic Blanc de Blancs 2015 (£30.00), made from 100% Pinot Blanc. And looking at another facet of Pinot, I also revisited Fox & Fox’s Inspiration Blanc de Gris 2014 (£38.00 – Hawkins Bros.) ahead of next week’s chat with Jonica Fox for International Women’s Day.
Overall, it was a brilliant selection this month, featuring some truly outstanding wines.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2016
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
I was really excited to try this when winemaker Charlie Holland declared, “2016 supersedes them all”, as past vintages, namely the 2014 and 2013, have been some of my most memorable English sparkling encounters to date. This 2016 genuinely takes things up to the next level and delivers on the hype it’s been receiving.
Those fine streams of bubbles and subtle golden tones are already expected with a bottle of Gusbourne, but they lift a nose so utterly captivating that you can’t help but sniff away at it. There are notes of toasted hazelnut, baked apple, candied citrus peel and complexities of toasted pastry and spice.
And the palate – boy, does it impress. The expected crunch and purity (it’s Gusbourne’s signature) enliven the tastebuds with a sensory overload. There are soft but persistent bubbles, with equally soft waves of ripe orchard fruit, baked apple and almost buttery pastry notes. However, it’s the deft use of oak, the toasted spiced notes and then the radiant minerality that resolutely seals the deal. A new pinnacle of quality for Gusbourne?
Sugrue South Downs ‘The Trouble With Dreams’ 2015
Grapes: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
A new ‘Trouble with Dreams’ is always something to get excited about. In my opinion, it represents the pinnacle of Dermot Sugrue’s signature style – and each vintage only seems to improve upon the foundations of the last.
The first thing you notice is the colour: it’s golden and shimmering with delicate, fine bubbles in the glass. The nose also stands out in equal measure with its mixture of citrus peels, toasted bread, fried apricot and savoury layers and then with just a bit more biscuit on top for good measure.
To taste, there’s classic Sugrue acidity and an almost nervy poise. Upfront, there’s tangy lemon and crunchy green apple, bright mineral tones, and then waves of soft, baked stone fruits. It’s sublimely layered, and the savoury, nutty, meaty (!) elements come to the fore on the finish. Outstanding winemaking once again from Dermot.
Chapel Down Three Graces 2016
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Three Graces has always been one of my favourites from the Chapel Down range, being their vintage take on the classic ‘big three’ blend. I found this a little closed on release late last year and so decided to revisit after a few months, and it’s already in a much better place.
The nose is harmonious: a fusion of ripe orchard fruit, crisp citrus fruit, ripe peach and a hint of honeysuckle and pastry.
It’s still got that lean, linear acidity at the forefront; there’s a delicious balance of ripe apple, peach and zesty citrus flavours. Developing pastry complexity adds a lovely seasoning and perhaps even a hint of white chocolate.
This is classy, and it will be even better with another year or two in bottle.
Nutbourne Nutty Vintage 2016
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc
It has been quite some time since I had featured or even tasted a Nutbourne wine. Outside of a brief encounter with their Chardonnay, it was back in 2015, on my early English wine adventures, when I last had a proper encounter with their wines. I’m planning a revisit in the summer, but I’ve sampled their latest vintage of Nutty Brut until then. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
The nose on this wine is incredibly expressive, with fruit-forward aromas of peach skin, apricot and pear. There are also suggestions of pastry and spice and a suitable golden tone.
To taste, there’s a bold contrast between brisk, crisp acidity and the rounded stone fruit character that the nosed promised. There’s a real richness to the fruit with ripe peach, pear and even a hint of marmalade. It’s vivid and quite distinctive, and I think that’s down to the inclusion of the lesser-used Pinot Blanc.
This is the best-priced wine in this month’s round-up and represents excellent value for money.
Urban Foxes Blanc de Blancs 2015
Grapes: Pinot Blanc
Speaking of Pinot Blanc, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever had a sparkling wine made entirely from that grape. This is the first sparkling release from Urban Foxes, a joint venture between Collette O’Leary (now also the head winemaker at Henners) and Rebecca Coates, who met met while studying at Plumpton College in 2011.
This Blanc de Blancs spent four years on lees before release. The nose has a vibrant mixture of peach, red apple and freshly baked croissants with a hint of nuts.
The Pinot Blanc brings a really direct, intense acidity and freshness. That’s combined with layers of creamy, baked apple richness and delicate almond croissant and honey complexities. Superbly structured, this is a fascinating release and a great buy at £30 a bottle.
Fox & Fox Inspiration Blanc de Gris 2014
Grapes: Pinot Gris & Chardonnay
With International Women’s Day just around the corner, look out for a series of articles and social sessions next week focussing on prominent female figures in English Wine, including Jonica Fox, one half of Fox and Fox. I’ll be chatting to her a week on Friday, and I thought a look at Jonica’s Inspiration Blanc de Gris would be a fascinating contrast to the Urban Foxes’ Pinot Blanc above.
The Gris, in near isolation (there’s a dash of Chardonnay in the blend), has a most striking aroma. Ripe apple, white peach, and honeysuckle floral notes jump out, while patisserie complexities have started to intensify with the extra time this wine has had to develop.
The acidity is once again bold, beaming through the softer, weightier mid-taste that is part apple crumble, part zingy, but creamy lemon curd. This wine is in a real sweet spot, with the autolytic, crumbly pastry notes developing around everything else.
As with all of Jonica’s wines, this is incredibly food-friendly.
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