With harvest 2020 wrapped up, winemakers can rest easy that they are sitting on some fabulous fruit after a year that was challenging in many ways. By many reports, the fruit is superb this year. Lyme Bay have reported that their Pinot Noir, grown in Crouch Valley, Essex, has reached a record potential alcohol level of 14.7%. James Lambert, managing director of LBW Drinks, commented: “The natural ripeness and physiological development of these pinot noir grapes mean that we can really go to town on the extraction of flavours and colour to make truly singular wines.”
Meanwhile, America Brewer of Oastbrook Estate (her IEWA Gold Medal-winning Pinot Gris 2019 is featured below), is hugely excited about the prospect of the first commercial harvest for their flourishing vineyards in Sussex. America told me: “Fantastic summer weather and our great micro-climate led to full ripening of our grapes. We selected the ripest of those grapes for our first still Pinot Noir, which will be a small batch only. The grapes had extremely low intervention in line with our integrated pest management policy. We are also producing our first still Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and a blush Pinot Meunier on-site from our own delicious grapes. These will only be released in limited quantities.” It feels like this could be another very exciting year for English still wine in particular. Could this be the break-out year for English Pinot Noir?
On the sparkling side, Jacob Leadley and Zoe Driver over at Black Chalk (whose new vintage Black Chalk Wild Rose – £40.00 features below), completed their first harvest at their new winery in Hampshire. Jacob commented: “Growing conditions for the 2020 season have been near perfect, and all the signs are that 2020 has the potential to be an excellent vintage. One of the significant things we have done is to separate the clones; the quality and distinct characteristics between these in tank is quite extraordinary and gives us some really high-quality blending components.”
Back in Sussex, Wiston Estate in Pulborough have also had what they describe as “one of our best years on record, even better than 2018!” Winemaker, Dermot Sugrue, went on to say: “This year the yields have been more manageable, and arguably will produce superior wine from the 2020 vintage. Because with lower yields, you get a greater concentration of fruit and flavour, therefore future dimension and complexity from the resulting sparkling wines. I think we can say very safely now it will be excellent to exceptional.” Wiston’s latest Cuvée Brut 2015 (£35.00) also features in this month’s round-up.
The first full harvest at Black Chalk’s new winery is completed
Essex grown Pinot Noir for Lyme Bay at 14.7% potential
Oastbrook Estate will be producing their first on-site still wines from the 2020 vintage.
Wiston Estate describe the harvest as “one of our best years on record, even better than 2018!“
Outside of those wines mentioned above, my October Wine of the Month is a return of an old Great British Wine favourite. Litmus Wines White Pinot Noir 2016 (£25.00) is one of the best vintages the Surrey-based winemakers have released to date, and was part of a seven-vintage vertical tasting I hosted earlier in the month. I’ll be publishing the full low-down on this tasting next week, but until then I strongly recommend trying this autumnal, food-friendly complex wine from Litmus.
Also featured in this month’s round-up is Fox & Fox Essence Pure Chardonnay 2015 (£39.00), another IEWA 2020 Gold Medal winner. Keeping things golden, there’s also the WineGB Gold-winning Ashling Park Estate Cuvée NV (£29.49 – Grape Britannia). I end on one of a trio of first still wine releases from Tickerage in Uckfield, Sussex. Their unoaked Chardonnay 2018 (£20.00) is a clean and punchy expression of the world-famous grape which is really starting to gain momentum in England.
Litmus White Pinot Noir 2016
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Pinot Noir
I had the pleasure of tasting all seven vintages of Litmus’s brilliant White Pinot Noir this month, and will soon be posting a full article in my English Vertical Series very soon. This is a delicious white wine made from red Pinot Noir grapes.
This current 2016 release was one of the highlights, with an opulent nose of peach, red apple and hints of vanilla cream and ice cream soda.
There’s a lovely richness and roundness to this Litmus. There’s a medley of peach, apricot and hints of cranberry, but it’s the butterscotch and caramelised peach, seasoned with a bit of spiced oak on the finish, that really stands out. Superb.
Wiston Estate Cuvée 2015
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier
With another strong year in the WineGB awards, Dermot Sugrue’s latest Cuvée for Wiston is another classy release. The 2015 is a blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier.
Incredibly golden in colour for a young wine (must be all the red grapes), the nose is rich and joyous with candied citrus peel, red apple, caramelised pastry and toasted almonds.
To taste, a big rush of Dermot’s signature energetic acidity and tingly citrus energy is expertly balanced by baked apricot pudding, peach and red apple flavours. There’s a hint of tangy red berries and lots of nutty pastry complexity, leading to a clean mineral finish that lingers and entices you into another sip, or indeed, another glass.
Ashling Park Estate Cuvée NV
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier
It’s been a great month or so for Dermot Sugrue, and for Ashling Park. Ashling Park scooped up three WineGB 2020 Trophies, one for this delicious Non-Vintage Cuvée Brut which is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier.
Like the Wiston, which is a similarly proportioned blend, this is glistening and golden, but this has a fresher, chiselled nose of lemon zest and crunchy orchard fruit.
Taste-wise, this is a really racy, energetic wine, with the expected citrus tang and green orchard fruit crunch. It’s superbly wholesome and precise, but seasoned with just the right amount of spiced pastry and biscuit to add structure and texture. At this quality level, Ashling Park is clearly an estate to watch.
Fox & Fox Essence Pure Chardonnay 2015
It was a pleasure to revisit this IEWA 2020 Gold Medal winner from the incredibly consistent Fox & Fox. It’s a Blanc de Blancs made from a blend of their very best Dijon and Champagne Chardonnay clones.
Noticeably golden, this brilliant, pure Chardonnay expression is packed to the rafters with radiant orchard fruit and zesty aromas with a light hint of warm brioche.
The palate is also very expressive, with a crystalline directness that could only come from English Chardonnay. This is led by crunchy green apple and tangy lemon flavours, then a riper peachy mid-taste and a really long finish. Elegant, poised and precise.
Black Chalk Wild Rose 2017
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay
This is the third vintage of Black Chalk Wild Rose, and is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. This delicate sparkling rosé undergoes partial malolactic fermentation and light oak usage for texture, while preserving purity and vibrancy.
This is a lovely lightly rosé, and despite the wine’s light complexion, there’s a wealth of bright red berry flavours and aromas; think wild strawberries, tangy cranberries and raspberry, with a hint of cherry blossom and a gentle softness on the mid-taste.
Overall, this is a superbly graceful rosé that really comes into its element with a considered food pairing.
Oastbrook Pinot Gris 2019
Grapes: Pinot Gris
Oastbrook is definitely one of the Sussex winemakers to watch. With her first commercial harvest completed this year, I’m super-excited to see the results of America Brewer’s first estate-grown wines in the coming years.
For this second vintage Pinot Gris, America once again worked with Stopham’s Simon Woodhead. It’s a floral and fragrant wine, with pungent citrus fruit and a twist of tropics, fruit and pear.
The palate has the perfect balance of tangy tropics and zippy acidity, with a firmer, riper, fruity mid-taste. There are flavours of peach, pear and fleshy tropics, but it’s the mineral and citrus peel finish that keeps you coming back.
Tickerage Chardonnay 2018
Initially planted in 2007 by Anthony and Zena Budd, Tickerage have gradually built up a reputation for producing delicious, extended lees-aged sparkling. This year has been their break-out year in terms of social media engagement, and has also seen the launch of their first still wines, including this fresh and steely Chardonnay from the excellent 2018 vintage.
The nose is bright and energetic, with crunchy green apples and pears, lemon zest and a hint of peach.
The palate is even more lively than the nose, with the expected fusion of crisp citrus and crunchy green orchard fruits. There’s a real sense of purity and honesty here. This Chardonnay was produced with minimal intervention, which lets its steely, mineral, saline backbone really shine.
For this month's round-up, John puts the focus back on English sparkling, with six top new wine picks.
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John tastes through ten delicious and diverse examples of English Bacchus, which demonstrate just why this is the white grape of choice in England right now.
Continuing our exploration of all things pink-coloured, John takes a look at the latest and greatest trends in English sparkling rosé.
This month, John takes a look at sparkling wines in both traditional and innovative forms, including our superb May wine of the month from Fox & Fox.
We caught up with Jacob and Zoë of Black Chalk amidst a hive of activity including new wine releases and the construction of a brand new winery.