New Vintage Preview of Itasca Wines / Penn Croft

Contract winemaking in England has certainly become something of a blossoming business. Dedicated producers like Defined Wines and Itasca have appeared on the scene in the last couple of years, and they supplement a large influx of new vineyards coming online.

Itasca Wines was founded by filmmaker Malcolm Walker (producer of Cellar Rats wine TV series) and Simon Porter, a sustainable agriculture expert at Penn Croft Farm with over 40 years of experience in farming. From the foundations being laid in 2020, Itasca was open for business in just eight months, and its first wines have already gone on to win awards and critical acclaim, including the outstanding Missing Gate Pinot Blanc 2020.

Winemaker Ben Smith, formerly of Oxney Estate, is a natural fit for Itasca. His still wines at Oxney had shown a lot of potential, and with the quality of his output at Itasca so far, particularly with Bacchus, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, he is one of the English winemakers to watch right now.

Following on from a great 2022 vintage, Ben kindly shared with me a preview of upcoming releases, including wines from their label Penn Croft and client wines for Wraxhall Vineyard, Thorrington Mill and Wraxall. Tasting notes follow below.

Penn Croft Village White 2022

Grapes: Bacchus Region: East Sussex and Hampshire

Incredibly aromatic and fragrant on the nose, the Village White leaps out of the glass with a fusion of lime zest, elderflower, grapefruit and grass.

The palate is zippy and fresh, with lots of zesty intensity as well as hints of green tropical fruit and a suggestion of peachy richness, with grassy and mineral tones on the finish – very classically styled and a good local alternative to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Penn Croft Bacchus 2022

Grapes: Bacchus Region: East Sussex and Hampshire

With 25% of the wine matured in neutral Burgundy barrels, this contrasts with the intense and fragrant Village Bacchus. The nose is more muted, though it has a more complex character of papaya, apricot, nettle and lime zest.

The palate is where this wine really sings, with a surprisingly fleshy stone fruit richness as well as tingling saline saltiness and pungent, zesty citrus cut through. Impressively full for a Bacchus, without being flabby or overworked, this is really accomplished.

Penn Croft Pinot Blanc 2021

Grapes: Pinot Blanc Region: Essex (Missing Gate Vineyard)

This is 100% Pinot Blanc from Missing Gate Vineyard (see next wine), which was fermented in three to four-year-old Burgundy barrels. The nose is a curious mixture of peach skin, nectarine and lemon, with hints of spice and honey.

The palate brings some of that richness in the form of lightly honeyed stone fruit, but has an underlying green character that is a sure sign of the challenging 2021 vintage. Nonetheless, this is a strong effort considering the challenges that 2021 brought.

Missing Gate Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc Region: Essex

There are not many English Sauvignon Blancs out there, but I do expect to see more. This is one of a small selection of superb examples, thanks to the ideal climate of Essex once again. The nose is superbly fresh, with lime zest, crisp pear, pear drops and green tropical fruits with a seasoning of minerality.

To taste, it’s immediately brisk and fresh, slightly floral and grassy with pungent zesty and tangy tropical fruit flavours. There’s an elegant air of Loire Sauvignon Blanc to this, but also a subtle fleshy warmth and hint of spice that is more of a nod to Bordeaux Blanc than New Zealand – impressive.

Wraxall Bacchus 2022

Grapes: Bacchus Region: Somerset

This is a grown-up Bacchus, benefitting from that partial oak fermentation, which has brought out a subtle smoky quality in addition to Bacchus’ signature lime zest and green fruit intensity.

The palate is nicely considered, with a rush of lime, grapefruit, papaya and passion fruit, and perhaps a hint of peach. That smoky suggestion creeps in – it’s just a hint, and the finish is clean and mineral, with slight floral hints.

Thorrington Mill Bacchus 2022

Grapes: Bacchus Region: Essex

Another refined Bacchus, the Thorrington Mill is a little more delicate than the rounded and fuller Wraxall. There are aromas of lemon and lime zest, crisp pear, meadow flowers and white pepper.

The palate is deliciously crisp, with bursting acidity and a fusion of zesty citrus fruits. There are floral, elderflower hints throughout, as well as a tingling, bright minerality and that slight peppery note on the finish.

Wraxall Early Pinot Noir Rosé 2022

Grapes: Pinot Noir Précoce Region: Somerset

An interesting contrast to the fresher Thorrington Mill, this Wraxall Pinot Noir Rosé has ripe strawberry and raspberry aromas, and a slightly herbaceous, leafy character with a hint of rosehip tea.

Again, this wine has a distinctive texture, with a fruit-forward summer red berry ripeness and a leafy, grippy texture that brings interest.

Thorrington Mill Pinot Noir Rosé 2022

Grapes: Pinot Noir Region: Essex

Tank-fermented with 10% barrel ferment, the Thorrington Mill Rosé is a delightful red fruit mixture of youthful red berry aromas, with a distinctive black pepper edge and slight earthiness.

To taste, there are bright and zingy flavours of cherry, raspberry and cranberry, with a crisp burst before black pepper, cherry notes and a slight hint of tannic grip on the finish, giving it a really nice length.

Posted in Producers.

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