Nearly two years ago today I experienced my first tasting of English Sparkling Wine. Whilst in my wine-drinking infancy, I was intrigued about the prospect of a sparkling wine grown and made in England, especially one that was reputed to be Champagne-beating. The helpful wine store manager explained to me that this particular wine had won blind tasting challenges against well-known Champagne houses. That was all I needed to convince me to give it a try. That wine was the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2004. It literally sparked my interest in English Wine, and the Classic Cuvée has since been a regular wine of choice for me whenever a special occasion or celebration calls for bubbles. With my interest in English Wine at an all-time high, how could I resist the opportunity to visit Nyetimber for a tour and tasting of their latest wines?
Our afternoon began with an introduction to Nyetimber and what they are all about. If you’re reading this article I’m sure you’ll already aware of them, so I’ll keep it short. First recorded in the Doomsday Book in 1086, the estate name Nyetimber literally means ‘New Timber’, which is presumed to refer to a newly timbered house or timber plantation. With nearly 1000 years of heritage, the estate name of Nyetimber was kept as the perfect name for a wine that would go on to stamp its own mark on English history.
In 1986 the first vines of the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier were planted and trialled by the original owners, Stuart and Sandy Moss. Nyetimber’s collective goal is to make the finest English Sparkling Wine there is, and ultimately one of the best sparkling wines in the world. With total control from grape growing, cultivation and harvesting, through to winemaking and blending, Nyetimber has demonstrated excellence and perfectionism since day one.
This was cemented in English wine history when their first Blanc de Blancs Premiere Cuvée, harvested in 1992 and released in 1996, went on to become a Gold Medal winner. Further vintages followed with increasing critical acclaim, with the Classic Cuvée 1993 also picking up a Gold Medal.
Dutch businessman Eric Heerema purchased Nyetimber in 2006, with the bold ambition to increase production from 70,000 bottles a year to over half a million bottles a year within six years. Mr Heerema's sheer determination and continued investment has further moulded Nyetimber into a formidable force, helping England’s most recognisable wine brand to enter the international stage. The past couple of decades have paved a decorated award-winning path for almost every vintage, including the most recent release: the delicious Classic Cuvée 2010.
After the introduction, the next stage of the tour is what I had been waiting for – a walk around the Nyetimber estate, led by assistant winemaker Brad Greatrix. Brad works alongside his wife, head winemaker Cherie Spriggs. The Canadian couple have been with Nyetimber since 2007.
Brand Focus: It has to be said that Nyetimber's branding is one of the most iconic and slick looking 0f English Wine brands. From the elegant ivory background to the blue and gold embellishments, everything about the packaging screams quality and finesse. The brand is consistently communicated from bottle to packaging and through to corporate branding and wine accessories.
All grapes are grown on Nyetimber’s own estate-owned vineyards. There are 8 vineyards in total spanning over 150 hectares. Six of the vineyards are located in West Sussex, with another two in Hampshire. All of the vineyards are designed in the same way, south-facing on a downwards slope to allow both natural sunlight exposure and to provide shelter from the elements. The main difference between the two regions is soil type – greensand in Sussex and chalk in Hampshire. Brad explains that being responsible for each and every grape grown has allowed Nyetimber optimal control over wine quality and flavour. One parcel of grapes from a certain area within a vineyard may have certain flavour compounds and characteristics unique to that patch. Understanding these subtle differences allows the winemaker the ability to create the perfect balance and complexity found in all of Nyetimber’s wines. This control takes us back to the strive for perfectionism that was highlighted during the beginning of the tour.
Walking around the many acres of vineyards within the Pulborough site, it is clear that everyone at Nyetimber takes immense pride in their work. The vineyards are perfectly maintained, with row upon row of uniformly proportioned vines – and not a single weed in sight. We reach the lowest land level in the estate, the aptly named ‘Barn Field’ vineyard. These lower areas of the vineyards are where the Pinot Meunier vines are planted, where the cooler temperatures allow a lengthened growing and maturation period before harvest. These growing conductions result in increased flavour compounds without sugar increase, ultimately leading to a more complex flavour.
Typically, a single harvest can result in 96 individual wines being produced, all derived from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each final wine will go through an intricate blending process, resulting in a slightly different grape blend with each new wine release. I took the chance to ask Brad about future wine releases, as I had recently read that the current Classic Cuvée 2010 will be the final cuvée to be dated as a single vintage. The reasoning for this move is to gain further control and deliver a more consistent product year on year.
There’s no hiding that the British weather is quite volatile and unpredictable; this weather can leave a big stamp on the character of the wine, regardless of the winemaker's intricate understanding of their grapes. For this reason, ever since the first vintage Nyetimber has been compiling a portfolio of reserve wines. These reserve wines will be incorporated into future releases to give increased control and balance during winemaking. Whilst it removes the surprise and subtle differences between each new vintage release, it will allow for an even better balanced wine with potentially further complexity and intensity. This is a process already used for the Demi-Sec, which has been a non-vintage release since its launch in 2012.
After learning about grape cultivation with some fascinating insights from Brad, we are led back to the an impressive building known as the 'Medieval Barn'. With parts of the barn dating back to the fourteenth century, this was the perfect setting for a tutored tasting. The room is beautifully decorated, with long tasting tables and enough places to cater for the 40 or so people on our tour. Brad again guided us through the portfolio, describing some of the intricacies of the individual wines. It was truly a privilege to hear such a detailed insight from someone so influential in the final product. Brad also explained some of the 'Traditional Method' processes required to make English Sparkling Wine. He took us through primary and secondary fermentation and lees ageing, through to riddling (demonstrated above right by Brad) and finally disgorgement.
The tasting flight for today began with the Classic Cuvée 2010, then the Rosé 2009 and finally the Demi-Sec. Whilst I had tried all of these wines previously, it was a great opportunity to try the three side by side and observe the differences in flavour and character. My tasting notes can be found just underneath the picture of the tasting room below.
Overall my visit to Nyetimber was a memorable experience; whilst they don't open their doors to the public often, I would strongly recommend a visit to anyone with an interesting in English Sparkling Wine. Thanks again to all at Nyetimber, and especially Brad Greatrix, for an excellent tour.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010
Grapes: 51% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Meunier Price: £31.99
This has a beautiful nose with lemon, apples, pear and freshly baked pastry, added complexity of nut, yeast and vanilla.
Whilst retaining the vibrant acidity and clarity of the '09, I find this has a more pleasing textured toasted beauty that the older vintages had.
This is the jewel in the crown of the current releases from Nyetimber, perhaps their finest vintage yet. No wonder it has just won the Best English Sparkling Wine award in the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.
Nyetimber Rosé 2009
Grapes: 53% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay, 2% Pinot Meunier Price: £44.99
This has a rich nose, as you would expect from Nyetimber, full of yeasty notes with red berries of raspberry and strawberry dancing around.
There's a great rounded palate with rich citrus acidity and creamy summer berry pudding.
It has excellent length with a fruity tangy finish – very full for a rose with the smooth elegance you would expect from Nyetimber.
Grapes: Chardonnay Price: £39.99
I'm not a regular Demi-Sec drinker, but this was a really pleasant surprise.
Whilst sweeter on the palate this also retained excellent structure with beautiful layers of honeyed fruits – lemon and peach. The Chardonnay grape has left its recognisable stamp. There is malolactic fermentation with the aim of retaining acidity to balance the extra dosage.
There's a really nice evolution on the palate from the initial sweeter flavours. Despite the 45 grams per litre residual sugar, this wine has a beautifully structured finish with bursts of minerality and dryer notes.