On the surface, Ben Witchell, winemaker at Flint Vineyard in Norfolk, appears to be playing the Italians at their own game. This sparkling rosé is made using the Charmat, or ‘tank’ method, a process employed in the making of Prosecco. With Charmat winemaking, the secondary fermentation takes place in the tank rather than in the bottle (the Champagne method, or Méthode Champenoise). Since the latter is the preferred practice for sparkling production in the U.K., this constitutes something of a departure and Ben beat wine producers, Fitz, in Worthing, West Sussex in the race to produce the first Charmat-style wine in England.
But Ben is keen to stress that he wasn’t trying to create a ‘fruit bomb’ (as undoubtedly some Proseccos are). Pressing whole bunches and stirring the lees periodically are two techniques not usually employed in Prosecco production and, Ben feels, this has produced a complexity not often found in North Italian sparkling wines. Also making a difference are the grapes chosen for the base wine, namely Bacchus, Solaris, Reichensteiner and Rondo. This group of varieties adds an aromatic quality to the wine not usually present in Prosecco.
On the nose, aromas of fruit puddings (strawberry mousse, Bakewell tart) and confectionery are immediately apparent, as are notes of praline. This suggests that the wine has enough distinctive flavour for it to stand alone as an aperitif.
That promise is fulfilled on the palate. Straightforward at first, and clearly fruit-driven, there are hidden depths to this wine on further tasting. Sweet red cherries and pink lemonade are the initial flavours, nothing complex or challenging about that. But then a mid-taste starts to develop. This is where the ‘forest fruits’ (in Ben’s description) come in. These are darker and crunchier than the opening palate. Then, finally, acidity and a certain minerality enter, creating an excellent balance.
Whether intentionally or not, Ben has exploited a gap in the market for an English Prosecco-style wine with this rosé. We seem to have become obsessed with Prosecco in this country, from the acres of shelf space in the supermarkets given over to it, to the merchandise connected with it (‘Hand me the Prosecco’, ‘Prosecco-o-clock’ etc.). And some of the actual product is pretty bland, to say the least. Ben Witchell has pulled off the trick of producing a fruit-driven wine, easy-to-drink, but with plenty of complexity. Will it go some way to calling a halt to our Prosecco fixation? Well, of course, that may be too much to ask but he has perhaps started something that might, in time, lead to serious rivalry between the English sparkling winemakers and the ‘Proseccoians’.