English Fizz comes of age
For English Fizz, this is the year that a step change happened. In years to come, we’ll look back at 2016 as the year that everything seemed to come together. Climate change, professional winemaking, maturing vines, grape varieties, site selection, business and investment skills, media recognition, coveted awards and sheer self-confidence mean that English Sparkling Wines are now truly world-class.
I’ve tried a lot of English Fizz this year, and it seems there has been an explosion of fine sparkling wines released. I firmly believe bubbles are the future for the England and Wales wine industry, and it’s where England can compete on excellence. Meanwhile, there are red, rosé and white still wines that are well worth exploring too, a subject for another time.
Over the past few decades, I have watched English and Welsh vineyards grow from tiny amateurish beginnings through to being a cottage industry with potential. Now it has moved to a position where the world is sitting up and taking notice. At the last count, there are some 470 vineyards and 135 wineries making around 5.3 million bottles per year, of which some 3.5 million are sparkling. With nearly 2,000 hectares planted, the vineyard expansion since the nineties has been mostly given over to the “Champagne” grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. While Kent and Sussex boast the biggest areas which exploit a terroir that is remarkably similar to Champagne, most counties in England and Wales have wineries. There’s probably one close by, and you can check that out here.
Climate change is a significant factor, now allowing the Champagne grape varieties to ripen. It appears that the southern English climate approximates to that found in Champagne 30 or so years ago, though it remains a little cooler and wetter and days of high temperatures are still a rarity.
Below is a tasting line-up featuring some of the very best English Fizz, in three different styles. It features six Blanc de Blancs, six Brut blends and seven Rosés. Whether made by “large” established wineries or new boutiques, all provide a memorable fizzical experience. They are all premium flagship cuvées; small releases made only from “Champagne” grape varieties. They represent the current state-of-the-art. For example, many have extended ageing on the lees to pick up extra flavour and complexity. Heck, even their labels look great!
The prices quoted are direct from the winery/online, though many are now more widely available in wine shops, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants throughout the UK. Many of the winery websites list availability in these. Champers prices? Yes, but many exceed Champers quality in the comparable price bracket. Each review has links to the winery website and a location map.
Finally, I dislike points systems but on this occasion, I have adopted them. Your preferences may be different!
English Fizz Flight One: Blanc de Blancs – all vintage, all Brut and all 100% Chardonnay
1. Chapel Down 2011
Location: Tenterden, Kent TN30 7NG
Technical: 12.5% abv, 8g/l dosage, 48 months on lees. Malolactic.
Pale silver, slow bubble stream. Elderflower scented. The palate has precision and focus, bright apple and lemon flavours; then a medium length reveals a marzipan-like taste, hinting at some part-barrel ageing. High acid style, drink as an aperitif or with shellfish. Very well priced.
2. Hattingley Valley 2010
Location: Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9AJ
Technical: 12.0% abv, 9.6g/l dosage, 48 m on lees. No Malolactic.
Pale silver colour, appley nose, rich palate, with green apple and a moreish sherbet lemon character. Good length, a hint of nuts on the finish. Some partial barrel ageing here to soften it up a bit. Trout seems the obvious pairing, given the location.
3. Wiston Estate, 2010
Location: Washington, West Sussex RH20 4BB
Technical: 12.0% abv, 8.6g/l dosage, 48 m on lees.
Yeasty nose. Creamy palate yet still fresh and zingy, balanced. Incisive, a little nerve. The palate shows oranges and grapefruit. Almonds on a long finish. Lovely elegance and integration. Exciting wine.
4. Gusbourne 2010
Location: Appledore, Kent TN26 2BE
Technical: 12.0% abv, 9.4g/l dosage, 36 m on the lees. Malolactic.
A hint of gold and green. Yeasty, doughy nose. A softer style, mouth filling, finesse. Generous baked apple flavours, toasty drinking. Tarte Tatin. Medium length. Oysters, please.
5. Nyetimber 2009
Location: West Chiltington, West Sussex RH20 2HH
Technical: 12.0% abv, 10.5g/l dosage, 60 m on lees. Malolactic.
Long maturity evident, more golden with a hint of oxidation on the nose that adds complexity. Pastry nose, a big mouthful of Granny Smiths and lime cut with a parmesan-like savoury character. Very impressive wine that will appeal to lovers of Vintage Champagne.
6. Bluebell Vineyard Hindleap 2008
Location: Furners Green, East Sussex TN22 3RU
Technical: 11.5% abv, 5g/l dosage, 72 m on the lees. Malolactic.
The style majors on lees-ageing, giving a hugely rich and rounded wine, slow bubbles. Broad and mouth-filling, apple and lemon hints. I’d like a bit more zip but good flavours. Try with Fish and Chips!
English Fizz Flight Two: Brut Blends
7. Herbert Hall Brut 2014
Location: Marden, Kent TN12 9LS
Technical: 40 Chardonnay/30 Pinot Noir/30 Pinot Meunier. 12.5% abv, 8g/l dosage. 15m on lees. Malolactic.
White flower nose, some splendid fruit flavours, hints of strawberry, quite silky texture. Reduced lees ageing time, so majors on fruit and freshness rather than yeasty/autolytic flavours, perhaps with some barrel ageing? This wine is pre-release, so expect it to become richer and more balanced after a little more bottle age. A lovely wine with a great future. Organic too. Can’t wait for the release!
£ estimated £35.00
8. Sugrue Pierre 2011
Location: Washington, West Sussex RH20 3BL
Technical: 60 Chardonnay/40 Pinot Meunier. 12.5% abv, 8g/l dosage. 48 m on lees. No Malolactic.
Golden colour, yellow flowers on the nose, lots of aromas. Apple and biscuit palate. A good length. Broader fuller style but has retained freshness. A vanilla-like persistency.
9. Black Dog Hill Classic Cuvée 2011
Location: Ditchling, East Sussex BN6 8XG
Technical: 60 Chardonnay/30 Pinot Noir /10 Pinot Meunier. 12% abv, 9g/l dosage. 48 m on lees. No Malolactic.
Nose has a lovely savoury parmesan character. The palate is racy, cleansing. Refreshing and focused style. Good fruit: red fruit with apples and maybe a little peach. Marzipan and nuts on the finish. Demands your attention and great value. An exciting first vintage, more, please!
10. Hambledon Premier Cuvée NV
Location: Hambledon, Hampshire. PO7 4RY
Technical: 58 Chardonnay/24 Pinot Noir/18 Pinot Meunier. 85% from 2011 and 15% from 2010. 12.5% abv. 37 m on lees. Malolactic.
Full-bodied, powerful style, slightly oxidative, an orangey-thing going amidst vanilla notes and hazelnuts. Could be a just little more persistent but a minor quibble. Broad mouth-filling style.
11. Hart of Gold 2010 Brut
Location: Vineyards in Ross-On-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 7AD
Technical: 50 Chardonnay/30 Pinot Noir /20 Pinot Meunier. 12.0% abv, 8.8g/l dosage. 60 m on lees. Malolactic.
Big rich style, plenty of vanilla notes amidst the weight of baked bread aromas and flavours. Maybe trying to establish a wholly English Identity rather than a Champagne copy? Ambitious, delicious bubbly! Grown at Ross, then made at Ridgeview.
12. Ambriel Classic Cuvée 2010
Location: Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 2HS
Technical: 70 Chardonnay/27 Pinot Noir/3 Pinot Meunier. 11.5% abv, 8.0g/l dosage. 24 m on lees. Malolactic.
A little hard in the mouth, perhaps reduce the dosage slightly? Nevertheless, good baked apple flavours and a little creamy vanilla, lemons seem to pop up at the end. Good length.
English Fizz Flight Three: Brut Rosé
13. Exton Park, Pinot Meunier Rosé NV
Location: Exton, Hampshire SO32 3NW
Technical: 100% Pinot Meunier. 11.5% abv, 6.5g/l dosage. Malolactic. Less than 12 m on lees.
Made from 2014 harvest, this is a lovely wine that deserves all the praise it has had since release. Light coral colour, a fresh fruit style with real vif! Delicate and balanced, strawberry gives way to a gingerbread finish. Nice acid backbone keeps you coming back. Distinctive and excellent drinking, worth every penny. Cold cuts and salad heaven.
14. Bolney Estate Cuvée Rosé
Location: Bolney, West Sussex RH17 5NB
Technical: 100% Pinot Noir 12.0% abv, 7.5g/l dosage. 18 m on lees. Malolactic.
Onionskin colour, very attractive. Fragrant, fresh and lively. Strawberries all the way. Lipsmacking and very easy to drink. Perfect young drinking and good value.
15. Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut Rosé 2012
Location: Nanstallon, Cornwall PL30 5LG
Technical: 100% Pinot Noir 12.5% abv 12g/l dosage. 12 m on the lees.
Orange-pink hue. Masses of delicious red fruit. Strawberry, raspberry and a subtle hint of rhubarb! Succulent style, fresh and wholly distinctive. Always the Rosé to beat at any price point, great value.
16. Digby Leander Pink. Brut NV
Location: London W1J 8DJ (vineyards in Kent/Sussex/Dorset/Hampshire)
Technical: 35 Chardonnay/50 Pinot Noir/15 Pinot Meunier. 12.0% abv 12g/l dosage. 22% reserve wines.
Full pink colour, a savoury slightly balsamic nose and hints of oak. Full style, medium length. Best as an aperitif. Made for the Leander Rowing Club at Henley Regatta. Lucky them.
17. Balfour Brut Rosé 2011
Location: Hush Heath, Staplehurst, Kent TN12 0HT
Technical: 52 Chardonnay/40 Pinot Noir/8 Pinot Meunier. 12.0% abv, 24 m on lees. No Malolactic.
Salmon pink. Scents and flavours of strawberry leaf. Crisp, crunchy red fruit, not going for a leesy or yeasty character. All about freshness and fruit.
18. Coates and Seely, Britagne Rosé La Perfide 2009
Location: Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7QT
Technical: 65 Pinot Noir/35 Pinot Meunier 12.0% abv, 9 g/l dosage.
Initially, a vegetal rather than fruit nose, reflecting long lees ageing, though time unknown. The style isn’t about fragrant fresh fruit, going for complexity and a weighty palate. Great acidity and a long finish. Savoury balsamic complexity with hints of red fruit flavours. Ambitious.
19. Ridgeview Rosé de Noirs 2009
Location: Ditchling, Sussex BN6 8TP
Technical: 63 Pinot Meunier/37 Pinot Noir. 12.5% abv. 9g/l dosage, 60 m on lees. Malolactic.
Pre-release of this wine from magnum (so will have aged slower than in a regular bottle). Big colour. Big Mousse. Big Flavour. Big Length. Deep salmon pink and made by saignée method. Good freshness despite the length of lees ageing. Hints of brioche, oranges and peach pop out from red fruit background. Pretty irresistible.
£40 Bottle, £120 magnum
Some final thoughts
Every wine here is superb and together they really show just how far English Sparkling Wine has progressed. I’d be proud to have any of these wines on my table. Price-wise, these wines are flagships but don’t discount the fizz in the winery ranges at lower price points.
Reading about English Sparkling wines taking on and beating Champagne has almost become something of a cliché. Any of these sparkling wines would easily hold their own against their Champagne counterparts. Indeed, I look forward to a time when the comparison with Champagne is no longer necessary in order to demonstrate their excellence. Meanwhile, the term English Sparkling Wine really doesn’t do any of them justice; there needs to be a new term that captures the identity of what great English Fizz is. Any suggestions?
My gratitude and thanks go to Justin Howard-Sneyd MW and 67 Pall Mall for hosting this event. Also to Camel Valley Wines for the headline photograph used in this piece.
What do you think of English Fizz? Any recommendations?