Black Chalk – Classic 2015 – first release
Hampshire has become something of an English Sparkling Wine hotbed during the last few years. Perhaps it’s arguably not quite as well known for wine as say Kent, Sussex or Cornwall. However, there are nevertheless some 27 vineyards in Hampshire at present, 21 of which are making sparkling wine. Some of these are developing stellar reputations, such as Coates and Seely, Hattingley Valley, Hambledon and Exton Park. They are now making world-class sparkling wines. With their first release, Black Chalk could soon be joining them.
Jacob Leadley, who made wine at Hattingley Valley, is the winemaker responsible for Black Chalk. The first releases from here are this wine and a companion rosé. The winery is down on the famous River Test, a quintessentially English chalk stream that boasts some of the best fly fishing in England.
The three “Champagne” grape varieties are all present, making Black Chalk Classic by the traditional method. In this case, the blend is 49% Chardonnay, 17% Pinot Noir and 34% Pinot Meunier. There’s some oak ageing of the base wines prior to the second fermentation in the bottle that produces the bubbles. Maturation is 24 months on the lees. All these facts are hallmarks of good quality Champagne. Except this is homegrown and equally delicious.
There’s an attractive bubble stream plus aromas of white flowers, maybe Hawthorne, and fresh dough. On the palate, apple and citrus fruit comes to the fore. Black Chalk has a weighty mouth-filling textured thanks to the barrel work. Yet at the same time, there’s precision high acidity. It comes in the brut style, so it’s refreshing and while good as an apéritif it really shines with food.
Seems to me that the most obvious pairing for Black Chalk would be a Brown Trout fresh from the River Test.
Instead, I paired Black Chalk Classic with a starter of Buffalo Mozzarella sourced from nearby Laverstoke Park Farm. This was followed by Gravadlax for the main course. Gravadlax is thinly sliced dry-cured salmon (using sugar, salt and dill) and it seems to me that the texture and dill flavour has a particular affinity with brut sparkling wines like this.
I imagined that the name Black Chalk was a reference to the Hampshire terroir. That’s not the case. Rather, it refers to artists using such material in preparation for painting a masterpiece. There’s no shortage of vision here then.
With this standard of wine quality and a label fit to grace any table, this English Sparkling Wine comes highly recommended. I’m looking forward to subsequent releases!
The Old Dairy
Update January 2020
Black Chalk English Sparkling Wine has entered the next phase of its expansion plans, with the addition of vineyards. The Black Chalk project now comprises four chalkland vineyard sites, all within Hampshire’s Test Valley. The sites – Hide, Rivers, The Levels and The Circle – are all within a one-mile radius of the Black Chalk winery and comprise 12 hectares in total. The vineyards are currently planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Précoce. As with the winery and tasting room buildings, the vineyards have been leased on a long-term contract from Fullerton Estate, near Stockbridge, in the heart of the Test Valley.
The key site for Black Chalk will be Hide, a 4.6ha vineyard. Its microclimate is perfect for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and it also has the best potential for a single-vineyard wine.
PS, for those wondering about Pinot Précoce, it’s an early-ripening version of Pinot Noir, known in Germany as Frühburgunder. Just sayin’.