Lyme Bay Chardonnay 2018 for English Wine Week 2020
This year’s English Wine Week is a little later in the year than usual. It runs from Saturday 20 June to Sunday 28th June. So to tie in with this year’s event, here are my English wine recommendations. The principal feature is the newly released Chardonnay 2018 from the Lyme Bay Winery in Devon. And there are another two Lyme Bay wines here as well.
English wine – reasons to be cheerful
Now I’m on record saying that I think the future of English Wine is sparkling, and indeed, 69% of all English wine is now bubbly. Bubbles are what get Britain a place at the vinous top table. However, that position’s risk is to unfairly ignore the other 31%; English white, rosé and red still wine. Tranquil English wine has come a long way too.
Yes, there are those “curious” grapes, first planted to endure the vagaries of the English climate. England started with a mixed bag of hybrids and Germanic crosses. In particular, the likes of Bacchus can make excellent, characterful and ageworthy wines. However, consumer unfamiliarity means they remain a minority sport for many.
Contrast that with the “Champagne Grapes”; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. These are now thriving in Britain. That’s thanks partially to climate change but also because of outstanding wine-growing skills and investment. Those three have become the most planted varieties in Britain, with 60% of the total area under vine. As a result, they hardly need an introduction and are the basis for most world-class English sparkling wines.
We know that southern Britain has a climate and soils that are similar to Champagne. Now let’s extend that analogy – those same places in Britain also have similarities with Chablis and the Auxerrois in France, which are not far from Champagne. And the great grape of Chablis is Chardonnay. QED m’lud.
Hence, several British wineries are now making excellent 100% Chardonnay still wines in unoaked and lightly oaked styles. Therefore, my pick for English Wine Week is a newly released Chardonnay 2018 from the Lyme Bay Winery. It’s a smashing package showing what English wine growing can achieve.
Lyme Bay Chardonnay 2018. 13.5%
Lyme Bay Winery has a 25-year history and an innovative business model. As well as still and sparkling wines, they also make a wide range of other high-quality drinks. Fruit wines, cider, mead, spirits and liqueurs all feature in their portfolio. This rich diversity reduces reliance on English wine production, making sound economic sense given our erratic climate. It also gives them the scope to concentrate on quality and release the wines when they are ready.
Please don’t take my word for it; Lyme Bay wines win plenty of awards. They own a small amount of vineyard, but they work with a small number of like-minded winegrowers to source most of their grape supply – similar to what happens in Champagne. Hence the grapes come from growers in Essex, Dorset, Devon, Hampshire and Oxfordshire.
2018 was an excellent vintage in England, with unprecedented yields and with quality to match. A mix of wild and Burgundian yeasts achieved an extraordinary natural alcoholic level of 13.5% in fermentation. That shows just how ripe these grapes were – there was no need for enrichment, adding extra sugar bags in a chaptalisation process.
Maturation was in a mix of stainless steel and two-year-old French oak barrels. Fining was with isinglass to ensure clarity, so those of a vegetarian or vegan persuasion should take note.
The result is a rounded dry white wine. There are gentle citrus and peach aromas, while the flavours are lemon, lime and a little grapefruit, well-focused and taught. The partial barrel maturation has softened the acidity and imparts a creamy texture. The light toast from those barrels adds additional complexity as well. The oak isn’t intrusive, and I’d expect it will become less pronounced and more integrated over time. That means this is a wine that’s well worth ageing further as it will improve. The balance of the components is exemplary.
This delightful wine can compete with Chablis at a similar price – in my book, that’s a real accolade. It’s also to Lyme Bay’s credit that this more forward 2018 is on release before their 2017. That’s being kept for longer so it can reach its full potential. It’s a versatile wine too – drink it alone or with food. All the usual fishy subjects apply.
Bottled under a screwcap, with a label fit to grace any table, it retails at £22.49 per bottle and is available directly from the winery. (Online and cellar-door)
Meanwhile, Lyme Bay Classic Cuvée is a delicious English traditional-method vintage sparkler made only in the best years. It’s a blend of 81% Pinot Noir and 19% Chardonnay, 24 months on the lees. An elegant expression of stone fruit, citrus and apple. A bottle of 2013 recently opened had developed an additional more-ish biscuit flavour and a hint of honey. The younger 2015 is £28.99 from the winery, while the more mature 2013 is £29.00 from Wines With Attitude. (A merchant reviewed here). Terrific bubbly and terrific value!
Finally, Lyme Bay also makes the white Exquisite Lyme Block Bacchus for Aldi if you are new to English Wine and want a no-risk introduction at a lower price point. It’s £9.99 well spent! So hasten ye there.
I hope you’ll join in with English Wine Week and seek out English wines, including my three Lyme Bay recommendations here. If you’d like to find out more about English wine, then the WineGB website has more details. There are also many other articles on English wines here on this website; try starting with this.
Discover, taste, enjoy!
Lyme Bay Winery
Not far away in Lyme Regis was a lovely restaurant run by Mark Hix. Here are my memories of it.