Let’s get fizzical
Christmas is approaching with alarming speed and it seems a good moment to report on a recent tasting I attended.
Fizz is the brainchild of Ben Campbell-Johnston, an ex-fellow WSET diploma student of mine and a drinks trade events organizer. And a jolly fine idea it is too. Other than the Annual Champagne Tasting at Whitehall in March, this is the only large-scale UK tasting I’m aware of that is dedicated solely to sparkling wine.
This seems crazy at a time when the UK sparkling wine category is in growth and is currently worth over £400m, not to mention the fact that our own home-grown sparklers have never been better and are winning awards left, right and centre. (This latter topic gets plenty of coverage on this site, the most recent piece being this one.)
Although the wines on show at Fizz barely scratched the surface of what is available in the UK, 150 producers were represented, spanning 17 countries. The emphasis was on small-scale interesting bottles as opposed to the big brands.
It’s a fine initiative, if not perhaps fully fledged. A larger venue is required for next year and I do wonder if it might be better to exclude champagne – ABC? – because, as much as I adore champagne, there are plenty of other opportunities to taste it throughout the year and we need more chances to explore all the fascinating alternatives out there. Overall, though, it was a great first year for a tasting that will hopefully become a regular feature of the wine trade calendar.
Here is a shortlist of my highlights. Some wines may be tricky to track down and some are undoubtedly pricey. But I think they’re all worth the effort. Plus, you can find a few more readily available, inexpensive sparkling options in a recent article I wrote for Decanter Magazine: Susie’s 25 Sparkling Wines under £25, Decanter November 2013
SUSIE’S HIGHLIGHTS FROM ‘FIZZ’
Andrew Pirie, Apogee Deluxe Vintage Brut, 2011, Tasmania (40% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, 2 years on lees) – From Andrew Pirie’s sixth and latest project in Tasmania, this and the next wine come from a 2ha site in Pipers River. The focus for Andrew here is on matching style to climate and perfecting the balance of tannin. I was impressed with the results. Complex rich and full flavoured, with an oxidative feel. There are attractive almond notes on the finish of this dry and flavoursome, satisfying fizz. 8/10
Andrew Pirie, Apogee Deluxe Vintage Rosé, 2011, Tasmania (90% pinot noir, 10% chardonnay, saignée and also red wine addition) – Again a lovely, flavoursome wine with nutty, bready notes and a serious, foodie feel. 8/10
Alan McCorkindale, Blanc de Noirs, 2003, Waipara Valley, New Zealand (100% pinot noir with 6 years on lees and 6g/l dosage) – A really intense and interesting, nutty style. Gorgeous flavour, really mineral – very unusual wine. 7.75/10
Henners, Vintage Reserve 2009, East Sussex, England (70% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir, 38 months on lees) – Henners make a regular vintage wine that is delicious and this is a notch up with similar but fuller flavours of roasted nuts and freshly baked bread. Intense acidity and a long stylish finish. 7.75/10
Jansz Premium Vintage Cuvée 2007, Pipers River, Tasmania – A golden and fully mature New World fizz that has the brioche and truffle flavours of aged Champagne with additional caramel richness. Barrel fermentation and four years on lees have yielded an autolytic, soft and buttery wine that would be a great match for a luxurious fish pie. 7.75/10
Nautilus Estate, Cuvée Brut, NV, Marlborough New Zealand (70% pinot noir, 30% chardonnay, 3 years on lees) – Beautifully creamy and rounded with buttery brioche flavours and super fresh acidity. 7.75/10
Champagne Fleury, Blanc de Noirs Brut, NV, Champagne – Light, fresh, floral nose. Lovely tangy palate; bready, lemony and very refreshing. 7.5/10
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2009 England – More restrained and elegant than the brut, this vintage is still young and reticent. Fresh, focused and bready, it will develop well with time. I have to confess, however, that Peter and I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of this on a recent visit to Restaurant Story, so its certainly not a problem to drink it now, it’ll just give more to those with the patience to wait! 7.5/10
Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2008, England (40% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, 20% pinot Meunier) – Rounded, rich and broad yet with a core of minerality and lovely, nutty overtones. Drinking beautifully now. 7.5/10
Gramona, Argent Rosé Brut Nature, 2008, Cava, Spain (100% pinot noir. 60% barrel ferment, 30 months on lees) – Incredibly pale salmon pink. Lovely leafy and red berried, very fresh. I have yet to taste a cava that suits being made brut nature and my only criticism of this impressive wine is that it’s too dry and it needs a touch of dosage. 7/10
Hambledon Vineyard, Mill Down Brut, 2010 Hampshire, England (66% chardonnay, 14% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, 2 years in bottle) – This is the first release from the new generation at England’s oldest commercial vineyard and it’s seriously impressive stuff. Bready and tangy, it shows balance and class and promises great things for the future. 7/10
Masottina, Prosecco Superiore, Rive di Ogliato, 2012, Conegliano di Valdobbiadene – The aroma isn’t quite as expressive as I’d like but the palate is very attractive with floral, succulent apricot flavours. 7/10
Peller Estates Winery, Ice Cuvée, NV, Ontario, Canada (Chardonnay and pinot noir with vidal ice wine as dosage, 193 g/l) – I was so amazed by this and the next crazy wine that I simply wrote ‘smells floral and indeed of Vidal ice wine – actually very good, I’d love to try it with spicy Asian food’. 7/10
Peller Estates Winery, Ice Cuvée Rosé, NV, Ontario, Canada (Chardonnay and pinot noir with cabernet franc ice wine as dosage, 215g/l) – Cherry red. Lovely notes of red wine. Again really interesting, spicy and fresh. 7/10