Taste test: top UK fizz
We seem to be quizzed on this subject fairly frequently at the moment, especially on our wine courses. What’s more, a significant amount of interest was stirred up when we launched our new blog feature on this site (Diary of an English Vineyard) last week.
We think it’s great to see the active interest in UK wine from both the media and wine drinkers. This bodes well for the future.
As for what we think of the wines (the most common question we face)…Well, in this respect, it was great this week to have the rare opportunity to taste 52 of the UK’s best sparkling wines blind in a fascinating event organised by one of the leading specialists in UK wine.
What follows is a selection of my favourite wines from the tasting preceded by my frank and honest take on the current state of UK fizz.
After all, with a glamorous national wedding on the horizon, what better excuse could there be to pop the cork on a bottle of the UK’s finest..?
Background to the tasting
I was invited to taste by leading UK viticultural consultant Stephen Skelton MW.
Stephen served the wines blind (ie in bags, so we didn’t know what we were tasting) and he threw in six non-UK sparkling wines from areas including Champagne, Spain and New Zealand.
The wines were presented in three flights: Blanc de Blancs (11 wines made purely from Chardonnay), rosés (9 wines) and ‘blends’ (38 wines).
Overall thoughts following the tasting
The UK is currently producing some extremely good sparkling wines that can certainly hold their own on the world stage. At best they are complex, multi-layered and elegant, with beautifully refreshing acidity and an unmistakably English flavour that is reminiscent of an apple orchard at the end of a balmy summer’s day.
What was evident from a lot of the wines we tasted, however, is a lack of vine age. This leads to a simplicity on the palate that makes for pleasant but rarely thrilling taste experience. At the same time, it’s good to see fewer wines that could be described as ‘weird-tasting’ than was the case a few years ago.
In this tasting, the best showing came from the blanc de blancs flight, though it was a much shorter flight than the blends, which had far more highs and lows. The rosés were a mixed bag.
With a little more time for the vines to mature and a bit more experience on the part of the winemakers – not just of sparkling wine-making but also of their own terroir and sites – I believe the UK will be set to make a lasting mark on the world of premium sparkling wine. Ultimately, British fizz will become one export of which we can all be proud.
Top producer of the tasting: Ridgeview
Surprise performer of the tasting: Gusbourne Estate
BLANC DE BLANCS
Ridgeview, Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs in Magnum 2000 £63.00 – Light, bread and mineral aromas. Palate shows a lot of brisk, tangy acidity. Autolytic rather than fruit-forward, though with lemon and apple notes in evidence. One of the most Champagne-like of the tasting. 17/20
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2001 £28.99 – Very pale with a delicate green hue and restrained, floral aromas. Crisp acidity and a lightness of touch, but it lacks a real core of flavour and the overall impression is one of a simple, if attractive fizz. I have to confess I would have expected this wine to show more concentration and complexity. 15.5/20
Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2006 £24.99 – Red apple, pear and yeast aromas. A broad and rustic, almost ‘cidery’ style that wears its heart on its sleeve. I wanted to drink this with a traditional ploughman’s lunch in a country pub garden on a bright, sunny day. 16/20
Ridgeview Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2007 £21.95 – Deep colour and rich, yeasty aromas. Palate is full flavoured and shows distinct notes of mushroomy development. A really interesting wine though the dosage feels a little high. 17/20
Marks and Spencer ‘Marksman’ (Ridgeview) 2008 £22.00 – Deeply coloured with a gentle pink hue. Bold aromas of bruised red apple. Really broad and very English in flavour, not a typical blanc de blancs but very appealing and drinkable. 17/20
Nyetimber Rosé 2007 (Chardonnay & Pinot Noir) £34.95 – Vibrant pink. Restrained nose. In the mouth it is juicy and fruity with muted blackberry flavours. 16/20 Note: I rated this wine higher when I first tasted it a couple of months ago and it may just be going through a dumb phase.
Hush Heath Estate Balfour Brut Rosé 2006 (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier) £36.99 – Pale salmon pink. Soft, light and peachy on the nose and palate. Soft and easy-drinking. 16/20
Laithwaites South ridge Cuvée Merret Rosé, Ridgeview, 2008 (Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier) £19.99 – Pale salmon pink. Bready, red fruit aromas. Palate is a little funky and short but it’s more interesting than many. 16/20
Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rosé 2008 (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier) £21.95 – Really lovely spicy, red berry aromas. Palate is dry, harmonious and persistent. A very interesting and stylish wine. 17/20
Plumpton Estate ‘The Dean Blush’ NV (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) £20.00 – Attractive yeasty aromas and delicate red fruit character. Not a complex rosé but tangy and well balanced. 16/20
Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2005 (Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc) £24.99 – Pale pink hue. Soft summer berry and orchard fruit aromas. Not particularly complex or long but fruity, fresh and very drinkable. 16.5/20
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2006 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) £25.99 – Light, yeasty, Champagne-like aromas. This followed on from a run of rather odd-tasting wines and brought some much-needed relief. Consistently one of the best UK sparkling wines on the market, it didn’t disappoint, showing bready aromas and good depth of flavour and length. 17/20
Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve 2006 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) £21.99 – Very spicy, red apple aromas and loads of flavour. As with the blanc de blancs from this estate it tends towards a robust and rustic, cidery style, but it just does it in such an appealing way. 17.5/20
Jenkyn Place Brut 2006 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) £25.00 – Light, mineral aromas. In the mouth it is gently floral and lacks a bit of depth but it is very English and has an attractive, lemon-flecked finish. 16/20
Breaky Bottom Cuvée John Inglis Hall 2006 (Seyval Blanc) £20.05 – Bubbling over with frothy mousse. Very appealing lemon and yeast aromas. A taut and lean, savoury style with great finesse. 17.5/20
Laithwaites South Ridge Cuvée Merret, Ridgeview, 2007 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) £19.99 – Pink hue. Rounded and appley on both the nose and palate. An easy-going and appealing style. 16.5/20
Ridgeview Cavendish 2008 (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay) £19.95 – Simple bready / floral style. In the palate it is a good, quaffable fizz. Not complex but actually surprisingly long. 16/20
Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2008 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) £19.95 – Light, blossomy aromas. Tastes rather like a dry prosecco! Good, though a little one-dimensional. 16/20
Plumpton Estate The Dean NV (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) £20.00 – Light yeasty aromas. Quite simple but well balanced, appley and herbal. 16.5/20
A COUPLE TO AVOID AND AN ADMISSION
Though I try to always be positive when I am tasting, and not actively seek out wines to be unkind about, there were a couple of shockers that I feel it is only fair to mention.
Bothy Halcyon Days 2008 (Ortega, Findling, Huxelrebe, Albalonga, Bacchus) £12.90 – If ever a wine was mis-named…
Biddenden Gribble Bridge Sparkling Wine 2004 (Reichensteiner, Scheurebe, Pinot Noir, Ortega) £17.70
And a final admission… My second highest mark of the tasting went to the only grande marque NV champagne, Moët & Chandon NV (my score was 17.25/20). It’s far from being one of my favourite champagnes, but I suppose it highlights how non-vintage cuvées can vary and change with time. It also shows the benefits of tasting blind without any preconceptions!