Robin Goldsmith
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English Wine: on the up in 2016!

English wine is making the news these days and more importantly it’s expanding.

exton-3With 503 commercial vineyards comprising 133 wineries spread over approximately 5000 acres of land (2015 figures), the latest harvest produced over 5 million bottles and, according to English Wine Producers, by 2020, that figure is expected to double.

Sparkling wine, made by the ‘Traditional Method’ with a secondary fermentation in the bottle, is the real success story, comprising two-thirds of wine produced, but still wine should not be overlooked.

All styles are regularly winning medals in global competitions and in a recent showdown in Paris, a group of restaurateurs rated English sparkling better than the French equivalent in two out of three head-to-head blind tastings, with 13 out of 14 confusing Nyetimber‘s Blancs de Blancs 2009 with the French fizz! It is no surprise, therefore, that the traditional Champagne varieties occupy three of the top five most planted grape varieties, Chardonnay (1st), Pinot Noir (2nd) and Pinot Meunier (5th and set to grow further given its suitability to the English terroir).

Well-draining chalky soils, south-facing slopes, earlier springs, later autumns and warmer temperatures have all contributed to this phenomenon. Already, two Champagne Houses have committed to making sparkling wine in the south of England. At the end of last year,Champagne Taittinger bought 171 acres of land near Canterbury in Kent, in order to plant just under 100 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for wine production under the brand name Domaine Evremond.

More recently, Champagne Pommery announced a partnership with Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley to produce English fizz. Furthermore, the end of May saw the first time that the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS) took place in the UK, bringing together leading experts in cool climate viticulture, winemaking, business and marketing.

A big boost for the industry has also come with the news that The British Bottle Company has agreed a deal with New Jersey-based Vine Street Imports to distribute the wines of four English producers. This will be the largest portfolio of English wines available in any market outside of the UK. Even the government seems to be taking note with Ridgeview andChapel Down now becoming the official sparkling wine suppliers for 10 Downing Street!

On Monday 9th May, London played host once again to the English Wine Producers Annual Trade & Press Tasting. With many wineries represented and a centre table of 115 wines, there were many star performers on the day, so here is my rundown of a few favourites:

tillingtonRegarded as one of the pioneers and finest producers of English wine, Nyetimber’s vineyards were the first to be devoted exclusively to the three main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Located in the South Downs on south-facing sites with either sandy or chalk soils similar to Champagne, they were the first English winery to release a single vineyard sparkling wine with all grapes specially selected from a single vineyard site among its 438 acres under vine. Tillington 2010 (RRP £75.00) is the second vintage of this wine, made from a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay and only 4,117 individually numbered bottles were produced. On the nose, red fruit notes and hints of toast are evident, while the palate is elegant and complex with lemon cream, nuts, cherry stone and brioche touches. It shows great potential for ageing if you feel that way inclined!

Established in 2008, launching its first release five years later, Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley has quickly become one of England’s most respected vineyards. With 60 acres on two sites, the winery was also the first in the UK to adopt solar power and is committed to eco-friendly viticulture. Their Blanc de Blancs 2010 (RRP £34.95) is partially fermented in old Burgundy barrels (the winery’s signature touch) and shows notes of lemon, green apple, melon, caramel and butter.

Chapel Down, based in Kent, produces a well-known range of sparkling and still wines, as well as the Curious range of beers & cider. One interesting example from their portfolio is the new release Pinot Blanc 2014 (RRP £13.99). The winery only makes this still dry wine in the best vintages and 2014 was warm and dry with plenty of sunshine. This example is delicately floral with honeyed notes, touches of yellow plum, melon and good acidity. Try this with fish or as an apéritif.

Court Garden, established in 2005, is a family-run, single-estate 17-acre vineyard in East Sussex, renowned for making sparkling wine with long lees ageing from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Since then, plantings of Pinot Gris, Ortega, Dornfelder and Rondo have led to the production of still wine too.

Their superb Ditchling Reserve 2010 (RRP £29.55), which will only be made in the best years, is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which spent nine months in French oak before bottling and a further four years on lees. The result is a lovely sparkling wine with good depth of flavour combining notes of red fruit, honey, vanilla and toast.

This renowned winery, established in 1989 by ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo and his wife Annie, enjoys one of the most beautiful locations of any vineyard in the UK on the sun-drenched slopes by the Camel river in Cornwall.

With a worldwide reputation for quality, they produce both still and sparkling wine. TheirWhite Pinot Noir Brut 2010 (RRP £29.95) is a fabulously floral, fruity, light and elegant Blanc de Noirs with notes of red fruit and a delicate touch of spice. Their Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2013 (RRP £26.95) is another well-made red fruit dominant sparkling wine with a hint of apple peel, while the Pinot Noir Rosé 2014 (RRP £11.95) is a light, still, dry wine with intense strawberry aromas, perfect for drinking with barbecued mackerel.

I discovered and was the first to write about this company in 2013 after they had launched their initial 2009 Vintage Brut and Rosé. The company takes its name from Sir Kenelm Digby, the 17th century philosopher, theologian, writer, pirate and inventor. He was also the owner of a glassworks and, after developing a special technique for manufacturing wine bottles, he became known as the ‘father of the modern wine bottle’. As the first négociant-style English sparkling wine brand, they source grapes from the best vineyards in southern England, focusing on Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay and recently added two superb sparklers to their range. The Brut Non Vintage (RRP £28.99) has a lovely lemon freshness with hints of peach, red berries and nuts plus an elegant finish. The newly developed Leander Pink Non Vintage Brut (RRP £29.99) is the official sparkling wine of the world renowned Leander Club, the most successful rowing club in the world. Refined, stylish and refreshing, this shows notes of red fruit with touches of orange too.

The 6000-acre Wiston Estate has been owned and managed by the Goring family since 1743 and today is in the hands of husband and wife Harry and Pip Goring. Its 16-acre vineyard, planted in 2006, is located on the south-facing chalk slopes of the South Downs in West Sussex. With strong environmental credentials and a commitment to sustainability, the winery does not spray herbicides on the soil and they use a mechanical hoe for weed control. Additionally, solar panels are used as a source of renewable energy. They are also the sole winery in the UK and one of only four outside France to use the traditional Coquard press, which allows very gentle pressing of the grapes to extract juice of the highest quality. With distinctively elegant labels, bottles certainly stand out for all the right reasons and I particularly like the Wiston Rosé 2011 (RRP £35.95), made from 57% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. Grapes ripened well during a very warm September and yields were low, resulting in this delightful sparkling wine with a delicious fresh strawberry, green apple, delicate oak and cream profile – the perfect reminder of an English summer!

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