Vineyards of Hampshire is an umbrella organisation for what is now eight sparkling wine producers from the county, who seem to have got their act together for joint promotion. I say “now eight” because the original seven have recently been joined by Black Chalk, Jacob Leadley’s new project, who I believe may just be the most exciting English sparkling wine producer right now.
Vineyards of Hampshire consists of Black Chalk, Cottonworth, Danebury, Exton Park, Hambledon, Hattingley Valley, Jenkyn Place and Raimes, and they all came together earlier this month for a tasting in the basement at 67 Pall Mall. Whilst there were “stars” for sure, all of the producers showed some lovely wines.
I’d especially like to highlight those brave enough to try something a little different. I’ve always liked my local Sussex vineyard, Bolney Estate’s Cuvée Noir, made from Dornfelder. It may not quite hit the high notes of their best white and pink sparklers but it does add interest to the range. No Dornfelder here, but a few interesting wines outside the norm.
Jacob Leadley spent eight years making sparkling wine in Hampshire and is best known as a former winemaker at Hattingley Valley. The Black Chalk project, which is now his full time occupation, produces small batches of finely honed wines from grapes sourced from top growers, on a unique terroir on the western edge of the South Downs.
The praise heaped on Black Chalk, since the release of the first wines at the London Wine Fair in 2018 has been quite astonishing. Wine writers have been lining up to praise Jacob, and Jamie Goode is not wrong when he calls Black Chalk “one of the best UK Sparklers out there”. Fine praise for such a new estate.
Classic 2015 is the entry point here, 49% Chardonnay, 34% Meunier and 17% Pinot Noir. It should be noted that Jacob is rightly a fan of Pinot Meunier and here it adds ripeness to a gorgeous palate refresher which retails for around £35. The use of oak shows through but not in an intrusive way. The price is pretty good for a wine which has clearly benefited from extended lees ageing, and small batch production.
Wild Rose 2015 is a little more expensive (£40) and is a blend of 41% PN, 38% PM and 21% Ch. It has super red fruits (strawberry, raspberry), and is very clean, elegant and lifted. There is an abundance of very good English Rosé on the market now, wines which scream beautiful red fruits, but I can’t think of any which do so more than Wild Rose.
Wild Rose 2016 has a little more Pinot Noir and less Meunier than the 2015. This gives it just a lighter touch. It was only disgorged in November (6g/l dosage but there was a little residual sugar from the tirage, so it contains more like 7-8g/l). Fresh and ripe, this will certainly equal the 2015 when it is released.
This is my third time tasting with Jacob since the London Wine Fair last year and every time the wines seem to have grown in stature. It will come as no surprise that I tip them for the top.
Black Chalk’s UK agent is Red Squirrel.
The Liddell family own thirty acres in the Test Valley between Andover and Stockbridge. As well as the two wines on show there are plans afoot for a Blanc de Blancs in the future.
Classic Cuvée NV is yet another expressive entry point wine, elegant and fresh in style. Made from almost equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a little under 10% Meunier, the Pinot fruit seems to dominate the style. Although Non-vintage, this saw 34 months on lees before being disgorged in February 2018.
Sparkling Rosé blends around 48% of both Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir with a little Pinot Precoce (aka Frühburgunder in my garden), and no Chardonnay. This sees almost as long on lees (30 months), and although it is undoubtedly fruity, it also has an interesting savoury quality.
Cottonworth is another small producer, making only 10,000 bottles each year. Quality is extremely high, and these are excellent wines, which should retail for around £30.
Cottonworth wines are available through Berkmann Cellars.
Danebury is also near to Stockbridge, at Nether Wallop, and is the most westerly of the group of eight. They own a single, seven acre, vineyard on a south facing slope within the former Stockbridge racecourse, which has been quietly producing sparkling wine for twenty years. Winemaker is Vince Gower.
Cossack Brut 2014 benefits from reasonably mature vines, 25 years old, but also four years extended lees ageing. Where it differs to many more recent English sparklers is the grape blend, 95% Auxerrois and 5% Pinot Gris (Rülander). The initial bouquet was slightly muted, but it opened out in a couple of minutes to something quite biscuit-like. The palate is broader than the wines based on the traditional Champagne varieties, and it’s quite savoury, but it’s nice to try something different. RRP £27. Cossack is the name of the Danebury-trained winner of the 1847 Epsom Derby.
Unusually among this group, Danebury were showing their three still white wines. Madeleine Angevine 2016 is dry with a floral bouquet and a pleasant texture. Schönburger 2016 is given a quick pressing to create a wine which is dry, softly textured, and very aromatic. The softness cushions a bright and broad grapefruit acidity. Both are delicate and refreshing wines.
Reserve 2016 blends all four varieties grown on the estate and mentioned above (proportions approx Auxerrois 38%, MA and Sch 30% each, and PG 2%). As with the two varietal wines above, alcohol is a low 11.5%. The nose is richer but the palate has fresh lemon citrus acidity. There’s a tiny bit of complexity which comes through the texture and mouthfeel.
We are just starting to see a glimmer of interest in English still wines. Always popular at the cellar door, I expect to see more working their way into independent wine shops and small restaurants, and whilst we are not looking at complex fine wines here, they undoubtedly express a pleasant English summer. All three retail for £12.50!
Danebury is available via Wineservice Ltd London.
Perhaps Exton Park would be my second favourite producer here. They are larger than many, with 55 acres (22 ha) on one site, though divided for harvesting and batch fermenting into a number of delineated plots. This allows their accomplished head winemaker, Corinne Seely, to release a number of special cuvées when exceptional fruit permits, although the overall philosophy is “terroir expression” via predominantly non-vintage wines.
Brut Reserve NV is a Pinot Noir dominated (60%) wine with the rest of the blend being Chardonnay. It sees two years on lees, but then a further two on cork, which does mean that it is nicely bedded down on release. There is a nice bit of spice in this cuvée, more savoury than many, with soy and ginger notes adding complexity. This is available in magnums (and halves), which is an excellent move in my opinion. £65/magnum is a small premium above a RRP of £27.50 for a bottle.
Blanc de Noirs NV is 100% Pinot Noir and has nice red fruit aromatics. The big fruit is contrasted by a delicate crystalline acidity. There are plenty of reserve wines in here, with a library for Corinne to select from going back to 2011. It is this carefully built library of reserve wines which helps Exton Park stand out from the crowd in England. Some producers have been too slow to build such a library, perhaps due to the dictates of cash flow. This BdN sees two years on lees, but just one on cork before release.
Rosé Brut NV is a pale salmon pink made by whole bunch saignée, utilising the ripeness of the grape skins for colour. Pressing is very gentle, for just four-to-five hours. The blend is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Meunier, the latter probably adding a little weight and ripeness. Yields are low and the wine is already a little complex, a good bet for food.
Blanc de Blancs 2011 is one of those special parcel wines I mentioned, and indeed it is pretty special. Just 3,000 bottles were made of this 100% Chardonnay. The bouquet is wonderful, quite complete, and the fruit is explosive. Although over seven years old I’d argue that it’s not yet fully mature. It may retail at £40 (the previous Exton wines all generally retail at under £30), but this is marvellous value for the quality.
Pinot Meunier Rosé is a little different, but no less fine. It’s very pale with red fruits more in the pomegranate/cranberry spectrum this time, plus an attractive umami note. It’s a brilliant expression of Meunier fruit off a special terroir, perhaps one of the finest pink sparkling wines in the UK. Real zip and zest lift it up towards the stars.
Exton Park is represented by Friarwood Fine Wines.
Hambledon is England’s oldest commercial vineyard, famous for having been established by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones in 1952. I’m not sure what Sir Guy planted back then, before anyone imagined an English sparkling wine industry, but today the focus is on the classic varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.
The soils at Hambledon are, of course, chalk, but more specifically the belemnite-rich chalk of the Newhaven Formation which closely mirrors that found in Champagne’s Côtes des Blancs. Hambledon, which it must be said has undergone something of a revival in recent years, has what for England can really be termed a massive area under vine, around 200 acres. The dominant variety is unsurprisingly Chardonnay, which dominates to one degree or another all of the Hambledon bottlings.
Hambledon Classic Cuvée doesn’t have a vintage, but the current release is mainly 2014 with reserves. It contains the least Chardonnay (40%) of the three wines with more or less equal proportions of the other two varieties. It sees a good eighteen months on lees and shows nice fruit in an accessible style.
Classic Cuvée Rosé is, surprisingly, 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir, and it is dosed at a rather high 10 g/l. It has an orange-salmon hue from barrel aged Pinot Noir, from the 2010 vintage, the Chardonnay coming from 2014. You get strawberry and raspberry fruit with added spice, and the wine shows depth and weight. A bit of texture too makes it quite gourmande, an adaptable food wine despite (or maybe because of?) the dosage.
Première Cuvée tops the range at £45 RRP. The blend is 73% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and just 3% Meunier, and the dosage is back down to 7 g/l, the same as the Classic. The nose has that brioche/arrowroot biscuit note from the Chardonnay, and complexity is added by the inclusion of 2011 and 2013 reserves partly aged in oak. Around 45 months on lees, this of all the wines tried at the tasting has some oxidative, as well as autolytic, notes, which do add to the complexity even further. But it doesn’t lack freshness. Impressive.
Hambledon is distributed by Fields, Morris and Verdin.
Established in 2008 at Lower Wield, near Alresford, Hattingley Valley has grown to 60 acres (24 ha) over two sites not far from Alton. Owned by Simon and Nicola Robinson, Chief Winemaker (and a director) is Plumpton College graduate, Emma Rice.
Classic Reserve won the Trophy for Outstanding Classic NV in the Wine GB Awards 2018. It’s an excellent entry point to the Hattingley Valley range. It comprises 50% Chardonnay with 30% PN, 19% Meunier and a dash of Pinot Gris. This wine actually deserves the term “classic” in that I’d describe it as a wine of wide appeal.
Rosé 2014 (60% PN, 38% PM and 2% Pinot Precoce) is another pink with a savoury touch adding to the appealing red fruits. The Meunier comes through as quite plush, erring towards a certain richness, and it has an extra half per cent of alcohol (12.5%) over the Classic white.
Demi-Sec 2013 is a brave wine, because connoisseurs tend to shun the style. Although it may have commercial appeal at the cellar door, I actually think this is very good. The grapes were initially selected for the Blanc de Noirs, but this parcel just had more sugar. Just 2,400 bottles were made, and the richness is nicely balanced with some fresh acidity. I’m not sure whether this will become a regular at Hattingley?
Blanc de Blancs 2013 is the new release here. 100% Chardonnay, four years on lees, and just 6 g/l dosage, right now it is much tighter than the Classic, and not a little expensive (£50 RRP), but it promises quite a lot.
Hattingley Valley Aqua Vitae is something very different, five times distilled Chardonnay from 2015 and 40% abv. It’s strong stuff and powerful on the nose, but complex, and frankly excellent.
Hattingley Valley is one of the busiest wineries in this part of Hampshire, with Emma making the wine for Raimes (see below), along with involvement in the projects by Cottonworth (including also managing the viticulture there), and Black Chalk. However, the experienced Hattingley team is producing some exciting wines and Hattingley Valley is in the top rank for English Sparkling Wine..
Hattingley Valley is represented by Enotria & Coe.
Jenkyn Place lies just off the A31, west of Farnham. Simon Bladon, a Yorkshire-born entrepreneur, moved in during 1997 but didn’t plant the first vines until 2004, converting the estate’s old hop gardens. The first vintage was 2006. The current acreage in production is twelve, with another 1.5 acres planted last year, which represents full capacity.
Classic Cuvée 2013 is dominated by Chardonnay (62%), with 24% PN and 14% PM. Alcohol is a relatively low 11.8% and dosage is on the higher side at 9 g/l. The bouquet is surprisingly floral and the wine itself shows a nice spine of rapier-like acidity, but within a fairly broad palate. It’s savoury and chalky.
Sparkling Rosé 2014 (52% PN, 32% Ch, 16% PM) is even lower in alcohol at 11.37% (very exact!). Dosage has sensibly been reduced here to 8 g/l allowing the fresh red fruit flavours to shine elegantly. This is another wine with a bit of umami adding a nice savoury edge. After tasting two Jenkyn Place wines, it seems that a core of elegant and crisp acidity is a style trait.
Blanc de Noirs 2010 is an equal blend of the two red varieties with five years on lees and a further couple of years on cork after disgorging (7 g/l). The style is broader and more developed, with slightly higher alcohol too, but still a nicely restrained 12%. If this does really retail for £35 it’s a bit of a bargain. Perhaps less commercial than the previous two wines, because I’d use it at the table rather than as an aperitif, but all the better for that, I think.
Jenkyn Place is represented by New Generation McKinley.
Robert and Augusta Raimes grow just ten acres of vines on their family farm and on the Tichborne Estate on the South Downs, just east of the M3 Motorway, not far from Black Chalk. The wine is made by Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley. Two cuvées are produced.
Raimes Classic 2014 (51% Chardonnay, 29% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier) deservedly won a Gold Medal and Trophy at the last International Wine Challenge. The style is quite rounded and the acidity is less pronounced than in some wines here. I would say that the dosage tasted slightly higher than the 7 g/l listed for some reason, but that doesn’t detract in any way from the quality spotted by the IWC Panels.
Raimes Blanc de Noirs 2015 (69% PN, 31% PM) interestingly tastes as if the dosage is lower, yet it is 8 g/l. Part of this is perhaps down to the savoury aspect both on the bouquet and the palate, and a little dry texture. In some ways that makes it the more interesting wine to the connoisseur, if slightly less commercial. I’d never tasted the Raimes wines before, so I need to get to know them better, though as they produce just 1,000 bottles a year of this lovely BdN (out of a total annual production of around 7,000 bottles) that may not be all that easy. So worth seeking out.
As far as I’m aware, Raimes has no UK agent, hardly surprising with such low production. Contact Augusta Raimes via firstname.lastname@example.org for trade enquiries.
What are my conclusions? I have to say that I’ve never been in favour of classifying English Sparkling Wine by County, but we do see here a group of producers who all make wines off the chalk terroir of the South Downs. It is by no means the case that all English Sparkling Wine comes off chalk. I wonder whether some of the growers of Sussex and Kent will follow the same promotional path?
Whilst there are notable English producers who do grow vines on soils other than chalk, there is an argument that chalk produces the best wines. But here we should be very much aware that the chalk we see on the South Downs is by no means uniform. That is exactly the same as the situation in the wider Champagne Region.
This enables the producers here to exhibit one thing in common. Although they vary in size, from Danebury’s seven acres and Raimes’ ten acres to Hambledon’s 200 acres, all of them are engaged in trying to reflect their particular terroir. It is via this path that I think the English Sparkling Wine industry is coming of age.
Although a lot of total twaddle is expressed in the wider media about English fizz, the past fifteen-to-twenty years has seen a real refinement in what some producers are doing. Success can’t be founded on a single vintage in wine, but it is clear that success is being built over time, perhaps precariously in terms of the weather (especially late frosts) and increased costs, but the signs are wonderfully positive when you attend a tasting such as this.
The wines patently do not taste superior to the finest Champagnes, but they are very good indeed, and to an extent, an English style is developing off English chalk. There’s a lot of pristine fruit and freshness and lacelike wines often grip firm spines of lifted acidity.
The Vineyards of Hampshire web site (see here) lists events and cellar open days in 2019, including the Vineyards of Hampshire Fizz Fest at Exton Park on Sunday 21st July.