The Vineyards of Hampshire group held their sixth annual Trade and Press tasting at 67 Pall Mall on Tuesday. The eight producers present last year were joined this time by one new member, The Grange, which is the vineyard of the well known Grange Festival venue for opera, dance etc. The format of the tasting hasn’t changed, but what has changed is a noticeable, steady, step up in quality across the board.
It is fair to say that I have a few personal favourites, but I think it would be unfair to be too overtly subjective in this article. There were a range of vintages and styles on show, but every wine has something good to say. In some ways this isn’t surprising. This group is self-selecting, and so presumably membership is based on mutually perceived quality. But what is pretty impressive is the quality through diversity on show here.
This may just be a snapshot of English wine, and principally English Sparkling Wine at that. But these tastings provide a great opportunity to taste nine estates together, helping us gauge overall progress. Would that other counties could get it together in this way. Where can we taste the wines of Sussex, Kent, Dorset…? Indeed, you’d think that there would be more promotion, via press and trade tastings, of English and Welsh wine as a whole. Perhaps there is, but I just don’t get to hear about them? Certainly we should see a lot more at the London Wine Fair.
Prices quoted are recommended retail.
Jacob Leadley is the man behind Black Chalk. The wines have been made, as several more wines on show have been, at Hattingley Valley Wines, but Black Chalk is evolving as the wines themselves are. As well as honing a very singular style of white and rosé sparkling wine, Jacob is building a new winery to service the thirty acres of Test Valley vineyard the team manages. There is already a shop, and vineyard tours can be booked on the Black Chalk web site. Both wines produced undergo partial malolactic, which helps to create a magical balance and tension between crispness and fruit intensity, in wines I find stunning, authentic and boundary pushing. Wines of the highest quality.
Black Chalk Classic 2016 – Newly released (in fact their web site still lists the ’15), the blend is 46% Chardonnay, 32% Meunier and 22% Pinot Noir. This has the explosive freshness of relative youth with equally explosive fruit. The overriding quality is crispness, but not so much acidity (although it has that), but crisp fruit and texture. When you begin a journey through the tasting room with a wine like this it wakes you up and helps focus the palate. £35
Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 – Some of you will know that I made Wild Rose 2015 my sparkling wine of the year in my annual review back in December 2019, the first time I’d named an English wine, and the first time I’d failed to name a Champagne for this “accolade”. You didn’t have to take my word for it. Writers as diverse as Jamie Goode, Victoria Moore and Susie Barrie are among the many who have heaped praise on these wines. With 41% PN, 38% PM and 21% Ch, this is even more explosive than the “Classic”. The spine is firm, it has elegance and great length. The raspberry fruit reminds me of the Scottish ones, such freshness. There’s strawberry too. A very tentative sour note on the finish adds a little savouriness. £40
UK agent – Graft Wine.
Whilst my purchasing of English Wine is mostly dictated by retail availability, Cottonworth is alongside Black Chalk in being the English producer I drank most sparkling wine from in 2019. The Liddell family source their fruit from the chalk terroir of their own estate. They did initially make the wine in the estate’s dairy, assisted by Hattingley Valley’s Emma Rice, but Emma now makes the wines over at Hattingley’s own state of the art winery in Lower Wield, near Alresford.
Classic Cuvée NV – This is from a 2014 base, circa 38% PN, 52% Ch and 10% Meunier. It’s noticeably a little softer than the Black Chalk, perhaps a little broader too. Apples come through first, then a slightly nutty element transforms to toast and brioche. £33
Rosé 2015 – This is a classic red-fruited sparkling rosé, very fruity indeed. Pinot Meunier makes up just shy of half the blend, with almost as much Pinot Noir. A splash (5%) of Pinot Précoce (aka Frühburgunder in my garden) finishes the blend. If you want something very fruity, this is a good choice. In fact, it’s a firm favourite with my parents. £36 (well priced).
Blanc de Blancs 2014 – This is classic Chardonnay off chalk which saw four years on lees. With this we have a little autolysis, and signs of further development in the bottle, with more to come, and yet this is a wine which still exhibits a fresh purity. Nicely judged. £45
UK Agent – Berkmann Cellars.
Danebury is, I think, the furthest west of the producers in this group. They are over near Stockbridge, in fact the vines are in an old paddock on Stockbridge Racecourse, between Winchester and Andover. It’s a small seven acre single vineyard estate which has been around for more than twenty years, making just four wines, still and sparkling. Viticulture is organic, and winemaking works on minimum intervention, which includes adding very low doses of sulphur.
I really felt for Danebury because of their four wines, the bottles of their Cossack Brut sparkler and Madeleine Angevine still cuvée had gone missing in transit. This left just two wines to taste.
Schönburger 2018 – I do recall this grape variety being mentioned back in the 1990s, when I was doing my WSET Diploma, but you don’t see much of it. It’s a 1979 crossing from Geisenheim, of Pinot Noir with Chasselas x Muscat Hamburg. This version is true to type, soft and nicely creamy. There’s a little glazed pineapple on the nose, a touch of weight falling short of plumpness and nice fruit. Not a complex wine but both interesting and refreshing. Very English, and a little different. £12.50 (a remarkable price).
Reserve 2018 – Here we have a blend, 30% Madeleine Angevine, 30% Schönburger, 38% Pinot Auxerrois and 2% Pinot Gris. Like the wine above, it comes in at just 11.5% abv, making it a very pleasant dry summery wine. £13
London Agent – Wineservice Ltd.
Exton Park has a fairly large 60 acre (24ha) vineyard situated on chalk downland roughly between Winchester and Portsmouth, close to Southampton. The team is led by inspirational winemaker, Corinne Seely, who despite her French heritage succeeds in making not only very English wines here, but more importantly wines which obviously express the terroir of the vineyard. I tend to think of these wines like a Champagne Grower in terms of philosophy (very terroir focused), but yet displaying a sense of place which is clearly not Northern France.
Blanc de Noirs NV – This I suppose is the entry wine for the range. It comprises 100% PN which saw two-and-a-half years on lees. You get lovely fruit ripeness with a little breadth on the palate, but at the same time it doesn’t lack precision. £32
Rosé NV – There’s a 70-30 split between PN and PM. You get a lot of red fruits coming through on the bouquet and palate, with the freshness of whole bunch pressed grapes. The pressing is slow and gentle over seven hours to minimise extract of any harshness. There’s a nice hint of bonbon, which adds an extra layer of fruit without any sense of it being confected. It makes for a nice summer bottle (or even better, magnum). £32/£75
Brut Reserve NV – A simple 60-40 split between Ch and PN, blending fruit from 2011, 12, 13 and 14, bottled in 2015 (hence it has had considerable post-disgorgement ageing). This is possibly the English classic blend with the greatest depth you can taste, with apologies to one or two well known producers of more expensive NV cuvées. It is building complexity, thanks to those reserve wines, and will continue to do so, but it still has amazing freshness considering the age of the components and the time spent on cork. £30, or £65/magnum.
There was no Pinot Meunier single varietal cuvée this time, but do keep an eye out for a future release of that particular Exton Park gem of a wine.
UK Agent – Friarwood.
These are the new boys, at least as far as Vineyards of Hampshire is concerned. The vines are on The Grange Estate at Alresford. The vineyard is called Burge’s Field, though it does amount to around 10.5 hectares, on south-facing chalk by the River Itchen. The wines are made by Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley Winery, around three miles down the road.
The first small harvest here was 2014 (around 1,500 bottles made in total). The vintage on show was 2015, where production doubles to 1,500 bottles of each wine. Production may double again for 2016, after which the number of bottles made will increase more slowly.
Classic 2015 – The Classic Cuvée is slightly Chardonnay dominant (55%), with 27% PM and 18% PN. It was very interesting to try this for the first time. The juice is partly aged in oak, and it does have a rounded out quality, and certainly a little texture, although it sees three years on lees too. Twelve different base wines are blended here, and 60% is put through malo. As well as breadth of flavour it shows a nice spine of acidity beneath. £31
“Pink” 2015 – Meunier dominates this blend (58%), with 40% PN and just 2% Chardonnay. Even on the rosé you get a touch of oak, but perfumed elegance dominates. £31.
These are both lovely wines and are well priced for those of a fairly new producer. They currently have no UK agent and the wines are mostly sold locally, and indeed through the Grange Festival. You can enjoy the wines at the opera, and I’m also told they will put a case in your boot to take away. At an advantageous price, it might be sensible to grab one.
Hambledon is England’s oldest commercial vineyard, at least in the post-Roman era. It was established in 1952 by Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, a key figure in English wine. It would be silly not to mention that Hambledon village is also the cradle of English Cricket. The rules of our national game were laid down here in the 18th Century, including the addition of a “middle stump”, brought in after one famous bowler with the endearing name of Lumpy Stevens placed the ball between the two stumps three times in a match without removing the bail (thereby being denied a wicket ea.
Hambledon’s vines are on what is known as the Newhaven Chalk formation (not that they are remotely near to Newhaven). This particular seam goes under the English Channel and comes up again in the Paris Basin. The same chalk, with a very high (and favoured) Belemnite content, mirrors almost exactly that found on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs, south of Epernay.
Hambledon Vineyard has a remarkable 200 acres under vine, but much of this was only planted in 2018 and will take time to come on stream. What I will say is that the wine world has noticed a dramatic leap in quality at Hambledon over recent years, and many now consider their wines among the very best from England’s vineyards. Malolactic fermentation is allowed in full here, and the updated winery is now state of the art and, unusually, fully gravity-fed. The winemaking team is led by former Champagne Duval-Leroy Chef de Cave, Hervé Jestin, who is now a leading consultant on sparkling wine and biodynamics.
Classic Cuvée NV – 56% Ch dominates, from that famous chalk, blended with 17% Meunier and 27% Pinot Noir. It spends three years on lees, resulting in a fresh, textured wine with a savoury touch. Using a cricket metaphor, it shows great line and length (sorry, and I do hope I’ve not used that one before…). Dosage is a very well judged 4.5 g/l, a level which has come down considerably in more recent times, a very good move. £28.50
Première Cuvée NV – The Chardonnay gets upped to 73% here. Although the 24% PN and 3% PM add character, the Chardonnay fruit does dominate, adding real elegance which lifts this above the very nice “Classic”. The base vintage is 2013, with some 2010 reserves added. Dosage is low at 2 g/l, and it saw five years on lees. This rounds out and gives greater depth to the fruit, and the finish has layers of savoury flavours, including a touch of umami. Perhaps some salinity too. £49.50
Première Cuvée Rosé NV – This wine is 100% Meunier. The colour in the bottle, which I failed to capture properly in a photograph, is amazing, almost more clairet than traditional pale pink. This is very much a gastronomic wine. It has an earthy and smoky core which I love, and also something of a still wine quality despite the bubbles. Definitely a wine I’d like to drink at home, although it’s not cheap at £69.50.
UK Agent – Fields, Morris & Verdin.
Simon Robinson conceived Hattingley Valley almost two decades ago, but without wishing to be mean to Simon, the name we associate with Hattingley today is that of winemaker Emma Rice, who joined in 2008. There may be a couple of better known names in English Wine, but this Plumpton College graduate, one of the first to take the BSc course at the UK’s “wine university”, is up there with the very best, as her “Winemaker of the Year” accolades in both 2014 and 2016 prove. She makes, or helps make, several of the other producers’ wines shown here, along with their own wines off chalk vineyards planted in 2008, near Hattingley Village in East Hampshire.
One important thing to note about Hattingley which I might not have mentioned before. Viticulture and winemaking here is very thoughtful. The new winery, finished in 2010, is not merely state-of-the-art, but was also designed to build ecological principles into all stages of the winemaking process. This seems common sense, but a decade ago it was pretty much cutting edge. Four wines were on show.
Classic Reserve NV – This is the latest release of the Classic. 53% Ch, 31% PN and 16% PM is the blend, using a high 23% of reserve wines. The result is a fruit-driven entry to Hattingley Valley, but rounded out nicely with those reserves and 19% used oak. The oak shows less than you might expect, but it adds depth. £30
Rosé 2015 – This new vintage won gold at the International Wine Challenge 2020. The core is 85% PN, assisted by 13% Meunier and a 2% splash of Pinot Précose. It’s pale and vibrant with a fruit focus. It also saw 12% oak but you don’t notice any real oak influence, so well integrated it is. Very “alive”, classy indeed. £36
Blanc de Blancs 2013 – 100% Chardonnay, with four years on lees and a further 17 months on cork. It’s a very attractive, fresh, Chardonnay, but partly fermented (around 7%) in used Burgundy barrels, it has great depth as well. It has a very fine mousse, not something I always feel needs noting. This wine will age magnificently, if only it is given that opportunity. The 2011 vintage BdeB won the World Champion Trophy in Tom Stevenson’s prestigious Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2017. £47.50
Entice 2018 – This is a rare still wine from Emma Rice, made from that quintessentially English variety (well, German, but I think we have stolen it), Bacchus. The bouquet has that classic Bacchus nose of grapefruit and freshly mown grass, but this 10% abv wine is sweet. Not cloyingly sweet, but fresh and light, and in some ways a perfect reflection of what an English summer picnic with strawberries needs. £22.50 (half-bottles)
Hattingley Valley also makes a rather fine Aqua Vitae. I know it’s fine because I’ve tasted it before, but I also know that tasting it at this point would have destroyed my palate’s analytical faculties for the wines which followed. If you fancy a very different English distillate, then try it. It’s made from five times copper pot-distilled Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage and costs £45.
UK Agent – Enotria & Coe.
Jenkyn Place is a former hop farm which Yorkshireman Simon Bladon converted to vines in the 1990s. There are around 5 hectares (12 acres) of the three classic “Champagne” varieties on the North Downs, near the village of Bentley. The wines are made by another famous maker of English wines, Dermot Sugrue (of Wiston and his own Sugrue-Pierre). These sites are a little different, chalky but with greensand over marlstone, at around 100 masl. The greensand is said to give the wines a unique, more rounded, profile than pure chalk, a quality which becomes more evident with age.
The vines here are relatively young, plantings beginning in 2004, with more vines going in during 2007 and 2010. But as a producer, Jenkyn Place is clearly maturing with the vines, and in Sugrue, they have a very safe pair of hands. The vinification is fairly consistent, using stainless steel. Even at entry level, the wines see at least three-and-a-half years on lees before disgorgement.
Classic Cuvée 2014 – 65% Ch, 25% PN and 15% PM (as listed, but which obviously makes more than 100%, but I think the Meunier figure may be wrong?). It is dosed at 8g/l and no malolactic is undergone. It’s a very nicely balanced blend, harmonious, and in the case of this cuvée the dosage, higher than many these days, is well judged. There is also a vinous quality which is often lacking with entry level wines. £29.50
Sparkling Rosé 2014 – Unusually older than many English pinks on the market, there is also 32% Chardonnay joining the 52% Pinot Noir and 16% Meunier here. Again, no malo and good lees ageing gives us a red fruits-forward wine with a big soft mousse and fine bead. The colour is beautiful, reflecting a softer flavour of nevertheless intense raspberry. £35
Blanc de Noir 2010 – No malolactic here either, this is an even blend between Pinot Noir and Meunier. It’s a very gastronomic wine with a savoury intensity, depth and a broad and softer flavour. It has aged very well indeed and retails for a remarkable price given its age. £35
Blanc de Blancs 2015 – This Chardonnay was again dosed at 8g/l, all the Jenkyn Place wines receiving a broadly similar level of liqueur. With this cuvée we get a slightly different approach in the winemaking. Around 10% of the wine sees oak and also malolactic. That 10% oak does come through in the wine’s texture, and it has a real creaminess which accentuates the Chardonnay character. The alcohol level here is worth noting, only a very accurate 11.78%. In fact the Blanc de Noir (sic) at 12.2% is the only one of these wines which tops 12%. £39
UK Agent – New Generation McKinley.
Augusta and Robert Raimes are the fifth generation of farmers on their land, situated at Grange Farm, Tichbourne, near Alresford in the South Downs National Park. The wines are made up the Road at Hattingley, by Emma Rice, but there is a genuine sense that this is an operation with the family at its centre. The viticulture, and indeed the ageing process for the wines, is noticeably carried out with love and passion. There are currently 10 acres of vines, planted in 2011.
Before describing the wines I must apologise for taking no photos here. It was because I got into a very nice conversation with Augusta, who was my final exhibitor in the tasting round. Sometimes you get too engaged with a passionate owner, and the conversations moves from vines and wines to ideas…I have found what I hope is a nice photo from the 2019 tasting as a mild apology for my omission.
“Classic” 2014 – I tasted this exact cuvée a year ago and this time around it has definitely matured further. With just over half the blend being Chardonnay, with 29% PN and 20% PM, it has the kind of depth and intensity you’d expect from a “Tripple Gold Medal” winning wine (Including Gold at the IWC). It was disgorged in January 2018, so it had both long lees ageing and some considerable further time on cork. It has a mellow softness now, with complexity. It was dosed at 11 g/l, and these days they might lower that a little (the two wines below were dosed at 8g and 6g respectively), but it is perfectly in balance, nevertheless. It is a classic, perhaps different to some of the wines I tasted, but certainly none the worse for it. Variety is good! £30
Blanc de Noirs 2016 – This 2016 vintage wine was disgorged in September 2019 after 29 months on lees. It also has a kind of mellow softness, which is a developing trait at Raimes. It also shows that Emma Rice doesn’t remotely make wine by numbers, reacting gently, without too much intervention, to terroir and vintage. The blend is almost fifty-fifty PN/PM, slightly in favour of the Pinot Noir. £35
Vintage Rosé 2015 – This is beautifully pale, a very delicate colour, complemented with a lovely soft and frothy mousse. 58% PN is joined by 20% Meunier and a nice dollop of 22% Chardonnay. I was told, although it wasn’t listed, that 5% of the “Pinot” is Précose. I always like to see this early Pinot in tiny quantity as it has been part of English wine for a long time. It’s certainly advantageous in cooler summers, and growing it myself, I just have a soft spot for it. I guess it may fade out with climate change, though.
This rosé is the driest of the Raimes wines, with that 6g/l dosage. It shows a big smack of lovely strawberry fruit, with a slight sourness on the finish. I mean that in a positive sense. It makes for a mouthful which is savoury as well as fruity, though “fruitiness” dominates. It just adds interest. Of all the wines on show, this is one which can very easily fulfil a role as a summer aperitif and also a wine at table, not an easy combination to achieve. £40
No UK agent. Contact Augusta Raimes (email@example.com). They have a web shop and list (mostly local) retail outlets and restaurants which stock their wines. Like many of the producers here, they offer vineyard tours.
As I said at the top of this article, I am impressed. Not merely because the wines are good. We all know English Sparkling Wine has come of age. I mean because I can see continued development and improvement at all of these estates. Even if the wines are just finely tweaked, the producers in the Vineyards of Hampshire grouping all share a desire to work towards greater perfection. This is a positive sign for English wine.
That Positivity has occasionally been lacking throughout English (and Welsh) wine. At first the fizz was fresh and fruity but vine age, lack of reserve wines and other factors (not least the weather) conspired to hinder complexity in the wines. That is seemingly in the past. Some of the wines here are truly very fine, and a few may well be called “world class”. None are, shall we say, made for the coach parties.
I was surprised at how my own personal tastes seem to veer even more towards the pink wines this time. With a few exceptions, this has not generally been the case for me with Champagne and other sparklers. The pink wines from this tasting were way more elegant, fresh and fine, than many wines I taste in the French Crémant category (exceptions exist again, of course).
Within this market segment of English sparklers there are, of course, those quintessentially English pinks, all strawberries and cream, picnic wines but not “complex”. But the wines I’m drawn to here are the more gastronomic wines, sparkling wines which perform well with food, perhaps with white meat, or even game, should you care to be adventurous. This is a small category but one where quality is remarkably high, although so (of necessity, I admit) are the prices, quite often.
I look forward very much to next year’s event, but in the meantime, come on Kent, Sussex and Dorset!