|The Upcoming Première Cuvée Rosé – A Zero Dosage 100% Pinot Meunier Rosé De Saignée.|
The village of Hambledon in Hampshire is home to a modest hill that became the nucleation point for the revival of the English wine industry in the 1950s. Fortunes ebbed and flowed over the years, but since Ian Kellett took ownership of the property in 1999 the focus has been on Sparkling Wine: first, the replanting of the original site, then acquisition, expansion and no shortage of investment in winemaking facilities. Today, Hambledon once again stands as one of the most important producers in the country.
There has long been a cross-channel connection here; this is Hampshire–sur-Oger on account not only of the fine Upper-Cretaceous chalk beneath the vines but also the accents heard behind the cellar doors. Champagne man-of-the-moment Hervé Jestin has been head winemaker since day one, despite an ever-increasing number of feathers appearing in his bow; with his role in the revival of Champagne Leclerc-Briant in full swing (as well as his own Champagne and his work as a consultant on Biodynamic winemaking), the cellar is effectively now under the control of Felix Gabillet on a day-to-day basis.
Première Cuvée has always been the flagship at Hambledon. Chardonnay-led, non-vintage (thanks to around 10-15% reserve wine that sees some oak usage) and with a minimum of 48 months on lees, it always places itself at the serious end of the English Sparkling Wine spectrum. An intriguing counterpart to the Première Cuvée looks set to debut soon – the Première Cuveé Rosé tasted here.
Alongside this, my small band of bubble disciples accompanied me in tasting three iterations of the Première Cuvée; one from the original 2011 base and two from the current 2013 base. The last of these is the current release, with just 2 g/l dosage. Also tasted was the excellent entry-level Classic Cuvée. I have kept up with these wines since they first started appearing – they’re now better than ever.
Hambledon Première Cuvée Rosé Dosage Zero NV
100% Pinot Meunier with 48 months on lees. The juice spends 12 hours in the press. There is certainly nothing quite like this coming from England at the moment; think plum skin, crabapple jelly and wild red cherry jam, touched by savoury nuances like tar and even dried leaves. There is a touch of light marmalade and set-honey development here too. This has avoided bitterness or extraction on the palate, normally so noticeable in very dry Rosés; thumbs up for some sensitive winemaking here. Some roundness and creaminess to the mid palate keeps the wine moving before a gentle hedgerow tartness closes it off. I’ll admit to being a bit sceptical, but I think they’ve pulled it off! Drink young. 88
Hambledon Première Cuvée (2013 Base, 2g/l dosage)
73% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir, 3% Pinot Meunier. This is the current release. Gentle apricot and subtle orchard fruits sit with some classic ripe citrus notes without being screamingly appley or lemony – I wrote Asian Pear Tart, which isn’t a food that exists (to my knowledge). This has those lovely sweet anise and almond notes that I associate with precise, careful winemaking. There is perhaps a slight starkness to the finish, but the extra lees time here helps mitigate that and turn it more into a thirst-quenching snap of the tail than a wincing tartness.
This feels quite controlled at the moment, and will open up well over 2-3 years. Clearly less-developed than the other two bottles, but it was the pick of most tasters thanks to its clarity and freshness. 91
Hambledon Première Cuvée (2013 Base, 7 g/l dosage)
The same wine as above, from an earlier disgorgement run and with a higher dosage. Very different – some could not believe this was the same base wine. Pear tart again, this time with a bit more caramelisation alongside nice lemon meringue freshness. There is a little buttered mushroom developing, in this bottle at least. You do feel the sugar next to the 2g/l; it is integrated, the length is amplified and the acidity feels slightly suppressed. It’s hard to separate on quality terms, though, as the freshness of the first bottle was so appealing. 90
Hambledon Première Cuvée (2011 Base, 8 g/l dosage)
More quince and baked bread notes here. Just a touch wilder, with a slightly more obvious wild apple expression and some developed malt and honey notes. The nose is really quite interesting and attractive, but the 2013 cuvées have the edge on the palate; this is a little more jagged in places, not quite achieving the same smoothness of progression (although there is some delicious breadth of age here and quite a force of personality). I actually wrote that this reminded me a little of an English take on Pol Roger; it turns out that Hambledon and Pol Roger share some history! 88
Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV
2015 base. 53% Chardonnay, 31% Pinot Noir and 16% Pinot Meunier. The red grapes make their mark here, with a delicious savoury-toned nose of hedgerow berries, brown bread and ripe yellow fruits. Some floral sweetness, too. It’d be hard to say this wasn’t as engaging as the Première Cuvée on the nose; it’s friendlier but quite beautiful, with real poise on the palate (if not the intensity or length of the Première). This wine really impressed us, with some actually preferring it to the Première. The difference between the two is as much about style as anything else, perhaps. They certainly complement each other. 89