Tuesday saw the second instalment of The Vineyards of Hampshire’s trade tasting at 67 Pall Mall. Even though many of these wines were tasted fairly recently for English Sparkling Wine 2020, it was a good opportunity to add a few more data points and check out some new vintages.
Patterns Nosing around for emerging regional patterns in English Sparkling Wine is always intriguing. There are some that believe Hampshire to be about as far West as it is advisable to plant in the UK due to the influence of autumnal Atlantic weather patterns. There certainly is some evidence to suggest that ripening is sometimes slightly later here than in say Kent or Essex. None (or as close to none as I can tell) of the quality still wine emerging from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is from Hampshire, after all. This is sparkling-specialist county for now – and very good at it they are, too.
Hampshire does seem to excel in fragrant, delicate blends and rosés featuring Pinot Meunier. The superb Hattingley Valley acts as a mothership, with Raimes, The Grange and Cottonworth (for now) all going to Emma Rice to have their wines made. Rice and the Hattingley team seem to understand how to retain all the freshness and brightness of English fruit whilst avoiding austerity or harshness. Hambledon, Exton Park, Jenkyn Place and Black Chalk make up a dynamic, varied set of independent producers.
An Interesting Statistical Nugget: Varietal Breakdown. Chardonnay, the latest and hardest to ripen sparkling wine grape in England, is a team player in Hampshire to date, with Hattingley Valley the only producer in the room to have produced more than one vintage of Blanc de Blancs. This will of course change, but Blanc de Blancs is not a headline style here for now. As a small insight into this;
At the Vineyards of Hampshire tasting, Chardonnay averaged 38% of each wine across 23 wines from the classic grape varieties. From leading multi-regional producers Nyetimber, Chapel Down, Ridgeview, Hush Heath and Gusbourne Chardonnay averages 53% of each wine across all cuvées.
Pinot Meunier averaged 25% per wine at the Vineyards of Hampshire tasting. Amongst the leading multi-regional producers mentioned above it averages just 8% per wine.
When I visited Augusta Raimes back in November only the Classic Cuvée 2014 was on release. This has rounded out a touch more, with baked bread wafting over its russet and conference pear fruit, seasoned with a little herbal twist. It is a delicate wine for 2014 and, like all Rice’s wines, finds exactly the right dosage. The Blanc de Noirs 2016 is a new release, extremely youthful for now and wound tightly with slightly wilder apple and hedgerow fruit. Possibly some cool-fermented flavours bringing out the fruitiness here. Narrow for now, this will build really nicely.
The Rosé 2015 reaches new heights for this young producer. Kudos to everyone involved for giving it time when the temptation is always to release Rosé younger than other cuvées. There is just a touch more autolytic substance here behind the pretty summer pudding fruit, touched with gingerbread spice. Lovely clarity and texture.
Every time I taste these wines, made by Dermot Sugrue at Wiston Estate, they seem different! True Chameleons. The Classic Cuvée 2014 was in good shape, its creamy baked pears and lemon posset Chardonnay having relaxed a bit since last tasting. There’s an intriguing aniseed/fennel note there and a breezy, cool stroke of acidity that made me wonder if Sugrue had blocked some malolactic, as he often does. Almost glassy in texture. Nice grapefruit bitters on the finish.
The Blanc de Blancs 2015 was more outgoing than I remembered, wearing a touch of oak influence very dashingly. Lime tart with a dollop of crème frâiche! There are even some tropical nuances here, hinting at some really good flavour development for Chardonnay in this vintage. The focused, nervous palate is set off against some fresh-cream roundness. This will be really interesting in another year or so. The Rosé bottle I tasted was unfortunately not quite correct, but the Blanc de Noirs 2010 was by some distance the best bottle I have ever tried of this cuvée. Clear glass has been a problem here in the past, so here’s hoping the future is…dark!
As the ‘mothership’ in Hampshire, Hattingley set the pace with their own wines. The wines show a composed set of flavours that demonstrate the benefits of a wide variety of blending options. The Classic Reserve has a lovely sense of generosity to its baked lemon and red apple fruit, touched by a bit of sourdough toast. Really quite elegant in a direct kind of way. The Blanc de Blancs 2013 is quite an interesting wine now, with delicate white fruits – whitecurrants and a little white peach – playing off fresh lemon and herbs. There’s a kind of nougat/sourdough autolysis and a touch of butter, too, softening the edges of a powerful acid line. It’s stimulating stuff, playing patiently with quite a pointy kind of vintage.
The Rosé 2015 is offering so much refinement and charm in this new vintage. A classy assembly of fragrant strawberries and redcurrants where the palate just has an extra degree of silky finesse, it has the completeness of flavour to take a slightly higher dosage of 9 g/l effortlessly. Top drawer.
Ian Kellett’s Hambledon is carving out its own identity with Chardonnay-led wines of tension and purity. As I reported in English Sparkling Wine 2020, dosages are well on the way down here. This tasting saw the latest 2017-based Classic Cuvée down at 4.5 g/l, where a finely-sanded texture delivers clear and elegant citrus fruit. The style is frank, yes, but the freshness is appreciable next to the more developed Première Cuvée, which shows an appreciable depth of toasted bread surrounding the bristling, fresh-lemon Chardonnay. At just 2 g/l the powerful citrus core is almost rampant on the palate. Quite an exciting style, although once again I found myself charmed a little more by the freshness of the entry-level wine.
This was my second taste of wonderfully-bonkers Première Cuvée Rosé, a zero dosage wine from 100% Pinot Meunier in the 2015 vintage. Deep, dark and curious, this is developing post-disgorgement like a fairly openly-stanced light red with its dried leaves and plums. A proper conversation piece to drink sooner rather than later. The contrast with the LED-bright Classic Cuvée Rosé NV is quite something, its 90% Chardonnay motoring off with massive acidic brightness in a mineral, racy wine that is almost a polaroid negative of the other, Pinot-led Rosés in the room. A real pick-me-up.
These wines were perhaps the most openly-styled of the Hattingley-linked producers for now, with the Classic 2015 showing a very attractive white buttered sourdough toast over quite relaxed baked fruit and a friendly dosage. I like that they have really tried to avoid anything too tense or angular in this cuvée. The Pink 2015 has an extra layer of fragrance, though, with very attractive poached summer pudding fruit. I look forward to getting to know this producer better over the coming years and vintages.
Under winemaker Corinne Seely Exton Park have achieved a recognisable house style of airy brightness and purity without any harshness or over-dryness. The Blanc de Noirs NV seems to have become a welcome fixture in the portfolio. I think the base vintage must have moved on from the last time I tasted as its lovely pear and blossom fragrance was just a touch tangy and direct. With a few more months in bottle this will open up.
The Rosé NV was on majestic form. It has one of the most distinctive fragrances in English Sparkling Wine, with totally joyful raspberry fruit dusted with white pepper and delivered with beautiful clarity on the palate. This is available in Magnum £75, which has to be a seriously good buy. It is frustrating to see it in clear glass, though, so vulnerable to that wonderful fruit being spoilt by light damage.
The Brut Reserve NV is tight and linear with fresh apple and some more developed lemon flavours. Quite quiet for now with some delicate white fruits. Once again the balance and integrity is there for this to open up really well over the next year. Magnums at £65 look like very good value here.
The Liddells still have a few vintages of Hattingley-made Cottonworth before the Black Chalk era begins. The Classic Cuvée NV is a perennial favourite, displaying the quality of the vineyards here. It seems to achieve a fuller, more distinguished Chardonnay expression than many of its local peers, with freshness of truly ripe, rich lemon, sweet red apple and a lovely red fruit element sitting in front of baked pear, icing sugar and almond. A touch of chalky grip, too. There is a dimensionality of flavour here that sets it apart amongst the Classic Cuvées in the room.
The new Blanc de Blancs 2014 carries some elegance and ripeness too, with clear white fruits and juicy pear fruit. Just a squeeze of refreshing herb and white flowers. The dosage needs a little time to settle, so I would leave this at least six months. Whether it has the intensity or precision of the Classic Cuvée I’m not sure, although that relaxed mid-palate is quite common in 2014 wines. The Classic Rosé is on form right now, though, with delightful strawberry and red cherry yoghurt and some subtle spicing. A bright, charming style with some grip and pink grapefruit refreshment on the finish.
The spotlight is firmly on Jacob Leadley’s Black Chalk at the moment with its recently-announced move into Cottonworth’s premises (and vineyards). The next few vintages to be released have been made from purchased fruit, however, so we might expect some continuity for a few years before the changes to Cottonworth fruit emerge. The new Black Chalk Classic 2016 is the new release, taking a similar blend as the 2015 and putting it through a slightly cooler-tinted filter. For now the quite fun meaty/marmite notes that really warmed up the 2015 (including at this tasting 1 year ago) are not in attendance, so the 2016 promises a slightly more classically-styled profile. There’s a lovely integration of crisp apple and faintly limey citrus, rounded out with pretty strawberry and a touch of white stone fruit. The 2015 was a superb, immediate wine, but there is more finesse and togetherness on the palate here.
For current drinking the Wild Rose 2016 is in a stellar place, with super-refined lemon and raspberry fruit and posh strawberry macaroons dancing along a palate of microscopically-textured delicacy. It closes with a calm taper, the acidity never threatening to push too hard. The quintessential Hampshire Rosé!