Harrow and Hope Brut Reserve

A Stylistic Marker?

Although most individual wines are now found in the new Tasting Notes archive, this was one of the star performers in English Sparkling Wine 2020 so I thought it was worth a re-taste, 6 months on. 

This is an important one to taste for anyone interested in English Sparkling Wine syles. It takes a very convincing step in an interesting area – English Sparkling Wine and oak.

They can be strange bed-fellows. Delicate, high-acid styles that are then layered up with prominent oak are high-wire acts that don’t always pull it off. As well as the intrusiveness of strong oak flavours themselves, English grapes seem sensitive to the kind of subtle oxidation that extensive oak usage can bring. If you lose a little primary sheen, you have to be sure there’s something else there to take the baton.

Oak is not the point of this wine, and most people won’t perceive it as an especially oaky style. What impressed me on this tasting, though, was just how well the oak influence was working. It is the quality of the fruit, and the Pinots in particular, that help it find a more champagne-like integration. Freshness is key – there’s no drying-out or over-development – and the fruit, together with balanced acidity and time on lees harmonise nicely with subtle, savoury butter and spice. There’s nothing too sweet or heavy going on. Add in the complexing effect of a year’s post-disgorgement age and this has to stand as one of the best buys in English Sparkling Wine.

Harrow and Hope Brut Reserve no.4

40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier. 2015 Base, with 30% reserve wines stored in 225l barriques. Disgorged June 2019 with 8 g/l dosage, comprising older oak-aged wines. Current releases are later disgorgements.

A fully-realised, confident style that shows off some excellent fruit. Ripe, peppy yellow grapefruit and lemon marmalade are set against roasted yellow apples, nectarines and salty, buttery pastry. With time the Pinots come alive – crimson strawberry sweetness and lovely meaty, spicy notes that play with the oak influence. The subtle reductive complexity I tasted soon after disgorgement has mellowed, and a delicious caramelised pineapple character is creeping in.

There is a bristling, gregarious kind of energy here that is shared with the excellent Blanc de Noirs from 2015. But then this is not a wine that has had all its natural texture polished out of it. In fact it retains a fine, appetising grip, held deliciously in balance. Very happy alongside food, and certainly welcomes some time in bottle. 17.5

Buy direct from Harrow & Hope

The text below is duplicated from ESW2020

About Harrow and Hope

When Henry and Kaye Laithwaite set up in the Chilterns just outside Marlow they were almost pioneers in the area. A few others are dipping their toes (and soon-to-debut producer Hundred Hills is in knee-deep), but for now Harrow and Hope are a somewhat isolated dot on a vineyard map dominated by the coastal counties. On the evidence of the wines being produced here, though, it would be very strange if that remained the case for long; the problem, though, is land. Housing development is what most landowners have on their minds in this very commutable, well-heeled part of Buckinghamshire, with viticulture joining the ladies-in-waiting. For now, then, the Laithwaites are sticking with their 6.2 Hectares.

What the commuters do enjoy here is a slightly more continental climate. Being further from the sea mean frosts can be a risk, but ripening at Harrow & Hope has shown itself to make up for this – and then some. The performance of the site would seem to back up research by climate scientist Alistair Nesbitt that pointed to the Chilterns as an untapped source of potentially excellent vineyard sites, but there is more going on here than just macroclimate; the intensely flinty, gravelly soil is kept bare to reflect heat back into the canopy, the chalk (at various depths) provides drainage, the altitude is low, there is natural shelter and the vines are planted fairly densely.

Henry Laithwaite and his Harrow-destroying soils, November 2019

Whatever the secret, Harrow & Hope are amongst the earliest to harvest in the country, readily achieving 9.5 – 10.5% potential alcohol even in a low-sugar year like 2019 where many were in the 8-9% range. As if the precocious ripening ability of his site wasn’t enviable enough, Henry points out that his ‘sweet spot’ for yields is around 10 tonnes per Hectare; the vines will often offer more, so crop thinning is a regular occurrence. In fact, Henry attributes the ripeness of his grapes in 2019 largely to this decision:

“We were looking at a big crop, and there was disease pressure starting to show…we saw the weather coming in and made the call not to be greedy. I’m glad we did! Without it I doubt we’d have seen this ripeness. It has been a Pinot year for us overall”.

Harvest started here with Pinot Meunier on the 27th September at 10.5% potential alcohol, followed by Chardonnay starting to come in a week later at 10%. I was out in Essex on the 4th October seeing similar Chardonnay coming in just

before the October rains came; the benefits of a warm site in 2019 were keenly felt. Most importantly, the generosity of the site at Harrow and Hope translates into wines that sit right at the top of the tree in terms of fruit quality.

Chardonnay from 2018 in barrel, November 2019

Oak is used for around 30% of production; being part of the Laithwaite family (central figures in the UK wine trade) means old oak from Bordeaux has been fairly easy to come by. This has now been augmented with some hogsheads and new, larger puncheons that will eventually store reserves. All 2019 wines in oak have gone through wild yeast fermentation, and everything goes through malolactic; the vineyard site seems to degrade malic acid in the grapes quite quickly, meaning that the malolactic conversion itself doesn’t skew the acid profiles of the wines too much.

As they approach their tenth birthday, Harrow & Hope are one of the producers pushing at the boundaries of quality for English Sparkling Wine, chipping away at the paradigm of the lean, tight, bright aperitif that can occasionally be a get-out clause for under-ripe wines.

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