Ayala No. 7

2007, just over a decade on lees. 2/3rds Chardonnay (Chouilly Cramant Oger Le Mesnil and Avize) 1/3rd Pinot (Ay and Verzy). All steel.

I like how this wine is pitched – it retails at around £60-70, sitting alongside vintage releases that are likely to be 5 years younger. A tempter, for sure.

It’s a one-off – a blend created for that year only. Incisive, energetic Chardonnay is resting on a bristling, textured bed of Pinot Noir, buzzing along with 2007’s acidity and intensity. Apricot and almond danish and pastry cream, yellow apples and candied citrus.

Firm, smooth and elegant, the weight of lees time pushes through and allows the wine’s natural drama to play out without much cushioning dosage.

No hesitation recommending this! Delicious. 17.5

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/ Ayala, Champagne, Classic Blend

Leckford Estate Brut 2015

 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. All steel, c.3 years on lees.

Made by Ridgeview for Waitrose from grapes grown at Waitrose’s own Leckford farm in Hampshire.
2015 really is a bit up and down in England – this is not perhaps quite as strong as previous releases, although it’s cleanly-made and acceptable value at the offer price of sub £20. Apple, meadow flowers and a touch of cowslip greenness, a bit lean in truth but there are some nice yellow stone fruit and pale pastry tones. 15

Oxney Classic 2016

45% Pinot Noir, 47% Pinot Meunier, 8% Chardonnay made in-house at this low-lying site in East Sussex, just across the county border from Gusbourne in Kent.

Quite distinctive in style this, cool and slightly green with elderflower and cowslip mingling with cox apple and light honey. Some deliberate savoury oxidative characters add subtle interest and seem to sit well with the wild, lithe style of this cuvée. I think this has lost a little freshness since tasted at the end of 2019. 15

Jacquesson Cuvée 742

Jacquesson 742. 2014 base, 59% Pinot Noir from Aÿ, Dizy and Hautvilliers, with 41% Chardonnay from Avize and Oiry. Dosage 1.5 g/l. 100% old oak. Disgorged Jan 2019.

Any student of sparkling wine should probably get to grips with what makes a wine like this tick.

If you’re looking for a clean hit of zingy fruit, this is not it. It’s about developed fruits – dried peaches, bruised bramleys, preserved lemons in brine – and golden brown tones of dark-roasted hazelnuts, wood polish, sage, roast spices. There is some brightness of fennel and floral honey too, and the suggestion of almond essence sweetening the deal on the close.

Salty, rasping sherry notes frame the palate, which is actually not as tight as some of these 700 series. A lovely, smoothly-progressing shape, with no bumps or pinches. It is frank, but not unhinged.

All I end up wondering is what this fruit would taste like if it hadn’t been weathered quite so hard by oxygen. It is all very carefully and deliberately done, for sure. Which is why it is worth a taste, no matter which side your bread is buttered on. 16

Henriot Brut Millésime 2008

Always enjoy Henriot. Lovely polish and freshness, welcoming rather than tense or challenging in style but always with plenty going on.

This 2008 vintage is drinking just right for me now. A lovely reductive signature of jackfruit and oyster shell, ripe golden fruits from candied grapefruit to fresh berries, richness of ginger snap and sweetness of almond essence and acacia honey. That sweet dried mushroom maturity is creeping in, maybe threatening to get ahead of itself.

Very cleanly-styled on the palate with candied fruit to the fore and a nice sweet, zesty punch. I’m feeling the dosage a touch high on the radar for me. It’s not the most focused 08 at this stage, but it is essentially very delicious. Knowing some more recent bases I’m expecting even more from 2012 onwards. 16.5

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/ Champagne, Classic Blend, Henriot

Simpsons Wine Estate Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2017

Simpsons didn’t use as much inert pressing for the 2017 vintage of the Chalklands Classic Cuvée as was used in 2016, and Charles explains that the resulting wine has a more oxidative style.* The 2017, composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay fermented in steel and aged on lees for 20 months, pours a notably golden hue, with an inviting vein of almond and set honey running through farm-shop apple juice (the posh stuff). It wears a light and bright texture beneath this open stance, with some delicacy and a fine, appetising almond-skin substance on the close, unimpeded by difficult acidity or dosage – a sign of good fruit in England.

The oxidative surface here speaks of more than just pressing, to me – this is a wine that has been deliberately given a shot of maturity beyond its years. It could really land with anyone wanting a change from the frank, LED-bright styles we sometimes get at entry level. 16

Fox & Fox Chairman’s Vat (C.V.) 2014

A new limited edition of 1018 bottles, blended by Gerard Fox. 60% Pinot Noir and 20 each of Chardonnay and the F&F secret weapon, Pinot Gris.

This has some attitude! Lots of sweet apples, red and russet, roasted and fresh, pepped up with ripe lemon juice and jasmine. With time, delicate white peach sweetness wakes up alongside the almond croissant and toasted pecan deliciousness that comes with time in bottle.

Electric acidic brightness on the palate – a real live wire – held in check by crystal clear fruit sweetness and delicate creamy weight. A fine chalky, rocky grip pulls the palate tight. You’re left with tingling fresh lemon juice, the lick of sweet pastry and the lift of white florals, sparring with each other and daring you back in.

Thoroughly enlivening, a wild child sent to finishing school and deciding they quite like it. 16.5

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Read Six Atmospheres English Sparkling Wine 2020

/ Classic Blend, England, Fox & Fox

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

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Six Atmospheres English Sparkling Wine.2020

Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2010, Franciacorta, Italy

Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2010

55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Bianco, 20% Pinot Nero. 18 vineyards in Erbusco, Adro, Corte Franca, Iseo and Passirano. Notable for the high percentage of Pinot Bianco, otherwise declining in importance in Franciacorta. Whole bunch pressed to 39% extraction – coeur de cuvée style. 100% fermented in small oak barrels (minimum 3 yrs old), on which the base wines remain for 6 months. Full malolactic. Disgorged Autumn 2019 with no dosage or sulphite addition. 

2010 opens up with explosive charred grapefruit, ripe yellow apples and blossom honey. It manages to tone down anything too peachy or tropical, trading off delicious verbena/bergamot perfume and a gorgeous spicing from white pepper, cinnamon and basil. Shifting in its seat, it gives you a different view every 5 minutes. Proper complexity from blending here. 

It’s also pretty remarkable for a 100% oak-aged wine, letting the wood play brilliantly off reductive smoke and frangipane sweetness without smudging the fruit in butter or toffee. Golden crystal fruits just march steadily, evenly, towards more charred grapefruit and spice as it closes out. Lingering almond skin sends you back in. Wonderfully addictive. 

It does offer that little squeeze though the mid-palate you get with some zero dosage wines (and a touch of powdery, rocky grip), but here it is refreshing and light, not hollow or abrupt. There’s intensity, but it’s delivered with a cool, steady hand. Will it maintain this poise with age? Who knows! I wouldn’t bet against it. 18

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Geoffroy Brut Expression Brut Premier Cru

50% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. Cumières and Hautvilliers. All steel apart from some large oak for reserves. 2012/2013 Base, disgorged October 2017. Dosage 7g/l. 

A great blend of base vintages and no malo means this entry-level wine is shining very brightly even at 2.5yrs post-disgorgement. You receive a friendly, unpretentious Meunier greeting with apple pie and toasted oats (without the cream), then the fragrance of an orchard in blossom and some riper orange fruit. It’s pepped up with fresh lemon&limeade focus on the palate and a little almond essence. Warm flavours presented with icy coolness. Direct, charming, excellent value. 16.5

/ Champagne, Classic Blend, Geoffroy