Wine of the Week 52 – a full year of Wines of the Week, so something rather special

Oddly I rather feel as though I have really achieved something by publishing a Wine of the Week every week for the last year, as well as other articles.

I hope that some of you have enjoyed reading about the wines and even tried some of them.

To celebrate the first anniversary of my Wine of the Week I have decided to feature something rather special and delicious. It is an English sparkling wine, which in case you were not aware, is something that England does rather well.

Ridgeview Vineyards, photo by kind permission of James Pike Photography.

Ridgeview Vineyards, photo by kind permission of James Pike Photography. Contact James Pike on 01273 731745, contact@jimpix.com, jimpix.com. Address, Studio F, Stockwell Lodge, Conway Street, Hove, BN3 3LW.

Marksman2010 Ridgeview Marksman Blanc de Blancs Brut
Ridgeview Vineyards
Ditchling
East Sussex

Ridgeview is one of the leading English wine estates and do not seemm to have put a foot wrong since they were established by Mike and Chris Roberts in 1994. English wine had been on the cusp of achieving fame ever since the early 1980s and Ridgeview, along with a few other well known vineyards like Nyetimber, really put English wine on the map.

For a start they specialised. They realised that not only was the climate of southern England remarkably similar to that of Champagne, but that the soils were actually identical. The same start of chalk that makes Champagne what it is, comes up under the channel in Sussex. So Ridgeview set out to make world class sparkling wines right from the start.

What’s more, they had an angle, they called their wines Cuvée Merret in honour of Christopher Merret. Merret was a fascinating man, a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was a physician and scientist who lived from 1614 to 1695. He did all sorts of amazing things, but his chief claim to fame comes from a paper that he presented to the Royal Society in 1662. In this he described adding sugar to a wine to make it sparkling, which is the basis of the Traditional Method process as used in the Champagne region to make the wine sparkling. This presentation predates any such method being used in Champagne itself by some 30 years. So, it’s official, the English made fizz before the French.

It takes guts to even attempt to make wine in England. You need to be dedicated and singleminded, probably being boozy minded helps too as it is not easy. Technically speaking as we lie north of 50˚, we are just too cold in these islands to ripen grapes properly, but happily for us the Gulf Stream tempers conditions enough to make it just about possible to achieve a crop of ripe grapes in most years – but not every year by any means.

I have tasted a good few Ridgeview wines in my time and they always impress me. They seem to have an elegance and a purity about them which is exciting and shows just how good English wine can be. Their vineyards are all in the South Downs National Park and they planted them with the classic Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – it is astonishing to think that the Champagne region is just 88 miles to the south. Just like in Champagne itself, the cool climate and (hopefully) sunny Autumns, slowly build up ripeness in the grapes, while retaining crisp acidity, which is vital in a good sparkling wine.

Like all English wines, these are artisan wines, hand crafted wines that are produced in tiny quantities, so they are often quite hard to buy. Luckily for us Ridgeview have produced a wine for Marks and Spencer and not only is it more widely available as a consequence, but it is quite superb.

Called Marksman Brut, it is a Blanc de Blancs, so made just from Chardonnay grapes and to allow complex flavours to develop, it was aged for 36 months on the lees – the dead yeast cells left over from the second fermentation.

The wine is quite pale with a persistent mousse of fine bubbles. The aromas are of green apples, minerals,m a touch of ozone and a light dusting of croissant crumbs. At first the palate is very taunt and pure, but it then broadens out to a richer mouthfeel with white peach, tangy apricot, a touch of apples and a pure, almost saline quality, like a touch of the sea. The acidity is crisp and refreshing, while the mousse is firm, yet creamy. This wine is quite superb, with a lightness of touch and a real feel of freshness, but it is less austere, softer and fruitier than you first think. All in all it is a triumph and although a wine like this can never be cheap, it is great value for money – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK from Marks and Spencer for £21.00 a bottle. Stockists for other Ridgeview wines are available here.
Some Ridgeview wines are available in the US, stockist information is available here.

Get patriotic and try this great wine as a perfect aperitif, picnic wine, or garden party tipple. It’s perfect with shellfish, white meat, fish or anything light, actually it’s even good with Thai and Chinese food.

 

Champagne deconstructed by Veuve Clicquot

A Thrilling Champagne Tasting

Recently I received an invitation from Veuve Clicquot Champagne to ‘a unique wine experience with Yellow Label N.V.’.

I have to admit my reaction was mixed. At first glance this didn’t really excite me, but it was somewhat mysterious –  I kept wondering how unique an experience can you get from non vintage Champagne? Being somewhat cynical I presumed they were indulging in some marketing hyperbole.

Luckily curiosity got the better of me and I popped along – I am so glad I did as this was a unique and truly memorable tasting.

Which is remarkable when you consider that there were only six wines to taste and they were all Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage – except they weren’t, not really.

All six were served from magnum and had been disgorged on the same day in February 2010. In addition, in order to really allow the differences to show they had received a low dosage of 4 grams per litre – Yellow Label is normally 9 g/L or so. This lack of sugar could officially make these Champagnes Extra Brut.

What made the tasting so wonderful was that they essentially deconstructed non vintage Champagne. We are always told that the non vintage concept is a way of averaging out the vintages. In order to make great wine in this ungenerous, northerly climate, they keep back wine from the ripe years to blend with the leaner ones. So, the theory goes it is the blend that matters, each marque producing a house style that is reproduced year in year out.

Not on the showing of this tasting they don’t. Actually each release of a non vintage Champagne  is based in large part on wines  from a single year and they use the reserve wines in a relatively limited way. I tried six different examples of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage, the wine based on the 2007 vintage, not be released until 2012 and the current offering based on the 2006 vintage.

This was followed by some older wines; the blend based on the 2004 vintage and the one based on the 2001 vintage, before moving onto a pair that were genuinely mature; the Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage based on the 1990 vintage and for a finale the oldest Non Vintage wine they possess, the cuvée based on the 1953 vintage.

Dominique Demarville

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Philipponnat – a fine Champagne house

Charles Philipponnat was in town the other day and I could not resist the opportunity to try some of his Champagnes.

The Philipponnat family have been growing grapes and making wines in Champagne since 1522. They were originally based in in Aÿ, but Auguste and Pierre Philipponnat moved to nearby Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in 1910, where the Philipponnat Champagne house is still based in the beautiful Château de Mareuil.

Philipponnat has long been a favourite producer of mine, indeed I used to sell their Champagnes when I was a wine merchant, but most of the time I seldom get the chance to try them.

I was delighted therefore that Charles presented a range of six of his cuvées – the bulk of his range. This gave me true insight into the Philipponnat style and demonstrated what elegant and un-showy wines they are. Continue reading