Court Garden – a range of fine English Sparkling Wines

We often read about how good, or at least potentially good, English sparkling wine is and it is always interesting to taste some more to see how our home grown wines are coming along.

In that spirit I recently led a tasting of fine English sparkling wines – I have tasted quite a few of those lately, click here. They were all from a single estate in Sussex and really excited everyone at the tasting and captured my imagination too.

Court Garden - photo courtesy of the estate.

Court Garden – photo courtesy of the estate.

The estate is called Court Garden and it is in Ditchling, a little north of Brighton in East Sussex. It has a long history, as a farm anyway, in Saxon times it was the garden far for the local manor house. After the conquest it formed the garden farm for the monastery in nearby Lewes, before being handed over to the crown during the Reformation. Presumably it produced food for the court at this time and this was when it acquired the Court Garden name, although it quite quickly became a privately owned farm as it has been ever since.

Today it is owned by the Corney family – the winemaker is Hugo Corney – who established it as a vineyard in 2005 by planting vines on a beautiful south facing slope. They have added to it over the years and now farm 17 hectares mainly planted with the 3 traditional Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They also grow Pinot Gris, Ortega, Dornfelder and Rondo for their new still wines and have recently started planting 3 more grapes that were once widely seen in Champagne, but are no longer permitted to be planted – although a little still grows there – Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane.

As the crow flies, Court Garden is probably only something like 200 miles north of Champagne – but it is much further to drive – and that is partly why southern England suits sparkling wine so well. Conditions are not that different from Champagne, it is more maritime, so the winters in England are not so harsh and the summers are not as hot – roughly 1˚C cooler in fact. The geology is amazingly similar to Champagne, as the bedrock of chalk carries on under the channel and into the Champagne region.

Court Garden - photo courtesy of the estate.

Court Garden – photo courtesy of the estate.

In effect the conditions are marginal for grape growing and without that south facing slope acting as a sun trap, it just wouldn’t be viable to grow grapes.

We tasted four different sparkling wines from the estate:

classic-cutout-md-2013
2013 Court Garden Classic Cuvée Brut

This is the wine that the estate was created to make, it is the signature cuvée if you like, all the other wines have developed out of this.
The fruit all comes from the 2013 harvest, which was very good. The wine is a blend of 43% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir & 21% Pinot Meunier and it was aged on the lees in bottle for 30 months before being disgorged. Dosage is 9 grams per litre, like most Brut Champagne.

The colour is gorgeous with a light honey, biscuity, bruised apple sort of colour with a touch of silver about it. The nose is terrific too, very yeasty with apple crumble, cooked apple and cider and pear notes, as well as green plum. The palate has a fine mousse, quite soft, with a creamy quality, richer apple, pure acidity cutting through and a long finish. If this is their basic wine, they have done a very, very good job indeed – 90/100 points.

Available from the estate for £25.65 per bottle – 2 bottles or more and delivery is free in the UK.

rose-cutout-md2011 Court Garden Rosé Brut
The rosé is made up of 65% Pinot Meunier & 35% Pinot Noir with just 0.5% still red Pinot Noir added before bottling to give the colour. The wine spent 54 months on the lees prior to being disgorged.

The colour is delicate and pale, like peach skin. The nose is of quite bright lifted red fruit, strawberry and cranberry especially, with strong autolytic biscuity, brioche and flaky pastry notes. The palate has surprisingly strong red fruit characters, cherry, cranberry, strawberry and red apple too. This is more mouth filling and weight, despite being from a cooler vintage – 91/100 points.

Available from the estate for £27.00 per bottle – 2 bottles or more and delivery is free in the UK.

noirs-cutout-md2010 Court Garden Blanc de Noirs Brut
2010 was a great year with a long, warm summer that produced beautifully ripe fruit. They decided to create a richer style to show off that ripeness. This wine is 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Pinot Meunier and the wine was aged for 66 months on the lees before disgorging.

Lovely colour, green peach skin. The nose is very restrained at the moment, almost dumb – I expect it is a stage it’s going through, but there are hints of ripe green fruit, nuts, peach and apple. The joy here is on the palate though. It is wonderfully textured, flowing across your senses in a sensual, supple way.There are red fruit hints, rich apple and pear, a touch of something tropical and an underlying richness too. I loved this wine – 92/100 points.

Available from the estate for £27.00 per bottle – 2 bottles or more and delivery is free in the UK.

ditchling-reserve-cutout-md2010 Court Garden Ditchling Reserve Brut
The Ditchling Reserve is really the Blanc de Noirs – 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Pinot Meunier – aged for 9 months in used white wine barrels from Burgundy and Bordeaux before the second fermentation. It was then aged for 66 months on the lees before disgorging.

The colour is pale gold straw, while the nose is open and rich with wafts of apple pie, raspberry, strudel, brioche, a touch of spice and creamy vanilla. The palate is rich and seductive with red fruit, ripe peach, apple compôte, honey,  a lovely texture and a long rich finish. A superb sparkling wine, full of character and flavour – 93/100 points.

Available from the estate for £29.55 per bottle – 2 bottles or more and delivery is free in the UK.

This was an impressive line up of fine estate bottled sparkling wines, the fact that they come from England is just a bonus. The quality was very impressive and I look forward to seeing how they wines develop as the vines age. The wines tell a wonderful story, the quality is very high and the represent great value for money too. They might just be the perfect thing for Christmas? Court Garden also host some lovely winery and vineyard tours, which could also make excellent Christmas presents – click here for details.

An Afterthought
Has anyone else been astonished that you cannot buy English Sparkling wines in British Airports? I would grab a bottle to share with people overseas almost every time I flew, but they are not available. There is loads of Champagne – at prices no cheaper than on the high street mind – pimped up Prosecco, but no English fizz.

That shouldn’t be allowed, they should stock our own wines so that people take them all around the world and share the story.

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.