Wine of the Week – another stunning English Sparkler

I seem to have tasted a lot of good English sparkling wines lately – read about them here and here – well the other day I tasted yet another one that excited me enormously. So much so in fact that I made it my Wine of the Week.

house-and-vineyard

Hambledon Vineyard on a south facing slope overlooked by Mill Down House. This was the birthplace of modern English wine in 1952 – photo courtesy of the estate.

hambledon-ccHambledon Classic Cuvée Brut
Hambledon Vineyard
Hambledon
Hampshire
England

The Hambledon Vineyard is historically very important to the English wine industry, because it was the first one to make a reputation for itself and can claim to be where the English wine revival started – bizarre as it sounds, Hambledon can also claim to be where cricket as we know it today began. The estate was originally planted in 1952 and although the wines did create a stir and even won some awards, the vineyard remained tiny, between 1 and 4 acres at various times, and so was essentially a hobby rather than a business, as is borne out by this amazing bit of film – click here to watch it. In fact by the 1990s the few grapes they grew there were being sold to other vineyards.

The estate was bought by Ian Kellet in 1999 and he decided to restore Hambledon and to make wine again. First he studied oenology at Plumpton College and then researched what would suit his land. As it is a south facing chalky slope, sparkling wine seemed a great idea and so in 2005 he planted a 10 acre test plot of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Having proved that the grapes were successful there, he planted more and created the winery. Today they farm 50 acres and make the wine in a state of the art, gravity fed winery – this is much gentler on the grapes than pumping. Since 2011 they have also employed Hervé Jestin as Chef de Caves, a position he had previously held at Champagne Duval-Leroy.

Looking down the slope - photo courtesy of the estate.

Looking down the slope – photo courtesy of the estate.

This is the standard wine of the estate and is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. 90% comes from the excellent, ripe 2013 vintage, while 10% is reserve wines from previous vintages, some of which were barrel-aged to add extra riches and complexity. In addition 6% of the wine was barrel fermented and barrel aged and after the second fermentation in bottle, the wine was aged for 22 months on the lees.

The nose offers enticing freshly baked bread notes as well as plums, rich apple and a little note of smoky spice too. The palate is beautifully creamy, with a rich mousse, ripe peach and apple fruit and a lovely pure core of acidity and freshness. This sense of purity gives the wine wonderful verve and energy and balances the richness of the vintage. By any definition this is a fine sparkling wine that shows how seriously good English fizz can be – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK from Hambledon Vineyard at £28.50 per bottle, Waitrose at £30 per bottle, Marks & Spencer at £29.00 per bottle  for other stockists click here and here.

If you have never tasted a great English wine, or not understood all the fuss being made about English sparkling wine, then give this ago, it really is quite superb.

 

England’s Green & Pleasant Land

Fingers crossed for a great future for English wine and here’s to some flashes of brilliance on the way…

I love the idea of English wine. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a country that was a serious wine producer, both for quantity and quality. To that end I so wish we had a more generous climate that made winemaking more of a reliable proposition here. As it is, every now and again – usually after a good summer – we get a false dawn for a wine producing future. How many times have the media told us that it will soon be an everyday occurrence to see grapes growing and wine being made in England?

Well, I fear the truth is not as rosy as the press would often have us believe. England is at best a marginal place to grow grapes and in reality worse than that – 50˚ North lies just to the South of the Cornish coast, so nowhere in these islands – except for the Southern point of The Lizard Peninsula – lies in the classic grape growing zone which is between 30˚ and 50˚ North and 30˚ and 50˚ South.

So, as UK grapes are not grown where they ought to be, English producers start with an incredible disadvantage and the problems never really let up. English producers are truly trying to beat nature, which can seem pretty impressive and awe inspiring when all is going well, but it must surely also account for the reason that success is so infrequent.

Like many of you I have tried a handful of really good English wines, but they have failed so far to make real inroads into many people’s wine awareness and rightly or wrongly most of us have the impression that the good wines are the rare exception rather than the norm.

Personally I have a sneaking suspicion that given our unreliable climate for ripening grapes, then the best English wines will often be the ones that balance the potentially rampant acidity somehow, so off-dry styles and sparkling wines may well be what we should focus on? Certainly our most famous wines now seem to be the sparklers and if you have not tried Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down or Camel Valley traditional method sparkling wines, then you really should.

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