On Monday 5th December the WING group met to taste English Sparkling Wine, a very seasonal topic led by Ralph.

There is a long history of wine-making, and particularly sparkling wine in England. However it is only since the 1950s that there have been significant commercial plantings, and it is only very recently that production has warranted attention by wine-lovers. This has been more pronounced in the case of sparkling wine and the prominence of a few well-known award winning domains (Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Camel Valley…) and a host of small niche ones…

Here are my notes:

HALFPENNY SPARKLING ROSÉ BRUT 2013 (Staffordshire)
This wine is from Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc (a part non-Vinifera hybrid often planted in England).
A very pale redcurrant pink. A sweet fruit cordial nose with a herby hint (fennel?). The palate has a sharp green, rather malic, acidity which crosses over the mousse creating a frothy feel… leading to an early slightly bitter finish.

CHAPEL DOWN SPARKLING ROSÉ BRUT (Kent)
A “Champagne” blend. This is paler and slightly more orange colour. Early pungency – vegetal leading to a dark red fruit note. The palate is not bone dry, a firm acidity but more flexibly integrated with the fruit and mousse giving a lighter feel… but short…

BALFOUR 1503 OAST HOUSE CUVÉE (Kent)
Meunier dominated Champagne blend. Quieter nose, slightly honeyed, bready, sherbet opening to hints of orchard fruit. Palate has a good warm mousse, good open integration but a sweet pear finishing spike. Quite good though…

GIFFORDS HALL 2013 (Suffolk)
Champagne grapes again… Nose is rather confectionery, sherbet and a floral hint. Palate is surprisingly sweet with a separate bitter – quinine? – element.

HAMBLEDON CLASSIC CUVÉE BRUT (Hampshire)
Mostly Chardonnay. Nose is over-ripe, even shading to rotting-, apples… later some chardonnay notes. The palate is dominated by sharp, even aggressive, acidity. This seems to destabilize the mousse and only later leads to elements of fruit: Greengage (with the emphasis on the green?). Length and structure but so tart that one suspects some malic acidity…

RIDGEVIEW MARKSMAN 2010 (Sussex)
All Chardonnay… This too has firm sharp nose but creamy elements too, and warm bready notes. The palate is in balance, with the creamy mousse and citric acidity entwined, fruit is citric and orchard… Quite long, balanced and satisfying – the best!

The main factor in this tasting for me is the offset between the acidity and the mousse in these wines. To me the wines’ acidity seem to conflict with appreciation of creamy mousse, strong acidity almost knocking out the mousse and unbalancing the wine. Only wines 3 and 6 seemed to overcome this, and indeed only wine 6 led me to think of the acidity as citric rather than thinking of apples…

I imagine the fact that this conflict arises in English wines must – in some way – reflect a cooler climate, or how that inflects the issue of the handling of malolactic fermentation…Whatever – it’s only a tasting like this that can gives rise to these thoughts…

Thanks so much Ralph

Until next time…

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