Let’s start with English sparkling and one of the best is Sugrue 2015 ‘Cuvee Boz’ Blanc de Blancs, meaning that it is made from 100% Chardonnay. This sparkling wine is made in tribute to Dermot Sugrue’s late brother ‘Boz’, Barry Ben Sugrue.
Dermot Sugrue is one of Great Britain’s leading winemakers, not only making his own Sugrue brand, but also head winemaker at Wiston Estate in Sussex on the South Downs, where he has been since 2008.
Sugrue also produces sparkling wine for numerous other British estates and vineyards. He started making beer when he was 15 and then wine at 16, with his sparkling wine career starting off at Nyetimber, the world-renowned English sparkling wine producer, also in West Sussex, and he has won a string of awards.
This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay and from the glorious 2015 vintage, meaning it has had plenty of time to age before being released on the market. The grapes were sourced from Jenkyn Place in Hampshire and vinified in stainless steel barrels, meaning no oak went near them, but aged in bottle longer than the norm.
This is a bright fresh sparkling wine with white flowers and fresh citrus on the nose
as you first smell it; as you slurp it, you will note the clean, precise flavours, some toasty notes followed by a mineral/flinty feel. In the background there is pure white stone fruit such as the perfect peeled white peach.
To match with this stunning wine, I went with a diver caught Orkney scallop, cooked over the barbecue in the shell and added some beurre blanc sauce and fresh caviar.
To make the beurre blanc sauce, I exchanged the natural vinegar that you reduce down for some Sugrue sparkling, before whisking in cold pieces of English salted butter. And as an added optional luxury, use a spoonful of English caviar.
English Chardonnay – Still by Hattingley Valley, 2020
‘I don’t like Chardonnay, but I do like Chablis.’ Sound familiar? It’s a well-trodden phrase in the wine world; sommeliers hear it often. The reason people say this is because they remember the heavy oaky Chardonnays of the 90s. Chablis actually uses the same grape variety, Chardonnay, for all of its wines but it uses very little oak.
This Chardonnay, by Hampshire-based Hattingley Valley vineyard, uses a very small amount of old barrels to add a little texture and a touch of malolactic (one for the nerds) to soften the acidity. In short, this is a beautifully fresh and clean wine from what will probably be hailed as the best vintage to date in the UK. And to match with this, classic fish and chips, or try some BBQ monkfish with grilled clementines.
Hattingley also worked with Team GB Olympics to produce a limited edition sparkling wine.
Never heard of it? Don’t worry, for you will certainly get to know this grape. The best
I have had recently was blended with Pinot Noir, although 60% was still Rondo. This was sourced from The Whitehall Vineyard in Wiltshire’s Avon Valley and is called Whitehall Nethercote Hill 2018.
Pure hits of strawberries and raspberries when you first taste it; there is a touch of tannin on the mouth. This helps it to age and gives a touch of twiggy wood to the wine, triggering savoury flavours which can evolve into mushrooms and truffles with age.
As the wine evolves in your mouth you will get flavours of cherries and hidden savoury nuances, such as smoky bacon crisps. The perfect match would be butterfly lamb or shoulder of lamb on the barbecue.
Again, you may not know this grape. It is a white grape and very popular in English vineyards. Having struggled in the early years, this does now make great white wines. Think sort of Sauvignon Blanc, but with British herbaceous flavours.
Here I have gone again to the Whitehall vineyard with its Whitehall Bacchus 2020. Soft perfume, elegant, clean and focused; quince and white stone fruit and a hint of elderflower. This would be a great match with anything involving chicken, even with spices on the barbecue.
The big Champagne houses of France may be buying up English farmland, but it is great to see in Whitehall and others such homegrown success stories.
The family’s Wiltshire farm has been in existence since 1894, through five generations. But the actual vineyard was only planted in 2017. This is definitely a family affair, with daughters Madeline and Charlotte working with their father Peter Self. Peter’s background is in farming and also running Whitehall Garden Centres – two in Wiltshire (beside the vineyard in Lacock and in Woodborough) and one in Whitchurch, Bristol.
With that farming business mindset, Self is concentrating on still wines, rather than tying up his stock in sparkling and what a wise decision. I was bowled over by the quality of these English still wines; full of character and flavour and look forward to seeing these evolve as the vines age.
Gutter & Stars ‘Hope is a Good Swimmer’ Pinot Noir 2020
This Pinot Noir is made by new kid on the block Chris Wilson within the basement
of a Grade II listed windmill in Cambridge. This is quite punchy to start with. A vibrant raspberry nose and then you get cherry
and black pepper with some toasty spices. As it evolves, there are cranberries giving
it freshness; wild raspberries and cherry then emerge around truffles and forest floor. Wilson says it is perfectly matched with South African boerewors with
Mrs Balls Chutney.
We will continue to see more new grapes and varieties and these wines and sparkling wines exported across the world. But, best of all, we can enjoy them on home soil.
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