IT’s A THING!
Until recently, when I thought of British bubbles, I thought of Bollinger and Pol Roger and Lanson which are real-deal French Champagnes that enjoy a particular popularity in the UK. You know, the bubbles they drink in Britain. But now there are a number of high quality sparkling wine producers in the UK, mostly concentrated in the area to the south of London. These mostly new producers are making English sparkling wines that belong on the same table with comparably-priced Champagnes. These wines are made using the same grape varieties as Champagne and using the same techniques. A lot of the grapes are even grown on the same kind of terroir – Kimmeridgean Clay – as Champagne. The result is Champagne’s English cousin ready for a turn in the spotlight.
The wines have caught on in England, are buzzed about in Bordeaux, and are catching some side-eye from a number of Champagne producers. Champagne grand marque house Taittinger has even bought land and planted grapes with the idea of making their own British bubbles (to be released in a few years). The international sommelier community is selling them and local wine geek interest has been piqued. British bubbles are a THING.
Here are my notes on eight recommended selections available in the Texas market now.
RIDGEVIEW WINE ESTATE Bloomsbury, Sussex – England, 2014 ($44.64)
58% Chardonnay, 28% Pinot Noir, 14% Pinot Meunier. Primary fermentation 100% stainless steel with less than 1% aged in old French oak barrels. 100% malo-lactic fermentation. Aged 12 months on its yeasts disgorged June 2016. Dosage 9.6g/l. Straw in color with green highlights; dry, medium light-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Delicious focused very Champagne-like with citrus fruit and toast in the lighter stylisitic range. Very long in the mouth and finishes clean, dry and fresh. BearScore: 91+.
RIDGEVIEW WINE ESTATE, Fitzrovia Rosé, Sussex – England, 2014 ($49.99)
50% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, and 17% Pinot Meunier all fermented in 100% stainless steel. 100% malo-lactic fermentation. Red wine for addition made from Pinot Meunier (on skins for 3 days then fermented with skins and pressed). Aged 11 months on its yeasts. disgorged April 2016, Dosage 10 g/l. Orange salmon in color; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and scant phenolics. Lovely more elegant style of Rose with some red fruit and more citrus. Not food Rose, more in an aperitif style but really delicious. Yum. BearScore: 92+.
RIDGEVIEW WINE ESTATE Blanc de Noirs, Sussex – England, 2013 ($52.99)
55% Pinot Meunier and 45% Pinot Noir fermented in stainless steel with a full malo-lactic fermentationl, Aged 18 months on its yeasts. disgorged in January 2016 with a dosage of 8.8g/l . Green-gold-straw in color with a hint of copper; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Deeper richer earthier darker red fruit with more depth. More brooding and more red wine character with real depth and richness.. BearScore: 93.
HATTINGLEY VALLEY Classic Cuvee, Hampshire – England, NV ($41.59)
A blend of 48% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 17% Pinot Meunier & 2% Pinot Gris sourced from vineyards across the South of England, mainly on chalk with clay topsoil. 25% of the total blend was barrel fermented in three and four year white Burgundy and Bordeaux barrels. The balance was fermented in tank. Both lots spent 8 months on their fermentation lees, with no stirring or addition of sulphur dioxide. after blending and bottling, the wine gets another 21 months ageing on its lees. Dosage is to 9g/l. Straw with green highlights, fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with refreshing acidity and scant phenolics. Supple fresh and alive. Delicious citrus and subtle red fruit. Lovely in the mouth. BearScore: 92.
HATTINGLEY VALLEY Rosé, Hampshire – England, 2013 ($57.94)
A pink blend of 59% Pinot Noir, 36% Pinot Meunier, and 5% Pinot Precoce (no, I hadn’t heard of it either; it is an earlier ripening mutation of Pinot Noir) sourced from vineyards across the South of England growing mainly on chalk with clay topsoils. Approximately 25% of the blend is fermented in 4-5 year old Burgundy barrels. Before tirage, the base wine is blended with 5% red wine made from the Pinot Precoce to give a delicate color. The wine spent at least 18 months ageing on lees in the bottle before being disgorged. Dosage: 9g/l. Pale-salmon color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with refreshing acidity. Fresh red fruit with yeast and earth and just enough citrus. Long and delicious. BearScore: 92+.
CHAPEL DOWN Brut Classic, Kent – England, NV ($39.69)
50% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Blanc, 7% Pinot Meunier grown on soils including chalk, clay, and loam. Cool fermentation in stainless steel followed by full malolactic fermentation. Maturation on fine lees in tank for six months before bottling and 18 months further ageing on lees in bottle. Dosage: 9 grams/liter. Straw color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Clean, very Champagne-tasting Brut that tastes more Chardonnay than Pinot but there is some nice richness. Offers citrus and and some red fruit with a nice mineral earth and plenty of toast. Actually quite delicious in a style on the richer side of the spectrum. BearScore: 91.
CHAPEL DOWN Three Graces, Kent – England, 2011 ($52.89)
A blend of 58% Chardonnay, 34% Pinot Noir, 8% Pinot Meunier given a cool fermentation in stainless steel followed by full malo-lactic fermentation. While this would not be legal in Champagne for a vintage dated wine, a portion (8% 2010, 4% 2009) of this wine is from reserve stock which has been stored in barrel and tank. Maturation on fine lees in tank for six months before bottling and then 5 years further ageing on the lees in bottle. Dosage is: 8 grams per liter. Sraw color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Richer and more developed due to extended aging, reserve wines, and full-ML. Riper, rounder, focused. Excellent, very Champagne-like mix of more citrus fruit with earthy mineral and plenty of toast. Integrated, complete, and delicious. BearScore: 93.
CHAPEL DOWN Rosé Brut, Kent – England, NV ($45.99)
A 100% Pinot Noir sparkler mainly sourced from Chapel Down’s “Kit’s Coty” vineyard near Aylesford in Kent, with the balance coming from Tenterden and Sandhurst in Kent and Chelmsford in Essex. Grapes are grown on single and double guyot pruning systems, on chalk and clay terroirs. Cool fermentation in stainless steel was followed by full malolactic fermentation. Maturation on fine lees in tank for six months before bottling and average 18 months further aging on lees in bottle. the Dosage is 9 grams per liter. Pink-copper and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and very light phenolics. Clean, very Champagne-like dry sparkling Rosé offering more color and more red fruit than most Rosé sparklers. There is enough citrus to keep it balanced and enough mineral-earth-and-yeast to fool you into thinking it is Champagne. Lovely feel and fine length. Layered. BearScore: 92.