Warmer weather, vine ageing and better winemaking means more balanced wines for British wine – whose standout summer event is Fizz Fest, organised by Vineyards of Hampshire. The sun shone on the day itself as much as it has on the vines this summer, which looks like yielding a spectacular 2019 crop. Justin Keay found the eight wineries present in fine fettle but more interesting was the amount of experimentation going on – Madeleine Angevine, Schönburger, Auxerrois Blanc and Pinot Gris anyone? The innovative use of ‘completely different’ grape varieties was a real head-turner, as Keay elaborates.
Also good to taste was the range of wines from Black Chalk – Vineyards of Hampshire’s latest member – which owes a lot to their love of Pinot Meunier.
The Vineyards of Hampshire Fizz Fest 2019 is an annual, consumer-focused gathering that has become a keenly-anticipated event and the highlight for British wine in the summer months. The venue itself changes each year, last year it was successfully hosted by Raimes Vineyard; this year was the turn of Exton Park, with eight Hampshire vineyards present, most offering two or three of their wines for tasting.
What was most evident is that each of the producers at Fizz Fest are doing something different, which means the consumer has more choice.
If you want consistency, akin to NV Champagne, Exton Park in the Meon Valley is for you: in a state-of-the-art winery French winemaker Corinne Seely makes sparkling wines that are consistent, “all part of building a brand” as she admitted to me.
If you like traditional English varieties and crossings, rather than Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Danebury Vineyards near Stockbridge should be your port of call; their best-selling Madeleine Angevine and Schönburger still varietal wines and their very moreish Cossack Brut (made from 95% Auxerrois Blanc and 5% Pinot Gris) are great left field choices.
But if you want traditional high class sparkling wines with a strong sense of place, Hambledon is a good place as any to start; this producer produces around 100,000 bottles but new plantings should take this to half a million in around five years, according to education manager Katrina Smith. She makes no apology for the typically high acidity of most Hambledon wines.
“Bracing acidity is what distinguishes English sparkling wine – but warmer weather, vine ageing and better wine-making means we are handling it better, and getting more balanced wines,” she says, adding that the outlook for 2019 is so far, really good.
“If the weather continues as it has over July, we are in for a massive harvest.”
The big story right now from Fizz Fest comes from Vineyards of Hampshire’s newest member, Black Chalk. The Winchester-based winery owned by award-winning winemaker and former City financial analyst Jacob Leadley, only launched last November at the Winchester Wine Festival. However the wines have already been widely praised for their depth and seriousness – something that surely owes something to Leadley’s love of Pinot Meunier. Unusually, the variety plays a big role in Black Chalk Wines, accounting for 34% of the Classic 2015 blend and 38% of the Wild Rose 2016.
“Pinot Meunier has a great future in British wine; it softens the acidity and brings bright red fruit to the show,” he says.
Though he is coy about details, Leadley says he will soon announce a major expansion for Black Chalk with the producer taking over a winery “in the Winchester area” within the next few weeks/months, and then significantly boosting production.
He says that in such grim times, English wine is something we can rightly be proud of.
“The last ten years in this industry have been great. The next ten, I reckon, will be even more so, as we see more and more wineries open up and more and more experimentation.”
Surely then, something to raise a glass to as we sail into ever more menacing and unsettling waters this autumn.
The Wine GB trade and press tasting is being held on September 4 10.30am – 5pm at RHS Lindley Hall. To register visit winegb.co.uk/trade or email email@example.com