The English sparkling wine landscape has a new star in Rathfinny, according to Anne Krebiehl MW, who samples the Sussex estate’s first two cuvées and talks to the estate’s owner Mark Driver and winemaker Jonathan Médard at yesterday’s London launch. Rathfinny, with Champenois winemaker Jonathan Médard, has opted for getting the fruit as ripe as possible so that the dosage can be very low indeed – achieving ultra dry wines.
The Rathfinny Wine Estate Blanc de Blancs 2014 and Rathfinny Wine Estate Rosé 2015 have just 4g/l and 2.5g/l residual sugar making them fresh and serious.
It was a long awaited debut: On Tuesday, 24 April the Sussex estate of Rathfinny launched its first two sparkling wines from an ambitious project started in 2010 made from vines that were planted in 2012. Owned by Sarah and Mark Driver, and located in the South Downs of Sussex between Brighton and Eastbourne, Rathfinny sets its sights confidently from the start. Right now there are 185 acres of vines but a further 215 acres are to be planted by 2021.
“We are quite proud of it,” remarked Mark Driver, speaking at a beautifully laid table in the Portico Rooms of Somerset House in London about the first wine to be shown: The Rathfinny Wine Estate Blanc de Blancs 2014 was made from 100% Chardonnay and spent 36 months on the lees.
“We are happy with this first wine we are releasing,” said the Champenois winemaker Jonathan Médard who came on board as soon as vines were being planted in 2012, and gave the first clue to the style: “We harvested really rather late in October 2014 and got a good combination of acid, sugar levels and flavour. For a first vintage we could not be happier.”
The second wine was the Rathfinny Wine Estate Rosé 2015, made from 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. Referring to its 24 months on lees and the lovely fruit notes evident in the glass, Driver said: “It was ready.”
Both wines have a distinct style.
Winemaker Médard explained the idea behind it: “I think overall we want to push the fruit to its limit and get it as ripe as possible, get as much flavour and complexity as possible. We want to make food-friendly wine; to me wine needs to be able to stand up to food.”
Indeed, both wines are more serious than aperitif styles and also more austere. Both went through full malo-lactic fermentation and both display a core of deep fruit that, for now, is still tightly coiled. Their freshness is beautifully integrated.
Both wines were disgorged in February 2018 and both will benefit immensely from another year of post-disgorgement bottle age. They are solid, serious and promise the most delicious development.
This relative ripeness also affords the wines the possibility of lower dosage: The Blanc de Blancs 2014 has a mere 4g/l while the Rosé 2015 has just 2.5g/l. Médard and the Drivers can be congratulated on this brave decision as this makes the wines stand out.
Talking about the very low dosage on the Rosé, Driver said: “We had a very long debate about it. When it comes to dosage a lot of people say 9g/l is perfect. We tasted this with 9g/l and it changed the wine completely. Then we tasted it with 2g/l and eventually compromised on 2.5g/l. It’s a very dry wine.”
Driver also remarked on the quality potential of Pinot Meunier in England. The Rosé was made as an assemblage with red wine made from a majority of a Geisenheim strain of Pinot Noir Précoce.
The quality of the wines made from the red grapes, a mix of French and German Pinot Noir clones selected for sparkling and for red wine, prompted Médard to say: “I think we could make a very nice [red] Pinot Noir but maybe not every year.” Driver himself is not opposed to the idea.
Médard also wondered if there might be a 100% Pinot Meunier sparkling in the future. “Whenever we ask Mark [Driver] if we can try something, he says yes,” Médard said about his enterprising boss.
While the current releases were made from the very first harvests of the newly planted vines, Médard notes that what has changed is that he now has far more wines from different clones and parcels to blend. This should also enable him to keep back reserve wines.
Asked if he was working towards an NV blend he said: “Not yet, but I think we will.”
There is much to look forward to from Rathfinny who showed us a very promising debut in a confident, elegant and grown-up style. Having considered other countries for their wine project before finding “the perfect spot” in the South Downs that is south-facing and yet protected from the sea, Driver said: “I am very pleased we did something in England.”
So am I, since the English sparkling wine landscape has a new star.
Rathfinny Wine Estate Blanc de Blancs 2014: Pale gold in colour, the gentle fizz brings tentative notes of lemon oil to the surface. The palate is concentrated but slender, hinting at the depth of its, as of yet, tightly coiled orchard fruit. Subtle autolysis and chalk lend a sonorous backdrop. As the wine warms up a little its seriousness is in no doubt. The finish is dry, fresh, harmonious and totally precise. Keep this for another year and it will start to come into its own.
Rathfinny Wine Estate Rosé 2015: Pale pink (Driver calls it coral) in the glass, there is a tender hint of hedgerow fruit. It is on the taut, slender palate that the poise and precision of the wine become clear. The dryness is apparent but supported by the beautifully captured ripeness of the fruit. The autolysis notes are very subtle and also play into this wine’s delightful flirt with austerity. Beautiful and full of serious charm.
Just 5,000 bottles of each wine have been released but the 2017 harvest resulted in enough volume for approximateky 20,000 bottles.
- Rathfinny Wine Estate is distributed in the UK by Gonzales Byass.