There was a more professional sheen to the Wines of Great Britain generic tasting this year, argues Chris Wilson, which put it on an equal footing with similar tastings from other wine regions. But how did the wines shape up? Glass in hand, self-confessed fan of English and Welsh wine, Chris picked out 10 wines both still and sparkling that he thinks you should definitely have won your buying radar, and gives his reasons why.
For the first time The Buyer’s roundup of the best of British wine has more still wines in than sparkling. There are even two Pinot Noirs that Chris thinks will prove doubters wrong about how still red wine can be made on these shores.
English and Welsh wine tastings I’ve attended in the past, hosted by generic bodies and otherwise, have always seemed a little ‘amateur’ in their approach, be that the venue choice, size, tasting booklet or general atmosphere in the room. Not so the recent Wines of Great Britain tasting.
Held at industry-favourite venue RHS Lindley Hall (practical and ‘safe’, yes, but also a great space for tasting wine) this felt like any other big generic tasting (think Portugal or New Zealand); there was confidence in the room, and confidence in the wines, the domestic wine scene and the Wine GB banner, under which this event was taking place.
As a long-time lover of English and Welsh wine – in all its styles – I was thrilled to soak up the buzz and get my hands on the weighty, well-designed tasting booklet. All the big players were here, with one notable exception – Rathfinny chose to launch its debut sparkling wine earlier the same week at a private event across town – which meant for a true across-the-board tasting of the best Great British wine from producers big and small.
What really impressed was the inclusion of tables of still and sparkling wines encircling the middle of the room. Here there was an opportunity to free-pour your way around a huge selection of wines set out in order of style. While it can be good to get chapter and verse on each wine from the winemaker or marketing bod at the various exhibitor tables, for swiftness and ease the free-pour selection was a real boon.
It’s here that I tasted many of the wines which make up my Top 10 from the tasting, but I also cruised the exhibitor stands where I met winemakers and industry figures who, on the whole, seemed very optimistic about the wines currently being produced in the UK and also the future and robustness of the industry.
Here’s my pick of the GB bunch.
Black Chalk Classic 2015
Leadley told me that his two wines (there’s a rosé too) are focused on the on-trade, and they are both a nice fit for this market in terms of style, story and feel. The Classic is a vintage blend that’s heavy on the Chardonnay (49%) and Pinot Meunier (34%), it’s bright and nicely textured with a weighty feel in the mouth and an abundance of citrus and stone fruit. Some chewy autolytic notes round it off nicely.
Ridgeview Bloomsbury NV
Since being established in the mid-1990s the Ridgeview estate in Ditchling on the South Downs has grown from an annual production of 20,000 bottles to some 250,000 today. Expansion over the next five years is expected to see that more than double to 600,000 bottles.
The Bloomsbury is Ridgeview’s signature blend, comprising equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. It’s punchy and developed with citrus fruit aromas, and honeydew melon and set honey character. There’s a delicious freshness to it and an understated finesse.
Wiston Estate Brut NV
This was the wine used by Her Majesty The Queen in 2015 to launch P&O’s Britannia cruise liner. It remains just as smashing today. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir – differing percentages each year, but generally equal parts – it’s balanced, refreshing and elegant. More youthful than the vintage wines above but carries its youth well, showing flashes of purity and depth in its Williams pear and green apple fruit.
Bluebell Hindleap Rosé 2014
A serious Sussex rosé that’s bold and crisp with strawberry, red apple and cranberry fruit, a zesty acid kick and a creamy, textured and long finish. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier base wines which has spent a minimum of 30 months on the lees and comes in at a seductive but balanced 8.9 g/L residual sugar. A delicious summer serve.
Lyme Bay Chardonnay 2016
This oak-aged Chardonnay from Devon is textured and complex with tropical and honey flavours. It spends 11 months in old oak barrels which impart a sniff of vanilla and creaminess but, more so, adds texture and weight. It remains fresh and vivacious, however, with a confident acidic bristle of lemons and limes to balance the peach and pineapple. Begs for some food to accompany it.
Bolney Estate Foxhole Vineyard Bacchus 2016
There’s a slide in the UK towards white wines made from international varieties, hence the Chardonnay above, but Bacchus remains an important white variety that’s still grown everywhere. It produces aromatic, floral – often spicy – whites and this one from Bolney is a textbook example. There’s a dash of green pepper spice to balance the elderflower and green apple flavours, and the finish tingles with mint and acid.
Denbies Pinot Gris 2015
A nutty, buttery, golden wine from Surrey’s North Downs, but it could be from somewhere far more exotic. There’s a richness and complexity here that doesn’t ‘feel’ quite English, more Alsatian in fact, but that’s to take nothing away from this delicious and stylish wine.
There’s honey and tropical fruit that’s held firm by a bracing acidity and long, balanced finish.
Westwell Ortega 2016
Ah, Ortega, that funny old grape which along with the likes of Bacchus, Schönburger, Reichensteiner, Rondo and Dornfelder used to make up a fair percentage of the grapes under vine in the UK. Many of these have been replaced with international varieties over the past decade, but many remain, and thank goodness for that because this 100% Ortega is waxy, lean and spicy; a delightful summery white from the Garden of England. Westwell produces an Ortega icewine too that’s worth seeking out, all guava, elderflower and pineapple.
Lyme Bay Pinot Noir 2016
Another super wine from winemaker Liam Idzikowski, his first red for Lyme Bay. The grapes come from a single vineyard in Essex and offers bright cherry and strawberry fruit which is offset by coffee, dried herbs and toasty oak. A superbly integrated and lip-smackingly fresh wine.
Gusbourne Pinot Noir 2016
This Pinot from Gusbourne in Kent is developed and bold with a red berry and raspberry nose, red fruit right through the palate and a kick of black pepper on the finish. There’s a hint of something vegetal too and an elegant mouthfeel which leaves you wanting more.
A serious English wine which should prove doubters wrong about the UK’s ability to produce quality red wines.