With a further 90,000 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines planted last week to take the total acreage to 200, Rathfinny Estate in Sussex is on course to have 350 acres under vine by 2021. At today’s London launch of its third Sussex Sparkling, a Blanc de Noirs, Anne Krebiehl MW believes that it is the dry, restrained style of the estate that has already become Rathfinny’s signature style. That, and the very ripe hedgerow fruit and spice, that marks it out as being unmistakably English.
While the modest winemaker Jonathan Médard prefers to heap praise on the fruit and the season rather than himself, he has created a statuesque wine in a seamless style, says Krebiehl.
With the launch of their third wine, the Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs 2015, Sarah and Mark Driver launched a wine that seamlessly sits with the style of their initial releases a year ago. Again, that style is determined by late harvest of fully ripened grapes, full malo-lactic fermentation, three years on lees and low dosage.
What stands out, apart from the spicy hedgerow fruit on the nose, is structure, integration and harmony – in a very grown-up, statuesque if not to say austere fashion – even if that is its very appeal. This is a serious wine for serious fizz lovers, brisk in the best possible way with backbone and personality.
Speaking about that structure, winemaker Jonathan Médard said: “We try to make wines that you can take to the table with you.”
Médard was too modest to take much credit and praised fruit and season instead: “I think we have good clones that create a full-bodied wine and we had a long ripening season.”
Indeed, there is a mix of Pinot Noir clones bred for sparkling and for red wine, which may explain that beautiful structure. But both Médard and Driver point to harvest dates: “By late October we had close to perfect fruit. The grapes were very flavourful, we got great wines and we are a great team when it comes to blending. After three years on the lees we had great texture,” he said. “We didn’t feel we needed to add too much dosage. We tried everything between one and nine grams and at nine it really lost its balance.”
Owner Mark Driver added: “We are not trying to change the structure of the wine with dosage, we try and show it as it is. I think it’s because we pick really late in October when we have good ripeness of the skins. So we end up with fantastic fruit flavours.”
The Rathfinny RoséBrut 2016, also on show for the first time, was its lighter, easier counterpart. The wine has a delicate nature and with just two years on its lees, still more primary fruit.
“I think rosé should be fun,” Driver said. “It’s a summer wine, that’s why we release it a little younger.” Being able to taste the wines side by side showed the dry, restrained style that seems to have become Rathfinny’s handwriting already.
Rathfinny, located in the South Downs of Sussex between Brighton and Eastbourne, was founded by Sarah and Mark Driver in 2010. Planting started in 2012 and the first release of the Blanc de Blanc 2014 and the 2015 RoséBrut was in April 2018. Just last week a further 90,000 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines were planted to take the total acreage to 200. The aim is to have 350 acres under vine by 2021. Buildings housing a new bottling line and cellar have also been completed.
Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs 2015
Made from a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier, the Blanc de Noirs opens with a distinctly spicy notion of tart nettle and pepper-edged hedgerow fruit on the nose. The palate is brisk and fresh, revealing a sleek, statuesque structure and very fine mousse with beautifully integrated acidity. There is real substance at the core. The finish is appetising, dry and mouth-watering. It is the hedgerow fruit and spice that makes this so beautifully English. It is lovely now but promises to be even better with more bottle age.
Rathfinny RoséBrut 2016
Made from 66% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier, this has a pretty, pale rose petal, pink hue. Tart redcurrant notions appear in that delicate, tender frame of very well integrated freshness. This is all about lightness, slenderness and ease, even though there is nothing facile about it. Lovely.
The Blanc de Noirs 2015 will retail at £37; the 2016 RoséBrut at £35. Rathfinny Wine Estate is distributed by Gonzalez Byass.