To mark its Silver Jubilee, Ridgeview winemaking director Simon Roberts, knew he had to craft something very special indeed. That he has with a one-off Blanc de Blancs called Oak Reserve NV made from three cracking vintages with the wine part-fermented and aged in oak. A fan of subtly-oaked fine wine, Roberts has raised the English sparkling wine bar with this cuvée and found true harmony between English freshness and confident oak integration. Peter Dean talked to him on the day of the wine’s release – Ridgeview’s first new cuvée in a decade.
“It was a conscious decision, we were monitoring the autolysis and we didn’t want it to play too much of a part, it would hamper the fruit of the Chardonnay and come between the harmony of the wine and the oak,” Roberts says about the mere 11 months the wine has spent on its lees.
Speaking direct from the Ridgeview estate in Ditchling, Sussex, as the tail-end of the fruit from the 2020 harvest was being pressed, winemaker Simon Roberts was waxing lyrical about the quality of the current harvest.
“Luckily we managed to pick most of the fruit before this weekend’s rain and the quality is really outstanding – we are doing very little chapitalising. The Pinot Meunier especially is top notch and very pretty the Chardonnay is complex and very fruitful and the Pinot Noir very clean.”
Roberts added that the arid summer has meant that the berries are smaller this year, his Chardonnay normally averages about 115-120 grams a bunch but in 2020 is about 70 grams, which is leading to a greater intensity of fruit flavour. Another interesting factor was the unusual veraison this year where the fruit was ripening without the skin colouring. Where this process normally takes five weeks, the veraison took just two weeks.
“I think it caught a lot of people out,” Roberts says, “where we used to pick in October mid-September is becoming the new norm.”
25 years and counting
Ridgeview, along with Chapel Down, Nyetimber and Breaky Bottom, are one of the true pioneers of the English sparkling wine scene, and one of the few household names. Established 25 years ago by Mike and Chris Roberts in Ditchling in the South Downs of Sussex, the vineyards were planted up with the classic Champagne varieties in 1995.
To celebrate the estate’s silver jubilee, Ridgeview is launching a special one-off Oak Reserve NV cuvée made entirely from Chardonnay grown on the best 25 year old parcels of vines. The wine is from three consecutive and exceptional vintages – 2015, 2016 and 2017 with the wine aged in oak prior to secondary fermentation.
A mixture of seasoned and new Radoux oak of differing toasting levels were experimented with until second generation winemaker Simon Roberts settled on a mixture of new oak, three year-old Burgundy barrels and ten year-old Sauvignon Blanc barrels from the Loire. The base wine is 2017 Chardonnay that was stainless steel fermented with the 2015 and 2016 fermented and aged in oak. The wine spent just 11 months on the lees.
“It was a conscious decision, we were monitoring the autolysis and we didn’t want it to play too much of a part, it would hamper the fruit of the Chardonnay and come between the harmony of the wine and the oak. It was essential to get that harmony between the Ridgeview style, that freshness alongside the richness that comes with oak.”
Roberts also has used a low dosage of 3gms/l “to really hit the sweet spot,” he says.
2,600 bottles have been produced of Ridgeview Oak Reserve NV with the labels being printed on Fasson Natural Cherry Wood paper with foil-blocked silver indicating the silver anniversary; interestingly the cork is foil-less indicating that this is a crafted, contemporary product aimed at aficionados and not the bling-brigade – people who understand the category of ‘boutique English sparkling wine’.
“With the packaging when we sat down with the design team we wanted it to reflect the oak-influence and I wanted a stripped back feel. But it didn’t dawn on me at the time but people have said that it’s quite a masculine wine and look and feel.”
In terms of the intended demographic Roberts adds that he feels because of the wine’s richness “it’s a real winter wine and I think would match very well with Christmas lunch.”
Oak influence – past and present
This is not the first time that Ridgeview has produced an oaked wine, in 2008 Roberts made a heavily-oaked Blanc de Blancs that became the Marksman Blanc de Blancs for Marks & Spencer, with the oak influence diminishing vintage by vintage until it stopped in 2017.
Roberts reveals that it was the 2002 vintage of Pelorus from Cloudy Bay that got him first excited about the possibility of oaked sparkling wine, Au Bon Climat he cites as another influence as well as Billecart-Salmon whose Sous-Bois cuvée the Oak Reserve NV does resemble.
“We have always worked with oak for complexity not influence, and when we first started playing around with it for the Oak Reserve we experimented with different toasts and heads and tails before settling on the final blend of formats.”
Although Oak Reserve NV is a one-off with an initial 1000 bottles released today (October 5) and another 1000 set for release next year, Roberts does imagine he will be releasing further oak-influenced cuvées in the future, although not within the estate’s established lines.
So what does the wine taste like?
Oak Reserve NV, Ridgeview
From the superb, innovative, tactile packaging through to the final sip, this 100% single estate oak-aged Chardonnay is an homage to oak and what it can bring to a wine in terms of textural weight, richness and complexity – when lovingly handled. It is released to celebrate 25 years and is a fitting tribute.
Light white gold on the eye; the mousse is vigorous on opening, but soon settles down into a lazy and very fine bead; the nose is exquisite, complex and inviting, the richness what is most evident – buttery, fresh-baked lemon shortbread, yellow grapefruit, rye crumb, oyster shell, and just a hint of red berries. Light to medium bodied, lovely balance from the first sip – a ripe roundness but with a really crisp, central vein of lemony brightness, precise acidity and a depth to the mid-palate, that displays a ripe fruity core of orchard fruit (Cox’s apple, pear) mixed with a salinity and nuttiness – think fresh cob nut, sea salt caramel finished off with a twist of tangerine zest that gives a little tingle and lifted fruitiness to the dry finish.
Make no mistake this is up there with the very best refined English sparkling wine.
Ridgeview Oak Reserve NV has a dosage of 3 gms/l, is 12% abv and was disgorged in March 2020. The wine sells for £75