It was amazing, the reaction to an email I sent out to various vinous luminaries, while researching this piece, asking if I could taste their top end English sparklers for an article in this august tome.
While some wineries fell over themselves to courier a bottle to me instantly (one winery actually sent a very expensive bottle from their PR agency and a then a second from the winemaker himself which, of course, I returned), others suspiciously asked me what my ‘angle’ was and where might the article appear, reasoning that Vineyard might not have the same number of readers as my column in the Daily Mail – a gob-smackingly ignorant comment given that Vineyard is one of the highest level publications in the world of its kind and the Mail isn’t particularly renowned for moving extremely expensive bottles of English sparkling, in spite of my continued efforts.
Others asked to chaperone the bottles to me and then sit there while I tasted with them, as if I could not be trusted to open the bottle and take a sip unaided. One even said that their wine was selling well and that it didn’t need any further commentary.
This is the crazy world of the wannabe sparkling elite – a handful of wonderfully helpful, professional, realistic and enthusiastic people counterpointed by many more cagey, untrusting, unconfident estates, all macerated in tall poppy syndrome.
There is only one thing that matters when it comes to launching what the French call Préstige Cuvées and that is the taste of the wines themselves. It is very easy to whack some fizz in a sexy bottle, shove it in a gift box and invent some guff about this, that or the other. I see it every day in the wine world and, given that I taste around 40,000 bottles a year, there are far more pretenders to the throne than genuinely regal wines.
I find it rather distasteful that our own industry is starting to show signs of bitterness and bitchiness and these traits tend to rear their ugly heads when it comes to the more expensive wines.
Wineries need to get a grip and understand that if they are to succeed they need to welcome genuine enthusiasm in their products and communicate far more openly and with less snobbishness with their consumers.
We live in a very mature market for top flight Champagne and yet there is little or no history for elite-priced English wines, so if this is a category which is going to be successful in the future I recommend that everyone calms down a bit and adopts a far more collegiate attitude to the challenges ahead.
Opposite are three of the most successful elite sparklers from within our shores. They are all ground-breaking in their way and they all taste outstanding. They are priced at differing points and they will all find willing customers, I am sure, but only because they taste fantastic and they have welcomed the spotlight shone on them from this wine writer in this important publication and no doubt in others, too, because they understand that we stand side by side in this industry not one on top of the other.
Nyetimber, West Sussex
£150.00/ £375.00 (Magnum)
I am a huge fan of Nyetimber’s 2013 Tillington Single Vineyard. Winemaking husband and wife team Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix discovered a great parcel of Pinot at their Tillington site during their usual pre-harvest walks around the vineyards. They cut it with 20% Chardonnay and bottled it as a top end vintage sparkler. I can tell you that it is a star – effortlessly beautiful, balanced and graceful. It was the wine to lead this article until the much-vaunted 1086 pair arrived on my doorstep on deadline day for this piece!
The most expensive wines to ever be released in the UK, my featured wine and the 2010 Rosé (£175.00 & £375.00 magnum, stockists below) are both utterly mesmerising. I have no room on this page to elaborate on the back story of these two wines, so read all about them on the Nyetimber website. For my part, both cuvées are insanely delicious. They have the trademark Nyetimber gloss but also enough acidity to dig their heels into your palate on their minutes-long finishes. Exuberant and loaded with gravitas and style, I couldn’t care less what they cost because on a world stage they stand shoulder to shoulder in flavour terms with the big Houses’ wines from across the Channel and they also happen to look the part, too.
2013, Kit’s Coty
Coeur de Cuvée
Chapel Down, North Downs
England’s first three figure sparkling wine shocked us all when it was released and I am not talking about the price. If customers want to drink expensive wine they will pay up – I have no issue with this. What shocked me was the flavour.
This is an immensely confident wine with a unique demeanour and an extraordinary flavour stance. It tastes so direct and nervy it is incredible and it sings the English song louder than any other wine. By this I mean that it is frighteningly austere, with steely, chalky Chardonnay driven through with dramatic acidity and tension.
It is a baby and I venture that it will last twenty years as if it were a day. It has its own GPS locator in every sip and winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire has intentionally left every mineral molecule in place, preferring not to soften its attack, but to embrace its combative nature and let it run wild on the palate. I love the attitude in Coeur de Cuvée and I urge you to taste it – it will undoubtedly broaden your wine horizons.
2015, Rosé Brut
It was a very long trailer for this wine’s release which seemingly started when the vineyards were planted back in 2010 and ended on 24 April this year when visionary owner Mark Driver launched his first two sparklers in the UK.
There is a great sense of anticipation and a long way to fall if wines don’t stack up to their hype, particularly after years of carefully seeding the market with timely press releases and teasers.
What made this launch so brilliant was Driver’s humility and genuine delight at how his pair of wines were received. This is not a column about value, it is a column about top end sparkling wine, but this 50% Pinot noir, 40% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot meunier blend, with a daringly low 2.5gm/L dosage was pitched at exactly the right price to ensure that it sold through at speed.
A few notable merchants still have stock and the Oxford Wine Company is the place to go if you have yet to taste this wine. My original note said that this is a ‘racy rosé with a touch of spice, redolent of a walk down a country lane laden with hedgerow fruit’. It is everything I had hoped for from Rathfinny and with a 2015 Blancs de Noirs released early next year this is an estate to follow very closely indeed.