By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 19 June 2021
To celebrate mid-summer’s English Wine Week (19 June-27 June) – I picked out four rising stars from England’s burgeoning wine industry:
West Sussex: ROEBUCK ESTATE www.roebuckestates.co.uk
One of my top finds this year, a new estate near Petworth making impressive traditional method sparkling wine. The first fizz I tasted was their debut sparkling rose ROEBUCK ROSE DE NOIRS 2016 (£40 Roebuck Estates; Grape Britannia; Hennings; Hedonism Wine; Secret Cellar) made from Pinot Noir with its early ripening clone Fruhburgunder used as a still red to add tone; deliciously ripe red fruit sweetness and layers of flavour – one of England’s best rose fizz.
Roebuck Estate (pictured above), owned by entrepreneurs Mike Smith and John Ball, mentions ‘richness and texture’ as two key factors which they look for. They reckon this comes from their use of multiple mature vineyards across west Sussex, with Upperton vineyards near Tillingworth their flagship site.
A small percentage of whole bunch pressed wine aged in Burgundian oak to add weight and intensity and three years lees ageing results in a particularly sumptuous refined toasty almond-toned Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier blend: ROEBUCK CLASSIC CUVEE 2014 (£35 Roebuck Estates; Secret Cellar) - another star buy which won Best in Show at Decanter wine awards last year.
Hampshire: EXTON PARK VINEYARD www.extonparkvineyard.com
Exton Park Vineyard (pictured above) has jetted into the premier English wine league with a new trio of Reserve Blend fizz made by winemaker Corinne Seely, who worked at Lynch Bages, Domaine de Chevalier and Coates and Seely. When Seely arrived at Exton in 2011 she insisted on a new winery, which was immediately built to a high spec – no expense spared.
Owner Malcolm Isaac, who made his fortune selling Vitacress bagged salads to supermarkets, had originally bought the estate for shooting. By 2003, all three classic Champagne grapes had been planted in a single 24-hectare block on Hampshire’s rolling chalk hills – and to ensure a decent number of base wines, nine different plots are harvested, fermented and aged separately. They use 80% reserve wines in each blend, unusual in the English wine industry reliant on vintage wines, but you need deep pockets to sustain such a substantial library.
The depth of the range is impressive. Stripped back English elegance, with a nod to Bollinger, combining freshness and delicacy with structure and ageability. My favourite EXTON PARK BLANC DE NOIRS ROSE (RB23) (£39 Exton Park; Bancroft Wines) is a pricey blend of 70% Pinot Noir with the remainder Pinot Meunier, which grows well here. RB number refers to the reserve wines used; golden orange tinge, herby earthy bouquet, rosepetal palate, deep fruit notes, creamy texture, soft acidity. EXTON PARK BLANC DE NOIRS (RB28) (£42 Exton Park; JN Wines; Bancroft Wines) is more Bollinger-esque in stature; deep red fruit notes, ripe dense, nutty toasty palate, it needs time.
Essex: DANBURY RIDGE www.danburyridge.com
Who would have thought that England’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir would come from east Essex. This relatively new estate (pictured above) was founded by two generations of the Bunker family in 2012 on a warm sheltered site 6 miles east of Chelmsford between Blackwater and river Crouch, on land so arid and lean it had been scorned by local farmers for growing cereals and one section ultimately used only for winter gallops for racehorses.
The Bunkers aim was to follow the small Burgundian domaine and grower Champagne model - with initial main focus on still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They first planted vines in 2014 within natural woodland shelter breaks with an aim to exploit the warm microclimate and unusual soils. The vineyard has Fluvial glacial Bagshot sand and Danbury gravel lying over a bed of London Clay – and it is this coarse aggregate deep in some places, shallow in others, which makes Danbury unique.
With 2018 their debut vintage, the sheer youthfulness of this project and the quality of their wines is interesting, raising the bar for English still wine. My favourite is luscious silky plummy elegant DANBURY RIDGE PINOT NOIR 2018 (£34 Swig Wine; Grape Britannica) crafted by talented ex-Lyme Bay winemaker Liam Idzikowski. DANBURY RIDGE CHARDONNAY 2018 (£32 Swig) is blossomy, pure citric with sleek lithe mouthfeel, remarkably fleshy for an English wine.
The Bunker’s 4.8 hectare flagship site on a gravelly loam plateau is home to OCTAGON BLOCK CHARDONNAY 2018 (£52 Swig), with more density and rich intensity than I have yet tasted from English soil.
West Sussex: ASHLING PARK www.ashlingpark.co.uk
Ashling Park have been on my radar for some time, after scoring high marks at one of my sparkling wine tastings holding its own against heavyweight competition from the rest of the world. Last year this wine estate swept the board at the Wine GB awards with both best classic cuvee and rose non-vintage.
Owner Gail Gardner (pictured above) with consultant winemaker Dermot Surgue reckon this sunny sheltered hotspot near Chichester at the foot of South Downs, just one mile from the coast with its sandy loam over chalk, can ripen grapes better than anywhere else in the area. Gardner believes the key is not to rush release: “the longer left on the lees the better”, she says. Their classic cuvee has six years on lees, the longest for any English wine currently on the market.
Lovely toast and ginger notes, baked apple, creamy texture with freshness, without elderflower notes and sheering acidity typical of English fizz. Given the awards it has garnered, the 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier blend of ASHLING PARK ESTATE CUVEE NV (£28 Woodwinters; Ashling Park) is good value in English fizz terms. Watch out too for Ashling Park gin made from pressing from Pinot Noir juice - named after their vineyard dogs.
Join Rose’s 'Hidden Gems of Hungary' online wine tastings on Saturdays 10 & 17 July in association with L'Art du Vin www.rosemurraybrown.com