English Sparkling Wine
The fortunes of English vineyards and vignerons have ebbed and flowed along with the weather over the last few years - enjoying a rather mixed series of vintages. While persistent late frosts have impacted quantities of late, 2020 has been hailed as an exceptional year in terms of quality even after the much-lauded 2018. Given that most English sparkling wines aren't released for a full 36+ months after vintage, we'll enjoy the fruits of lockdowns as and when they appear.
We had been tipped off by a number of friendly journalists that Susanna Busi-Jacobsohn and her husband Douglas were producing tip-top sparkling wines on their single-vineyard estate on East Sussex's High Weald so naturally we got in touch and have managed to secure stocks of their latest releases. The couple are keenly sustainably-farming their 5 hectares of south-west facing vines planted to Chardonnay plus Pinots Noir and Meunier using biomass heating and solar power. They intervene as little as possible in the vineyard using minimal sprays and work to increase biodiversity as much as possible. They celebrate the diversity of each vintage season with wines that truly reflect the landscape and vagaries of the British summer. Their Cuvée Brut is based on a majority of Chardonnay with equal parts Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Crisp and rounded, it has lovely fresh citrus acidity with green apple notes backed up by a flinty minerality. Their 'Cuvée Rosé' sparkling has a lower dosage than most, setting off the crisp berry fruit with wonderful spice and refreshing acidity. Three-quarters Pinot Noir with the rest Pinot Meunier, a small amount of the base wine is matured in oak barrels to add richness, depth and complexity. The final wine retains the freshness of an Extra Brut, with ripe cranberry and raspberry fruit, vanilla and sweet baking spices.
Guy Smith and Laura Evans planted their 1 hectare micro-vineyard with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay on the free-draining, calcareous limestone ridge at Higher Plot Farm near Langport, Somerset in 2008 and have never looked back. Sited on the edge of the Mendip hills, it benefits from a rain shadow to avoid the worst of the prevailing weather.
Their 2016 vintage is comprised of roughly equal quantities of classic sparkling varieties Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay topped up with some barrel-aged reserve wine to add richness. Disgorged in 2021, it will continue to improve in bottle for 5+ years. With Bramley apple crispness and characteristic flinty minerality on the nose, it has a rich rounded palate and buttery toast notes with a hint of caramel set alongside great tension and verve. Guy and Laura recommend letting it breathe for half an hour or so in the fridge after opening (if you can resist that long!).