Friday, 25 March 2011

2006 Balfour Hush Heath Brut Rosé

In a celebration of all things British, Britain’s favourite cruise line, P&O Cruises, has chosen the Balfour Brut Rosé from Hush Heath Estate for the naming ceremony of its newest ship, Adonia, in May.

When the ship’s godmother, Dame Shirley Bassey, releases the bottle against the ship’s hull to name the ship officially, it will be the first time that a British sparkling wine has been used in this ancient maritime tradition.
TV wine expert Olly Smith said, “Balfour Brut Rosé is a celebration in a bottle. Gloriously refreshing with invigorating zing and plenty of finely crafted tiny bubbles, this pink fizz is a glimpse of the first rate quality on our shores. Cheers!”

P&O Cruises managing director, Carol Marlow said “It is a fabulous and fitting choice for such a celebration. With a party atmosphere onboard, it is only right that as we toast our newest ship we appreciate the fine quality of sparkling wine we now produce in this country.”

Described as “England’s most exclusive Pink Fizz”, Balfour Brut Rosé is grown on Hush Heath Estate from three classic Champagne varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Hidden from the world by a giant cordon sanitaire of ancient woodland, the flavour and philosophy of Balfour Brut Rosé owes much to its historic setting. The fine soils, mild climate and long history of fruit growing, has made the Weald of Kent home to the finest vineyards planted in the UK in the last 50 years.

“My aim is to make the finest rosé sparkling wine, comparable with the great rosé Champagnes. The passion and enthusiasm by everyone involved with Balfour Brut Rosé has led to us winning a number of prestigious international awards”, said Richard Balfour-Lynn, producer.

In May 2009 Balfour Brut Rosé was awarded a Gold Medal and the first Trophy ever awarded to an English Wine in the Decanter World Wine Awards, the biggest wine competition in the world that year.

Adonia’s naming celebrations will take place in Southampton on Saturday May 21, 2011, with the maiden voyage the following day.

For details of itineraries see
To contact Hush Heath Estate visit or

Saturday, 12 March 2011

English Sparkling Wine v Champagne – who will win?

“Judgment of Parson’s Green”

English Sparkling Wine v Champagne – who will win?

The Tasters
A stellar line up of tasters (in alphabetical order): Suzie Barrie MW (Winchester Wine School proprietor who wrote her MW dissertation on Champagne), Dee Blackstock MW (Champagne and sparkling wine buyer for Waitrose), Sue Daniels (MW student and wine technologist for Marks and Spencer) Michael Edwards (journalist and author of several books on Champagne), Victoria Moore (journalist, wine columnist for the Daily Telegraph), Jancis Robinson MW, OBE (journalist and wine-polymath), Julia Trustram Eve (English Wine Producers), plus myself.

The Wines
52 English Sparkling Wines – all from award winning producers – against six non-UK sparkling wines (four Champagnes and two others). The wines were arranged in three flights: 11 Blanc de Blancs inc. Sainsbury’s excellent BdB Champagne (£18.49), 15 Rosés inc. Sainsbury’s Etienne Dumont NV £18.99) and 32 blends inc. 2 Champagnes – Moët & Chandon NV (£30.99), Sainsbury’s Defontaine Premier Cru Champagne (£19.99), Pelorus 2006, Cloudy Bay’s New Zealand vintage sparkler (£17.99) and Codorniu’s top Cava (£12.99).

All wines were served blind, the RidgeView magnum was decanted into a standard bottle and tasters were free to (and did) taste the wines in any order they wished. The Champagnes were carefully chosen; the Moët because it is the world’s largest Champagne brand, the UK’s favourite and considered by most to be the benchmark for NV Champagnes, and the Sainsbury’s Champagnes because the Blanc de Blancs is a truly excellent wine and unbeatable at the price, and the two others because they are recognised as offering superb quality and value for money. The fact that there was a 25% discount for 6 bottles or more also helped! The Pelorus vintage is one of New Zealand’s best and as it is owned by LVMH they ought to know something about making the stuff. Likewise the Cava – Codorniu – Spain’s top producer with over 150 years of experience in sparkling wine. The wines were also chosen because they were in the same price range as UK-sparklers are selling - £12.90 to £36.99.

The Results

Average scores
Varietal blend
 Retail price
Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs
Chardonnay 100%
Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs in Magnum
Chardonnay 100%
Etienne Dumont Rosé (Maison Burtin)
Gusbourne Estate
Brut Reserve
Chardonnay 46% Pinot noir 41% Meunier 13%
Nyetimber Rosé
Chardonnay, Pinot noir
Chardonnay 54% Pinot Noir 26% Pinot Meunier 20%
Plumpton Estate
The Dean
Pinot noir 90%, Chardonnay 10%
JS Blanc de Blanc (Duval Leroy)
Chardonnay 100%
Moet & Chandon
Brut Imperial
Pinot noir 50%, Chardonnay 10%, Meunier 40%
Defontaine Premier Cru (Maison Burtin)
Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Meunier
Plumpton Estate  
The Dean Blush
Pinot noir 94%, Chardonnay 6%
Chapel Down
Pinot Reserve
Pinot Noir 70%, Pinot Blanc 30%
Classic Cuvée
Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier
South Ridge Cuvée Merret (RidgeView)
Chardonnay 60%, Pinot noir 28%, Meunier 12%
Jenkyn Place
Jenkyn Place Brut
Chardonnay 61%, Pinot noir 23%, Pinot Meunier 16%
Hush Heath Estate
Balfour Brut Rosé
Pinot noir 55%, Chardonnay 40%, Pinot Meunier 5%
Limney Estate Blanc de blancs
Reichensteiner 100%
Camel Valley
Pinot Noir Brut
Pinot noir 100%
Blanc de Blancs
Chardonnay 100%
Breaky Bottom
Cuvée John Inglis Hall
Seyval blanc 100%

One thing is certain: the best UK sparkling wines can more than hold their own with Champagne. Although Champagne occupied four of the top ten places, that still meant that six were English and with only one point separating the top twelve wines, it was all very close. RidgeView undoubtedly were the stars of the tasting and with their wines (I include wines they made for both themselves and their clients) occupying ten out of the top thirty wines, there is no doubt that the team is on a roll. Their win at the Decanter World Wine Awards last year (Best World Wide Sparkling Wine over £10) with the Grosvenor 2006 was no fluke. I rated their 2001 Grosvenor in magnum as my personal favourite when I tasted it at the EWP St. George’s Day tasting last year (and promptly ordered six bottles to be kept for me for a future occasion) but now having tasted the 2000 Grosvenor in magnum, I am not so sure! I need to do a comparative tasting.

The other Top Twenty winners were the other serious players – Breaky Bottom (with the only Seyval blanc-based wine in the top 20), Camel Valley, Davenport (with a great 100% Reichensteiner), Gusbourne, Hush Heath, Nyetimber, Plumpton, Chapel Down, Jenkyn Place – all regular medal and award winners and capable of making good sparkling wines in a range of styles and over different vintages.

Of course no tasting is without its losers and this one was no exception. Whilst not wanting to single out any vineyard in particular, there is no doubt that on the basis of this tasting, wines made from non-Champagne varieties fared poorly. Apart from the Reichensteiner and Seyval blanc already mentioned, ALL the non-Champagne variety wines were placed at position 26 or below and whilst there were plenty of Champagne-variety blends in the bottom half of the tasting, these tended to be the younger wines suggesting that wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Meunier often (although certainly not always) require longer in bottle to come around. Older bottle-aged wines also tend to have a better nose – scoring points even before they have been tasted – whereas a short-aged bottle-fermented wine often lacks this attribute. All of the non-Champagne multi-variety blends scored badly (all in the bottom ten) and were probably best forgotten

The Conclusions
The best producers, those using the right varieties and clones, making their wine with care, ageing them for an appropriate length of time, and putting them on the market with a dosage that both respects the wine and the sector of the market they are aiming at, can produce wines that are truly world-class and at prices that are in no way out of line with the competition. With the UK sparkling wine industry barely out of nappies, what can we achieve over the next 25 years? When you consider that Dom Pérignon was perfecting the blending and assemblage of Champagne over three hundred years ago (he died in 1715) I think we can be pleased at the progress so far. As my teachers often wrote in school reports: “good work this term, but could do better” (usually with “--- if he paid attention/stopped larking about/applied himself” added on!). So it is with English Sparkling wine. In my opinion this is only the start. As both vineyards and growers mature, as winemakers learn from their past results, the quality of English Sparkling Wines can only improve. Many, many thanks to all those growers and winemakers who supplied wines and to the tasters who crowded into my flat. I hope to make this an annual event, so watch this space.

Stephen Skelton MW

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

"Big future for English Sparkling Wine" says leading Champagne maker.

Leading Champagne house Ruinart's chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis, speaking to the drinks business at a Ruinart Champagne “Interpretation Lunch” in London yesterday, predicted a big future for English sparkling wine, saying that it will soon be a stepping-stone into Champagne for many consumers.

“It often takes around 40 years for winemakers to fully understand their terroir,” he said. “Good English sparkling wine has been in production for around 20 years now and there is quite a lot of buzz about its progress in the wine industry.

“Given another 20 years it will be right up there with the best sparkling wines and, although Champagne will still be superior, it will give people another drink to act as a gateway into Champagne.”

Why does he think that "Champagne will always be superior"? Typical French nonsense!!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The future for UK wines looks rosé

Plumpton’s wine-making graduates have top jobs in vineyards across the globe
    Wine-making is not something the UK is known for, but pioneering research at a Sussex college is changing that
    graduates have top jobs in vineyards across the globe. Photograph: Plumpton College
    At his vineyard near St Emilion, Martin Krajewski makes some of France's best-known rosé wine. But, in an increasingly competitive market, he's anxious to improve it. Yet while the University of Bordeaux, 20 miles or so down the road, is a leading centre for wine studies, it's to Plumpton College, in the South Downs of Sussex, that Krajewski has turned for help.
    Moreover, he's given the college £75,000 to help fund research programmes. And Krajewski, a lifelong wine enthusiast who made his first batch of elderberry aged 12, isn't the only donor. Aspiring wine-maker Mark Driver, intent on becoming England's leading producer of champagne-style fizz, has invested £100,000. The college now hopes to double its money through gift aid and the government's matched funding scheme, which aims to increase voluntary contributions to higher education providers by matching donations, pound for pound.
    Both men prospered in the City of London before dedicating themselves to wine production. Krajewski had increased his investment at Château de Sours over several years before taking over entirely. Last October, Driver, a former hedge-fund manager, sank £3.5m into buying Rathfinny Farm, near Lewes, which he plans to cultivate with 400 acres of vines.
    Plumpton College was an unknown quantity to Krajewski until his daughter Charlotte, who inherited his passion for wine-making, chose to study there. At first he had doubts. "I said 'Are you sure'? But I read up about it and thought it sounded interesting. I'm amazed by what it's achieved in quite difficult circumstances. It compares well with any other college or university around the world."
    What impressed Krajewski was that graduates of Plumpton's wine-making degree course – unique in the country – hold senior positions in vineyards across the globe. "Plumpton is small; it's really hands-on. If you go to university in Bordeaux, you stay there. You're assigned to one particular chateau where all your practical experience is done."
    About half of the Château de Sours production is rosé, described by the late Auberon Waugh as probably the best of its kind in the world. "We've invested in processes and equipment," says Krajewski. "But although we do our own research, we're a small business and don't have a lot of time.
    "We believe Plumpton can improve our wine. They'll be doing research on the terroir [land in which vines are planted] and taking samples for analysis. They'll have different approaches. Hopefully, the benefits will be mutual. But the donation I've made isn't just to research rosé. I believe what the college is doing is exciting for the next generation of student wine-makers."
    Krajewski says the English wine industry is "very important, but not recognised". Driver, who is enrolled as a student at Plumpton, agrees. He was impressed by seeing college alumni working around the world and at English sparkling producers Nyetimber and Ridgeview. "I think it [investing] is one of the best things we can do for the future of English wines," he says.
    "Research is really important, but none has been done in the UK apart from bits and pieces. No one's pulled it all together and written definitively – for instance, about successful clones that will produce the right results in the right environment. There are no journals to compare with those in America and Australia.
    "What we need in England to take wine on to the next level is a top-quality research institution that will provide information for wine-makers and vineyard owners. It will raise skill levels."
    Driver finds himself in the odd position of being a first-year student making business decisions normally taken by an experienced graduate. He is employing consultants to help. Rathfinny's first harvest is due in 2014, and his first sparkling wines, after maturing and secondary fermentation, should be ready by 2017.
    The donations have allowed Plumpton to retain Dr Belinda Kemp as wine lecturer and department research co-ordinator. Kemp graduated from Plumpton with a first-class degree in viticulture and oenology, then completed a PhD at Lincoln University, New Zealand, researching the effects of vine-leaf removal on fruit ripening.
    Climate change cuts across several of Plumpton's research projects. But although warmer temperatures are welcomed by England's vineyard owners, they come as a mixed blessing.
    "It isn't as easy as just saying we can now grow grapes for champagne," says Kemp. "Everything is complicated." For instance, last year some English vineyards suffered their first infestations of light-brown apple moth, whose grubs damage leaves and fruit. "We're looking at ways of combating it without using pesticides. It's the sort of project we'll see more of. We're such a new industry – we have everything to learn. There's a range of projects under the climate-change umbrella."
    Plumpton is also studying the chemistry of wine and innovations that could be used in the UK. England is on the northern rim of wine production and one problem is excess acidity in the grapes. Meanwhile, the college will continue its existing research into three different ways of making rosé and work on refining the methods used by Krajewski at Château de Sours.
    There will be further studies into champagne-style wines, which look to offer the best chances of commercial success for the English industry. Plumpton can now afford a collaboration with Professor Richard Marchal from the University of Reims to investigate, among other things, how juice changes in quality immediately after grapes have been pressed.
    "Richard Marchal is an expert on production of champagne and sparkling wine, and his coming to Plumpton is recognition of the possibilities in the UK," said Krajewski.
    Soon Plumpton will be home to Britain's first purpose-built wine research centre, currently under construction, and costing about £500,000. Kemp will establish new research links with the University of Brighton, of which Plumpton is a part. Industry collaborations are planned with UK and international companies, and the college hopes further private funding will allow sponsorship of MSc and PhD research students.
    Wine studies at Plumpton have come a long way since Chris Foss, who heads the department, set up the first part-time course in 1988. There are now 500 students, including 140 undergraduates. The donations make a tremendous difference," he says. "They allow us to go beyond teaching into proper research, which is fundamental for a university.
    "More important, the wine industry now has a dedicated problem-solving tool, which it can use to support its developments. It will be a case of 'We have this problem … Plumpton can sort it out'."