Wiston & Rathfinny: Two of the finest English Blanc de Blancs & Blancs de NoirsTuesday, July 14
In time for summer, Neal Martin has just reviewed the latest releases from a number of the finest English sparkling wine producers, with two of the estates we work with - Wiston and Rathfinny - taking first and second place!
Last July I spent a week on an oenology course at Plumpton in Sussex, led by winemaker Tony Milanowski. Tony was demob-happy, this being his last teaching course before going back into winemaking, as winery manager at Rathfinny Estate. Soon to be the largest vineyard, Rathfinny is also the biggest story in English wine; an entirely new estate planted on a scale and with a vision and investment not previously seen in this country.
Rathfinny's owner Mark Driver was a hedge fund manager before establishing the estate in 2010. Planting vines from scratch in 2012, the estate will eventually grow to around 400 acres, putting it on a par with Champagne houses like Louis Roederer and Bollinger. The opportunity to plant the 'perfect' selection of vine clones and rootstocks with such preparation must be very rare, requiring enormous foresight.
The first sparkling wine was only released in 2018 and their signature 'Classic Cuvee' (the equivalent of Bollinger's Special Cuvee, or Roederer's Brut Premier) was only released for the first time ever this spring.
Neal Martin describes the 2016 Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs as "an absolute delight...one of England's best Blanc de Noirs. (93 points)". Tasting it this week, we found wonderful, intense fruit aromas of blackcurrant and flavours of cherry giving length to the palate, despite an elegant structure which is more champagne-like than most English sparkling we have tasted. The Champenois would give their eye-teeth for this purity of fruit.
The Classic Cuvee was, in its own way, even more impressive with perfectly integrated acidity again points to the aspirations to rival champagne. The style echoes Tony's description of the site, on the rolling and windy South Downs, very near to the coast. There is a coolness to the fruit and a salinity (distinct from land-locked Champagne) which may accounts for what Martin describes as an 'airy style', scoring it just 87 points. We think it deserves a much higher score.
The very highest score of the tasting (95 points) is reserved for Wiston Estate's 2015 Blanc de Blancs. We first encountered the 2011 vintage of this wine last year, at a tasting of 40 award winning English Sparkling wines held by the Institute of Masters of Wine. This tour de force of winemaking brilliance convinced us that English Sparkling Wine has the potential to be not just 'as good as' but 'better than' Champagne.
Wiston Estate has been owned by the Goring family since the 16th century. Winemaker Dermot Sugrue gained experience at both l’Eglise-Clinet and Leoville-Barton as well as in Champagne. He worked as winemaker at Nyetimber before joining Wiston in 2006.
Sugrue makes a range of sparkling wines from Wiston's 16 acres of vines on the pure chalk downlands which are similar in composition to the Côte des Blancs. The wines are pressed in a Coquard basket press (as traditionally used in Champagne) before part-fermentation in old barrels bought from Domaine Jacques Prieur in Puligny-Montrachet. Martin finds a "fantastic bouquet of bewitching scents of lime, green apple, honeysuckle and slithers of tinned peach". This citrus and green fruit character is a perfect counterpoint to the red fruit aromas of the Blanc de Noirs from Rathfinny.
At under £38 and £33 per bottle inc VAT respectively, the Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs wines are equal to many fine champagnes at double the price. At under £26 inc VAT and ready to enjoy later this summer, the Classic Cuvee is a great way to sample some of the most exciting developments in English wine to date.
Offered in bond, available August 2020.
2015 Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs Brut, South Downs, UK
"Wiston's 2015 Blanc de Blancs is one of the finest English sparkling wines that I have encountered... to date. It was picked from October 22 to November 3 after a warm, dry October, the yield 15hl/ha, 50% fermented in stainless steel and 50% in old Burgundy barrels and aged on the lees for nine months. Dosage is 8g/L. This has a fantastic bouquet of bewitching scents of lime, green apple, honeysuckle and slithers of tinned peach, all beautifully defined. The palate does not disappoint, delivering exquisite balance, wonderful focus and a touch of mineralité toward the harmonious finish. Now this is how you make a great Blanc de Blancs. 95 points." Neal Martin, Vinous.com Jul 2020
2016 Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs, Sussex
"The 2016 Blanc de Noirs is aged for 36 months in bottle with a dosage of 3g/L. It has a burnished silvery hue. The well-delineated nose is an absolute delight, presenting scents of orange pith, brioche, toasted pine nuts and a hint of white peach in the background. The palate is well poised with a light walnut opening, quite saline in the mouth and precise toward the finish; a touch of blackberry appears on the aftertaste. Impressive energy and sophistication are clear to see in what might be one of England's best Blanc de Noirs. Highly recommended. 93 points." Neal Martin, Vinous.com
2016 Rathfinny Classic Cuvee, Sussex
"The 2016 Brut Classic Cuvée , disgorged January 2020 after 36 months’ bottle age with a 5g/L dosage, has a taut green apple and lemon zest nose that just feels a little too airy to me; I wanted more presence. The palate is balanced and very fresh on the entry, delivering plenty of lemon zest notes mixed with orange peel, and the finish is lively if not endowed with the complexity of some other Brut cuvées. 87 points." Neal Martin, Vinous.com