Tue 27 May 2014

Blending English Wines at Three Choirs in Gloucestershire

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My first Society buying trip was to the picturesque vineyards of Three Choirs, outside the town of Newent near Gloucester. Travelling with The Society’s Buyer for English wine, Mark Buckenham, our mission for the day was to blend two exclusive wines that Three Choirs produce for us: Midsummer Hill and Stone Brook. Following the tricky 2012 English harvest, we were keen to taste the 2013 vintage.

For any members who have not been to Three Choirs Vineyard, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Situated on gently undulating south-facing slopes at the convergence of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, it is a very pretty spot indeed. Growing conditions here are defined by the unique microclimate: sheltered by the Malverns and the Brecon Beacons, the grapes are kept cool and clean by the breezes coming up the valley from the River Severn. A lone wind turbine in the middle distance somehow adds to the bucolic scene, rather than detracts.

Three Choirs

Three Choirs grow a miscellany of different grape varieties, many of which go into our Midsummer Hill blend. The 2013 vintage here is characterised by its relative lightness and by a good balance of acidity – vital for freshness and crispness in a white wine.

This was my first experience of blending – something at which Society buyers are particularly skilled. The tasting room at Three Choirs resembles a science laboratory, with clean white surfaces, pipettes and measuring jugs. The process begins with a taste of the previous vintage so as to re-familiarise ourselves with the style. Incidentally, I was impressed at how well the Midsummer Hill 2012 was showing: still fresh and lifted, with lovely citrus and pear fruit. Next came the tricky part. With samples of various varieties in front of us, Mark and I, along with Martin Fowke and Liam Tinston of Three Choirs, began to blend different proportions to try to reach a wine that we think members will enjoy. We then repeated this painstaking, fascinating process for the Stone Brook.

When finally satisfied with the white blends, we turned our attention to rosé. Three Choirs have a number of dark-skinned grape varieties under vine, and the rosé blend will change from vintage to vintage. The 2013 blend is crisp, refreshing and vibrant, with a palate full of ripe cherry and red berry fruit.

One of the benefits of having such a wide variety of grapes under vine is that one can tweak the blends to maintain consistency of style and, more importantly, quality. Whilst the varieties themselves may not sound familiar (madeleine angevine , reichensteiner, seyval blanc, phoenix, siegerrebe, schönberger to name a few), I think that these 2013 Three Choirs blends are exceptional, and will make for perfect summer drinking.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Comments

  1. Reg Sheppard says:

    Strange no mention of the actual grape varieties being blended. Is this a trade secret?

    • Joe Mandrell says:

      Thank you for the comment, Mr Sheppard. No trade secrets – I just didn’t want to get too bogged down with percentages and unfamiliar varieties! The blends for 2013 are as follows:
      Midsummer Hill: the largest single variety in the blend is the early-ripening madeleine angevine (technically ‘madeleine x angevine 7672’) at 40%. The remainder is equal parts reichensteiner, seyval blanc and phoenix.
      Stone Brook: majority siegerrebe with 30% schönberger.
      Rosé: the blend is triomphe and regent with seyval blanc for freshness.

  2. Peter Brennan says:

    I wonder what the buyers wish to achieve that Three Choirs cannot? (The results, it has to be said, are impressive. I bought several bottles – Midsummer Hill and Rose – after tasting them today at the Cellar Showroom). I was a bit surprised at Joe’s apparent surprise that the 2012 Midsummer Hill was ‘still’ showing well. Surely any decently made wine should drink well for at least a couple of years?

    • Joe Mandrell says:

      Thanks for the comments, Mr Brennan. I’m very pleased to hear that you enjoyed the results of our labours – in a sense, this is precisely what we hope to achieve. Three Choirs make a number of different wines, but being able to put together a blend or two for ourselves gives The Society the opportunity to make something a little different for members to enjoy. Regarding the 2012 Midsummer Hill, I was not at all surprised that it was “still” showing well – of course these wines will keep for several years after bottling. However, I hadn’t tasted the 2012 since last year when it was in its first flush of youth. I was impressed that the fruit remained just as fresh and the wine just as vibrant as I remembered. Even with the best made white wines, time in bottle can dull very slightly the bright fruit and crispness that makes the wine so appealing in the first place – not so with the Midsummer Hill.

      • Peter Brennan says:

        Thanks for your clarification, Mr Mandrell. As it happens, I tend to enjoy the secondary flavours that can develop when one ages wines, white as well as red, and am happy to forgo some crispness. I wonder whether the Society will considering offering wines from English vineyards other than the large, very well-established estates it tends to patronise? I realise volumes are not always huge, but surely it should be possible to extend the net to some extent, as quality – in my experience – is often high?

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