Grapevine Archive for Sparkling Wine
20 years is a short time in the wine world. Just enough for your first vines to have become fully mature and to be providing great fruit.
Couple that with one of the best ever summers for grapes on England’s South Downs and expect some delicious wines to come from the 2016 vintage.
The first Ridgeview vines were planted in 1994 by Mike Roberts MBE and his wife Chris. Sadly Mike passed away in November 2014, but the baton has been picked up by the second generation, namely winemaker Simon and his wife Mardi and CEO Tamara and her husband Simon They are continuing the family vision of creating world class sparkling wines in the South Downs. You can check out this short video to hear Mike, Simon, Tamara and others talk of their involvement in the business.
Ridgeview has been supplying The Society since the 2001 vintage, and I have been enjoying their wines since I started at The Society in 2004. Every year I enjoy them more as the vines get more established and as the experience of the Roberts family grows.
The proof of the ever-improving pudding came when they started making our chardonnay-dominant Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine. We have just this week moved on to the 2014 vintage after selling out of the maiden 2013.
When Mardi Roberts invited me down to the estate at Ditchling Common in East Sussex for a day’s picking and pressing I didn’t need to be asked twice.
On arrival I talked with head winemaker Simon, vineyard manager Matt Strugnell and vineyard assistant Luke Spalding. They were visibly excited about the quality of this year’s harvest, agreeing that it is of the best quality they have ever had at Ridgeview, although rain at flowering time has meant that pinot noir quantities are down.
Walking around the winery and meeting chief operation officer Robin, production manager Olly, winemaking assistants Rob and Inma and others, it was clear that they were energised by the quality of the grapes and by the job they had to do to ensure that we will be enjoying the fruits of their labours for years to come.The winery and vineyards were abuzz with activity when I got there: the brilliant, efficient and hard-working Romanian and Portuguese pickers were in the vines, and the winemaking team was weighing the freshly picked chardonnay grapes on their way to the press.
There are seven hectares (17 acres) of vines on the Ridgeview site, but they work with growers on a further six sites on the South Downs (five in Sussex, one in Hampshire). The viticultural management of everything they grow or contract out is fascinating. There are four experimental rows of vines nearest the winery. Here they try various techniques to improve the yields and quality of the grapes.
These include canopy management (taking away / leaving leaves on the vines), cover crop planting (which crops are best for the soil quality), frost protection measures (currently trialling a warming electric cable along the trellis that is switched on when there is a risk of frost) and other experiments. Once a method has been deemed practical, it is rolled out into their own vineyard, and from there across the vineyards of the contracted growers.
I spent some time with Mardi in the vines harvesting chardonnay. The grapes themselves were delicious – well, it would have been rude not to taste! There was a lovely acidity, a sweetness and a fine texture already in the mouth. Things bode well for the 2016 vintage, with the bunches from row 13 particularly well snipped, IMHO!
Once the grapes have been picked, the bins are brought to the winery and put into the press. The unfermented chardonnay juice was very drinkable and, after tasting it, Simon and Luke were having their habitual daily bet on what the sugar level was (75-76? Oechsle seemed to be the consensus). The sugar level is of course a good guide to the eventual alcohol content of the finished wine. In the case of the 2016 chardonnay, this will be around 12%, with no chaptalisation (the adding of sugar to the grape juice to increase the potential alcohol of the wine) necessary.
The whole team is dedicated to the cause, and doing a fine job. The genuine smiling faces all around were a pleasure to behold, and it is clear to me that our Exhibition English Sparkling Wine couldn’t be in better hands.
Wine Society members cordially invited to attend a night of jazz and bubbles at Sparkling Saumur producer Gratien & Meyer’s headquarters in Saumur on Saturday 2nd July, 2016.
In the March edition of Societynews, Olivier Dupré, CEO of Gratien & Meyer in Saumur and Champagne Alfred Gratien in Epernay, mentioned in our interview with him that the company puts on a programme of summer events every year which are proving very popular.
Olivier generously offered to waive the entrance fee of 8€ for Wine Society members (take along a copy of Societynews or your List as proof of membership), in recognition of the long-standing relationship that exists between our two companies.
What more of a pleasant way to start your summer than with a glass of sparkling Saumur sipped slowly on Gratien & Meyer’s balcony overlooking the Saumur river, listening to some jazzy melodies from the exciting live acts set to perform?
The evening starts at 4pm and goes on until 9pm and this year’s programme looks as though it will be just as popular as previous years, with artists like the Rachel Ratsizafy Quartet, Three for Swing and the Patricia Ouvrard Quartet playing during the course of the evening.
• Rachel Ratsizafy is French of Madagascan heritage and her music is heavily influenced by the traditional Madagascan songs or ‘Kalo fahiny’ of her youth. She is supported by a talented backing band and guest vocalist Marc Thomas.
• Three for Swing are well-known among jazz lovers and were formed to revive the swing music made famous by the Nat King Cole trio. In order to do justice to such a jazz legend requires musicians with immense talent and personality, not to mention a singer with a voice like liquid gold!
• Patricia Ouvrard is a singer with an extraordinary talent for improvisation; she’s also that rare thing amongst female vocalists, a scat-singer. Supported by her trio of equally talented musicians, she will treat the audience to some jazz standards given a sensitive rendition by the purity of her voice.
If you like the sound of an evening of jazz and sparkling Saumur wines enjoyed on the terrace of our longest-standing suppliers, Gratien & Meyer, and you will be in the region next month, take a look at the event website for more details.
Saturday 2nd July 2016 from 4.00pm to 9pm
Caves Gratien & Meyer à Saumur.
Tarif 8€ per person, or free for Wine Society members
Gratien & Meyer
Route de Montsoreau
Tel. 02 41 83 13 32
The Society’s HQ is basking in spring sunshine as I write, so it is fitting that April’s Staff Choice has been noted for its affinity with sunnier weather.
This delightful sweet fizz from Italy was selected by our digital projects manager, Milda Olendre, and is evidently a popular choice: Head of Buying Tim Sykes has also selected this wine as one of his ‘alfresco’ choices in our current Buyers’ Favourites offer!
What a gorgeous light wine to enjoy on its own, or accompanied by fruit desserts. Moscato d’Asti is not always appreciated next to other sparklers, but in my book it comfortably sits in its own league. Excellent for sunny evenings, it’s light and refreshing, yet deliciously sweet and full of character, with gorgeously balanced grape sweetness and acidity.
Serve it as a surprise choice for your guests, and it will be noticed!
Moscato d’Asti adds a touch of festivity to any occasion and is extremely easy to drink. Being conscious about my alcohol intake, my alarm bells would start ringing, but at only 5% it’s far from a guilty pleasure! Another glass, please!
Digital Projects Manager
£7.25 – Bottle
£43.50 – Case of six
View Wine Details
To celebrate the arrival of the first English wine under The Society’s Exhibition label we wanted to mark the occasion by getting members involved in the festivities.
To that end, with the support of Ridgeview Wine Estates, we are running a photo competition with a six-bottle case of The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine up for grabs.
All you need to do to enter is send us a photo of you enjoying the wine (preferably somewhere in the UK) to firstname.lastname@example.org, or upload to our Twitter or Facebook page using #PhotoFizz.
Of course, at The Wine Society staff love to get in on the fun as much as anybody and whilst they can’t win the grand prize we have had some entries from a couple of departments.
Here are Chris, Drew, James, Allan and Dulcie grabbing a quick moment between calls in Member Services.
… and a raised glass from some of the ever-welcoming Showroom team in Stevenage
We have already had some entries, but would love to see more.
About the wine
The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine is a special cuvée put together exclusively for us by the award-winning Ridgeview team at their estate in the South Downs in Ditchling, West Sussex. This blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier is made in the same way as Champagne and has vibrant freshness and ripe fruit, and also now a touch of that toasty bready complexity you get with ageing the wine carefully on its fermentation lees. A delicious (and patriotic) way to start a celebration or toast the end of the working week!
About the competition
Upload a photo of you enjoying the new Exhibition fizz to our Facebook page (facebook.com/TheWineSociety) or tweet them (@TheWineSociety) using #PhotoFizz by Friday 4th December. To find out more and to read the terms and conditions visit thewinesociety.com/photofizz
‘England can’t make decent wine’ is a phrase that I have been forced to roll my eyes at far too often.Despite all the appreciation from wine writers and the international awards and plaudits loaded upon the wines of our fair isle, many people are still entrenched in the idea that the wines will never match up to those from more established wine regions.
Personally, I take great umbrage with this and feel that it is an assertion made either upon out-of-date experiences or a place of comically overdone wine snobbery. In response to this I feel the need to fly the flag for English wine whenever the opportunity arises.
Our new English wine offering is just such an opportunity.
In my opinion what will change the minds of all the naysayers are the sparkling wines produced in England which are a particular speciality of ours.
With producers such as Nyetimber, Camel Valley and Ridgeview it isn’t hard to see that quality is there. The wines from these producers generally cost about the same as the cheaper wines from the Grand Marques Champagne houses, but I find are often of a quality that far surpasses these and are easily worthy of competing amongst the Champagnes priced at £40-50.
The wines offer wonderful balance, finesse and refreshing acidity, they are delicious to drink young and some have the ability to age fantastically too. Their quality has been praised by wine writers such as Oz Clarke, Victoria Moore and Hugh Johnson to name a few, and have accrued countless medals and trophies at the Decanter Awards, International Wine Challenge and the International Wine & Spirit Competition.Now as a reality check, it has to be acknowledged that it is hard to make top-quality wines in England: our climate is too cold and wet for a whole host of grape varieties. Indeed, considering the weather we have experienced this summer it is a surprise that we can grow grapes at all! It is unlikely that world-class red wines will ever be made in the UK, but with Cornwall less than 90 miles north of Champagne it’s easy to see that with the right grape and site selection it is more than possible to make great sparkling wines.
Alongside the general climatic difficulties, in common with other wine-producing regions, we do experience vintage variation. This can be especially dramatic in the UK; when we have a bad vintage it can be devastating, such as that in 2012 when some producers dumped their whole harvest. In Champagne they would have been able to utilise the less-good fruit, beefing up the blend with better wine from previous vintages. This isn’t the case in the UK yet, being a young producing country the reserves of old vintages haven’t had time to build up to such an extent yet. But this will come in time: as English producers become even more established and build up good reserve stocks, vintage variation will lessen and blends overall will improve further in quality.Finally, one very exciting aspect for me about the current state of English wines is that ther are new wineries being founded and new vineyard new sites that are being found around the UK all the time.
Bluebell is a great example of a newcomer to the scene, having only released their second vintage this year. The wine is delicious and very distinctive to those from other English producers with a fuller-bodied, creamier and more developed style than the lighter and elegant Ridgeview or Camel Valley wines.
Our English offer has been put together to showcase some of the best wines that England produces and in a variety of styles. For me the England’s Finest Sparklers case in particular is a terrific showcase of the top-quality wines that can be made here.
With the superb quality of the 2014 vintage, the ever-increasing experience of the UK’s winemakers and their commitment to quality we should all be looking forward to seeing the development of our wineries in England over the next decade and with this the new treasures that will be unearthed.
Marketing Campaign Manager
‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.’ (Confucious)Over the years I have attended many Wine Society tastings and events, but a recent visit to the Three Choirs Vineyards in Newent this weekend stands out as one of my more memorable experiences.
I enjoy these events for the wines we taste, for the opportunity to meet other members and share enthusiasms, and for meeting the producers themselves who speak with such an infectious passion about what they do and why, that it is impossible not to be inspired. I also enjoy these events because, like many members, I am curious about the people, the process, and the product; learning about them enhances my enjoyment.
This, however, was a tasting with a difference. As is usual at these events, we were given a fascinating introduction to the vineyard and its wines from Martin Fowke, award-winning winemaker and head of Three Choirs Vineyards (and I am resisting the temptation to tell you what I learned from him about the Geneva Double Curtain, among many other intriguing details of wine production); we also enjoyed a delicious lunch in the Three Choirs restaurant with wines selected from Three Choirs and The Wine Society List. But the highlight for me, and I think a first for a Wine Society event, was the blending workshop that took place among the vats, tanks and barrels of the Three Choirs winery.
Members were organised into teams and challenged to produce a wine blended from three grape varieties produced in the Three Choirs vineyard (madeleine angevine, reichensteiner and phoenix); we were also given a small amount of suss reserve (concentrated grape juice) which is added to adjust the level of sweetness.
In effect we were being given the opportunity to gain a practical insight into the task that Martin Fowke and Mark Buckenham, Wine Society buyer, had recently carried out in blending the next vintage of Midsummer Hill, a wine produced by Three Choirs exclusively for The Wine Society.
To reflect the realities of wine production we were given very specific parameters within which to work: restrictions were place on the relative quantities we were permitted to use of each variety, just as yields and individual characteristics of each single variety affect the choices available to a winemaker in any one vintage. This ‘learning by doing’, with the additional pressures of limited time and collective inexperience, was really hard work! It was a unanimous view of the members present that this was also a great deal of fun.
As our team blends were reproduced in bottle (we were to have the opportunity to try out our wines at lunch) and we made our way to the restaurant, I reflected on something Martin had said at the beginning of the day as he described the development of vine growing and winemaking over his thirty years at the Three Choirs Vineyards: in the process of winemaking we are ‘learning all the time’. Cheers!
A few weeks before England’s harvest in September, a few colleagues and I were fortunate enough to visit Ridgeview Wine Estate in Sussex. Some of us at The Wine Society are currently undergoing our Level 3 studies for our WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) qualifications. The purpose of the trip I organised was to understand and learn about the whole process of producing wines. Not being able to travel the world to further my studies, I thought the best or more viable chance would be to visit a UK winery.
Ridgeview’s multi-award-winning sparkling wine is well known worldwide. First founded in 1994 by Mike and Chris Roberts, it’s a family company dedicated in the production of the highest-quality sparkling wine using traditional sparkling grape varieties and methods at the foot of the South Downs in Sussex.
After a three-hour journey from The Wine Society in Stevenage (it would have been shorter had we not been caught up in the Tour of Britain bike race!), we were greeted with a lovely lunch put on for us by Ridgeview, before heading off on a vineyard tour. This was presented by Daniel, one of the very knowledgeable and experienced assistant winemakers. He told us about the techniques that Ridgeview uses to grow and produce such great-quality grapes which go in their sparkling wine.
Thirteen French clones of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier on three different rootstocks were selected to emulate l’assemblage of the Champagne houses that combine together the vintages of small vineyards, thereby creating imaginative blends.
Since then, they have expanded from the single site to develop close partnerships with local growers who are predominantly in or adjacent to the South Downs National Park. Only being 70 miles (as the crow flies) from the Champagne region of France, their soils and climate are not too different. The location is also good for producing fully ripe grapes with great flavour, but which aren’t high in alcohol. With the climate of the UK (we get cold nights even in summer, after all!) English grapes have super acidity, a prerequisite for high-quality fizz.
The winery is purpose built with an underground cellar where the wines can be stored in perfect conditions for the secondary fermentation and lees ageing. Their grape press is capable of pressing four tonnes of grapes to create 2,000 litres of grape juice after the free-run is discarded and gyropalates help rotate the bottles, moving the dead yeast lees to the neck of the bottle before the final closure is made.
Afterwards, we were fortunate to have a special tasting hosted by Mardi Roberts (sales and marketing manager) who gave us an informal tutored tasting of their range.
At present, we stock two of Ridgeview’s sparkling wines. The Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2011 (£23 per bottle) is a chardonnay-dominant blend which is supported by the fullness of the red grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier. It has a light gold colour, a lovely mousse and an enticing nose of citrus fruit with a hint of melon and honey. The chardonnay brings finesse, along with crisp fruit freshness and toasty notes, while the two pinots add depth and character. This will age very gracefully, if you can be patient!
Both wines, price wise, are very similar to many Champagnes and dare I say give more of a pleasurable experience both on nose and palate compared to wines 80 miles south of Ridgeview – but that’s my opinion and feel free to disagree!
If you are ever in the area, I would highly recommend popping by to visit. More information can be found on the Ridgeview website. We would like to say a huge thank you to those from Ridgeview for providing us with a very educational and interesting experience in visiting their winery.
Happy 4th of July everyone!
This week in the buying department we had a comprehensive sparkling wine range review.Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Saint-Laurent, Antech 2011 and Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature, Antech) showing wonderful drinkability, with fresh citrus and peach flavours, while the sweet Ancestral really hit the spot mid tasting.
However one of the standout wines for class, complexity and balance was Louis Roederer’s Quartet from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, California.
The wine had a wonderful lemon and brioche nose very reminiscent of Champagne, but with a little more ripeness and generosity to it. The mousse was fine yet firm, and the flavours really developed on the palate, encouraging a second sip. The wine had great length for a sparkling wine, and we all agreed really stood out as a one of the stars of the line-up.
I will be taking a bottle of this home tonight to have with American friends at their 4th of July party, however I hope you might try it over the summer too and have a little toast to our cousins across the pond!
For the third time this summer I have set off for France with bottles of Nyetimber English fizz as gifts for friends.
Nyetimber’s finest would certainly surprise a few in a blind tasting, but it’s good enough to please under any circumstances.
The Tastings team served it to some of our Loire & Beaujolais growers after a tasting at Stevenage back in July: several are still talking about it and one even placed an order!
That was the 2004 and we have now moved on to the current 2007 vintage, which is more youthful and delicate, and is delicious with it. The price of decent Champagne, so not every day for most of us, but it’s worth it, especially in this celebratory year.
If you need an excuse, here’s to Team GB once again!
Jo Locke MW
For those who are interested in trying some English wines this summer, take a look at my “How to Buy England” guide that has just been published on The Society’s website.
Seldom a week seems to go past without exaltations of the quality of English wine in the media and trade; not to mention St George-like stories of giant-beating English fizz trouncing a Francophile equivalent in a blind tasting. The patriotism is understandable: the quality of wines coming out of England right now is definitely on the up, and with this in mind, I have identified in the guide many of the grape varieties used – sometimes exclusively – in the production of English wines. I hope you enjoy getting to know them.
We will be also publishing an Explore English Wine offer next week, including a mixed case at a very keen price!