ESW Prestige Cuvée Tasting Round Two

Following on from the previous English sparkling wine prestige cuvée tasting I have discovered a few more wines in this category, and so decided a follow-up session was called for!

This second round takes us across nearly the full span of the South Downs - the heartland of English sparkling wine production - from Ridgeview (Ditchling in East Sussex), via Nyetimber (West Sussex) towards the Western extremes, with Hambledon, in Hampshire.

Last time I'd felt the tasting notes had been a bit neglected after the first wine, so this time I actually took along a notepad and pen, and made a point of forcibly extracting descriptive snippets from each of the attendees as we tasted each wine.

We started with the Nyetimber 1086 - this time the white 2009. I had initially planned to taste the three wines for today's tasting in increasing order of Pinot (which would have meant starting with the Ridgeview, a blanc de blancs), but I felt the rosé 1086 had suffered last time from coming third in the billing, and have noticed an overall trend from past tastings for people to prefer the first wine - when your palate is freshest and your judgement is least clouded. None of the attendees are wine industry professionals, and this is meant to be a fun, sociable occasion above all else, so we're not using a spittoon!

I think what we collectively enjoyed most about the white 1086 was the texture / mouth feel. It was a delight to roll over the tongue. We found this was a bold wine, and held up really well to the range of flavours in the accompanying nibbles we had during the tasting - even the spicy ones. That old adage about Champagne going well will anything ought to translate to at least some English sparkling wines, and I think that would definitely be true of this one. Fresh, lively and zingy at the start (one attendee opined "tantalisingly tart"), even slightly piney, but creamier notes on the nose coming along later (crème pâtissière?) once a degree or two warmer, which was a useful reminder of the importance of serving temperature. The official tasting notes suggested "honey, pastry and roasted nuts" - which one member of the group said seemed to sum up to baklava, in essence. We didn't quite find the baklava ourselves.

Next, Ridgeview's Blanc de Blancs Single Vineyard 2014. This is currently the only wine they produce with grapes solely from their "home" vineyard in Ditchling.

This had a very lively mousse at the start, and gave us notes of pineapple on the nose. This was intriguing as just the other day I'd tried Court Garden, Ridgeview's immediate neighbour, which also presented pineapple notes (and was also a 2014). It was tempting to think this might be an expression of the Ditchling terroir. There was zinginess again, but the acidity was not overdone, and one member of the group commented that despite the zest it was actually fairly dry on the palate.

We found this to be a bit more delicate than the 1086 had been when it came to food pairing and tended to be a bit overwhelmed by more strongly flavoured morsels. The group thought it would probably be best drunk alone (and amused ourselves at the ambiguity of that statement) or as an aperitif perhaps.

Finally, the Hambledon Premiere Cuvée. I was instantly hit by buttery notes on the nose, which seemed to be something of a consensus, and one member of the group suggested butter chicken. Then later strawberries, perhaps morphing into strawberries and cream. One comment that it was a shorter palate but a longer finish. A couple thought this was less of an aperitif wine. Something very English about this one, and an obvious pairing would be afternoon tea. In fact I look forward to having this again and doing exactly that.

In conclusion: I think the representative of Nyetimber's 1086 range had a much better outing than its stable mate did last month, which for whatever reason was having a bad day. It was probably my favourite from today's lineup, with that very memorable mouth feel and structure, although I am slightly frustrated by the difficulty in getting serving temperatures right (I'm not really impressed with the accuracy of the wine thermometer I was using), and I'm left with a lingering paranoia that we may have missed something on the nose by not catching it at quite the right temperature. We got quite a different sense as it warmed slightly - perhaps that is just a sign of a complex wine with a lot to give? That said, given the price of the 1086 I am unsure whether I'd buy this again.

The Hambledon Premiere Cuvée however is definitely one I look forward to revisiting, and I can imagine it would be lovely served with an al fresco afternoon tea in a summer orchard - alongside scones, clotted cream and strawberries.

As for the Ridgeview, I've been really enjoying their "standard" offering (the Bloomsbury) recently - not a blanc de blancs but it is quite Chardonnay dominant. Interesting though it was to get what appeared to be a glimpse of a very specific terroir here - the Ditchling pineapple effect - I'm not sure that for me the price hike translates to a corresponding increase in enjoyment, especially when Waitrose currently have Bloomsbury for the absolute bargain of £21.49, whereas the 2014 blanc de blancs went for nearly three times that, at £60.

See also the similar themed tasting organised by Great British Wine in May 2018.


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