Wines of England at Canopy Market

This afternoon I attended the Wines of England Showcase as part of Canopy Market in Kings Cross, London. The event was organised by Wine Pantry and included stalls from Hidden Spring, Exton Park, Brightwell, Oastbrook and Hawkins Bros.

On arrival, after we admired the popup vineyard they had assembled, Nathan Meyers of the Wine Pantry gave an introductory talk about the English wine revival, with a few selected wines to get us started.

First up Three Choirs Classic Cuvée, which was partly here to demonstrate that not all English sparkling wine goes for Champagne prices (this currently retails at £16.99). Being labelled as a "Classic Cuvée" there seemed to be a common (and quite reasonable) assumption that this was made from the classic Champagne grape varieties. However I believe it's actually 70% Seyval Blanc, 30% Pinot Noir. That would fit more with the style of the wine, which has more of that kind of citrus profile you get from Seyval - not quite the same as the citrus of Chardonnay - it tends to be greener and grassier and usually not the same level of refinement (with Breaky Bottom being a notable exception to that rule). There are some cidery notes to the Three Choirs as well, which I'd found last time I tried this, and had wondered whether I'd just made a mental association given its provenance being Gloucestershire, but I'm pretty convinced about it now. Quite large bubbles, some discussion about whether this related to the comparatively short lees aging - I think around 18 months. I forget the conclusion.

Next Hawkins Bros Brut Reserve - I believe it was the 2014. I really liked this, and not just because I and the owners of the shop share a surname! (No immediate relation as far as I'm aware.) This is produced for them by Greyfriars and is a blend of 56% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Noir and 22% Pinot Meunier. Before hearing this though I had guessed it was Pinot dominant, both given the colour and the fruit character which to me seemed to lean more towards the red berry side of things, but perhaps on reflection we could meet in the middle with something like plums. Whatever the fruit is, it was luscious and very refined, and then later came evidence of the long lees aging (3.5 years?) with a waft of sweet toasted brioche.

The third wine was Camel Valley's Sparkling Rosé (didn't get a photo of the bottle), which by coincidence I'd had recently while staying on Burgh Island, and presented itself quite differently on this hot day in central London to how it had manifested on a slightly stormy evening in that coastal setting last month. Today some hedgerow fruits, a hint of roses, a flash of sherbet, and a gentle elegant backdrop with some pale cherry.

As a bonus wine for the initial introduction session Nathan brought out a bottle of Winbirri's 2018 Bacchus, as it had come up in conversation with some of the other attendees. I continue to be a bit less interested in still whites, but I think with this wine from Norfolk the point Nathan was trying to make is that it wasn't obviously English. With the very prominent tropical fruit character on the nose (possibly helped by the particularly warm 2018 vintage), you could be forgiven for thinking you were drinking a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Happily for me it lacked those odd edges you sometimes get with Bacchus (the Riesling-esque whiff of petrol etc) and generally seemed very well rounded.

We then moved on to the exhibitors in their cosy little corner of Canopy Market.

I think Exton Park from Hampshire could well have been the star of the show for me today - not just because the wines were a delight, but also the opportunity to speak to their winemaker, Corinne Seely. I started with their Blanc de Noirs, which was wonderfully fruit forward, an explosion of Pinot character, which had been given finesse but not stifled by a middling duration of lees aging (2 years) and similarly dosage somewhere in the middle of the Brut range (10 g/L). The result of these not too little, not too much winemaking decisions was anything but middle of the road though, and this was a joyous wine which really let the fruit shine.

Exton Park's Brut Reserve is another joyous, vibrant wine. Corinne says she aims to make wines which are celebratory and she definitely achieves that. The Brut Reserve is currently assembled from a range of vintages (between 2010 and 2014 if I recall correctly), and is a 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay blend with the latter bringing a lovely racy acidity, and a touch of minerality which is more evident here than the Blanc de Noirs. Exton Park's wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation and this helps them to retain their lively, zingy character. Definitely wines to celebrate with.

A strong contender for the other star of the show today - Oastbrook's Rosé. From near the Sussex / Kent border, near Robertsbridge, it was interesting to learn that they, like their not-too-distant neighbours Davenport, use Auxerrois in the blend (along with some Pinot here). So that reorganised the usual fruit bowl of a classic Champagne blend somewhat, to take out the lemons/apples the Chardonnay might have added, and replace them with peaches. Coupled with the red berry fruits from the Pinot side, and particularly here some cherries, led to a particularly luxurious and fragrant fruit bowl. Again we had the privilege of being able to talk directly with the winemaker, America Brewer, who informed me this had spent 38 months on the lees, and yet that seemingly had left so much fruit character intact.

The Alsace connection (Auxerrois being a variety largely associated with that region) continued into the still wine they were also showing today, made from an Alsace clone of Pinot Gris, which here exhibited a Riesling like character and had a really interesting viscosity to the mouthfeel, which America said was a result of the natural oils in the skins.

Brightwell was an entirely new producer to me, hailing from Oxfordshire. Their Blanc de Blancs had one of those baked apples and custard type profiles which seem to pop up in various places and I assume is what you get from ripe Chardonnay in England with MLF, a decent amount of lees aging plus at least moderate dosage. 

Also tried Brightwell's still red Pinot Noir which I think was probably suffering with the heat somewhat - it really just wasn't the right weather or setting (or stemware!) to be drinking anything other than a chilled sparkling or white wine. It seemed surprisingly heavy in context, quite oaky and a fair hint of spice. Would like to revisit this on a cool day in autumn!

The final wine I tried of the afternoon (alas no photo) was Hidden Spring's Bacchus. One of the things I find slightly incongruous about Bacchus being increasingly seen as the flagship still wine of England are those tropical fruit notes - it just seems rather at odds with the terroir.  Here though was a more elegant and refined Bacchus, with the tropical fruits subdued, instead giving way to more vernacular English aromas like elderflower.

In summary a lovely afternoon, great to see this sort of open-to-everyone English wine event happening in central London, with such a broad range of regions represented today: Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Sussex and Norfolk. Well done Nathan and co!


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