You wait ages for a new vintage of an English sparkling Blanc de Blancs, then two come along at once: Nyetimber 2013 and Gusbourne 2014. Taste-off time.
It proved to be a more fascinating comparison of two vintages, two provenances and two producers than I’d anticipated. I’ve followed Nyetimber, the first English sparkling wine to be modelled on Champagne, on and off since the debut 1992 Blanc de Blancs was released in 1997 and have tracked it closely in the last decade under winemaker Cherie Briggs and her husband Brad Greatrix. I’ve seen the unfaltering quality progression. Gusbourne was established in 2004 and I know it much less well but have been impressed in the last five years or so whenever I’ve tasted one of the sparkling wines, and I was interested to hear that chief winemaker Charlie Holland believes the 2014 Blanc de Blancs “represents a watershed moment” for Gusbourne.
VINEYARDS, VINTAGES AND WINEMAKING
All Chardonnay, 70% of the grapes coming from Nyetimber’s West Sussex vineyards and, for the first time, 30% from its Hampshire vineyards. The soils are chalk and greensand.
In terms of growing season, it was a late year. March to June and September were all cool, but July was warmer than average and led to a very good, although late, fruit-set. August was also good, so the vines caught up a bit. September was not only cooler but wetter than average; ripening was slow but it continued until the harvest eventually took place from 8–24 October.
Hand picked grapes, whole bunch pressed. 3% of the juice was fermented in new French oak barrels, the rest in stainless steel. Full malolactic. Traditional method, second fermentation in bottle and almost five years in the cellars before release in March this year. Dosage: 9.5g/l. 12% abv.
All Chardonnay grapes from Gusbourne’s vineyards on a south-facing clay and sandy loam escarpment in Appledore, Kent.
Overall a warm, early year, with a successful flowering at the end of June, although the weather conditions at fruit-set then gave a smaller crop, which was made smaller by the decision later to drop 20% of bunches in the vineyard to increase concentration and ripeness. Rain in August – much needed – gave an early harvest; completed by 7 October.
Hand picked grapes, whole bunch pressed. Fermented in stainless steel except for a small percentage in old oak barrels. Bottled 21–22 April 2015 and aged on lees for 42 months. Dosage: 7g/l. 12% abv.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2013
Very floral with jasmine and honeysuckle, delicate vanilla-biscuit and bright, zesty lemon aromas. Delicately nutty almond notes on the palate, together with tangerine, lemon-meringue pie and hints of spice, peach, honey and vanilla. Fine, sustained acidity. Elegant, flowing and beautifully balanced. If you have cellar conditions, you could keep this 8 years more, and probably longer. 94
£35.99, House of Townend; £42, Tanners; £44, Hennings; £45.90, Hedonism, £47.50, Fornum & Mason
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2014
Quite tight and closed on the nose on first opening, but soon begins to open, with a savoury, sourdough richness, apple and lemon notes and a suggestion of honey. Deep, rich apple and quince fruit on the palate, a light, toasty nuttiness and, ultimately, tasting it on the third day, a delicious apricot patisserie note – all anchored by persuasive acidity. Dry, satisfying, complex and delicious already, especially if you allow it time to breathe a bit, but it will evolve in a cellar for another decade. 94.5
£43, Tanners; £44.80, Hedonism
A reminder about my scoring system:
93 and above represents Gold
89–92 represents Silver
85–88 represents Bronze
Photographs by Joanna Simon