Balfour Winemakers’ Collection

I’ve been an admirer of Hush Heath Estate’s sparkling wines for some time, a wine estate in Kent that’s in the top rank of England’s most impressive producers. Mostly appearing under their Balfour brand, the wines enjoy good distribution via independent wine merchants, with some cuvées in multiples like Waitrose, Majestic and Tesco.

Owned by Richard and Lesley Balfour-Lynn, the estate sits within 400 acres of Kent countryside. There are extensive visitor facilities and the Balfour-Lynns also own a number of pubs around the estate where wine and food-matching expriences are offered. The winemaking team is headed-up by Victoria Ash, who is one of the winemakers invited to create a wine designed purely from their own imagination and ambition; given free rein to choose whatever style they desired. The limited edition range is called The Winemakers’s Collection and is available direct from the Hush Heath online shop.

Balfour WinemakersVictoria chose to make a sparkling wine, in an unusual style, blending two vintages of Chardonnay – 2012 and 2013 – it is zero dosage, and spent one year in Burgundian oak barrels before a further five years on the lees in bottle (1,000 bottles produced). Joining Victoria in this experiment, the Estate’s winemaking consultant, Owen Elias, chose to make a still red wine called The Red Miller, from 100% Pinot Meunier. Spending only a short time in French and American oak barrels, it’s another highly unusual singe varietal bottling of Meunier (5,000 bottles produced).  Arguably the most curious of all is the third and final wine in the Collection, This Septered Isle, made by Assistant Winemaker Fergus Elias. It’s a still white wine, made using all seven of the grape varieties permitted in Champagne production. As well as the familiar Chardonnay and Pinots Noir and Meunier, estate-grown Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and a small parcel of Pinot Gris from a local farm were fermented in tank with bâtonnage, and bottled without oak contact. The name, incidentally, is not mis-spelled: it’s a pun on ‘Sept’, the French word for Seven (3,000 bottles produced).

These are singular, small-batch wines, a limited edition with striking modernist labels designed by artist Keith Coventry. The wines are relatively expensive, and it is debatable whether £80 for the sparkling wine or £40 for either of the still wines is fully justified in relative terms, but then these are very good wines indeed, a unique and brave experiment, and they are wines of enormous interest as examples of an English estate pushing the boundaries. It is also worth mentioning that members of Hush Heath’s Wine Club enjoy a 15% discount on these prices.

The Wines

Wines are available from hushheath.com while stocks last.

(2019) The sparkling wine in this inaugural Winemakers' Collection is 100% Chardonnay from the 2012 and 2013 vintages, that spent 12 months in Burgundy barrels before a further five years in bottle on the lees. It has zero dosage and the colour already appears quite deep through the clear glass bottle, tinged with gold. Bubbles are small, and the initial aroma is of bruised apple and pear, a touch of pastry, and a custardy touch. In the mouth the mousse if fine and racy, and the wine streaks across the palate with a surge of lemony fruit. There's a fascinating lick of saltiness to the acid profile, but it perhaps lacks a bit of palate depth given the barrel treatment and long time on the lees, finishing taut and fruit driven. At the price I would have hoped for a little more complexity, and wonder if just a few grams of dosage would have given that?
(2019) The name is a pun on 'sept', the French word for seven, as all seven of Champagne's permitted grape varieties are used: it's a bend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris, Arbanne and Pinot Meunier. Made in stainless steel, but with six months batonnage, it's one of those wines which you would swear had been barrel fermented and aged: the nose is creamy with buttery and almond tones, beneath citrus and golden apple, quite firm and not too showy. In the mouth the wine immediately tightens up, a flowing citrus zest character and more of that dry crab apple bite of acidity, the finish long and full of zippy fruit and etched by acidity.
(2019) What a fascinating wine, made from a single plot of Pinot Meunier that ripened exceptionally well in the 2018 vintage, it was harvested on 19th October and aged for a short period in a combination of French and American oak. It is pale-medium in colour and has an intriguing nose, somewhere between fresh-hung game and raspberry, gentle earthiness and tobacco spices adding to the complexity of aromas. In the mouth there is beautifull creamy sweetness, touching on summer-pudding fruitiness, but that gamy nuance persists, a touch of a darker, coffee character and a rasp of plum skin grippy tannin. The acidity is good too, in a light and yet substantial wine that's full of interest.

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