Exton Park’s New Reserves

I had a memorable visit to Hampshire’s Exton Park back in 2015, where the work of Wine Director Corinne Seely and Vineyard Director Fred Langdale impressed me hugely. Not only where the sparkling wines they were already producing of excellent quality, but their ambition was obvious. 2015 was in fact the year of their first releases, of wines from the 2011 vintage, but Corinne Seely was already laying down substantial reserves of each harvest for future blending.

Located in the South Downs National Park, the magnificent 60-acre single vineyard is divided into nine separate plots on a south facing slope. It is planted with 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, each parcel harvested and vinified separately in the ‘labyrinth’ cellar of tiny, bespoke tanks designed by Corinne to allow maximum expression of their crus and varieties.

This online tasting in spring 2021 was to highlight the new range of ‘Reserve Blend’ wines, the result of a decade of experimentation by Corinne, which will replace their existing NV range. Unusually, she does not rely on a base vintage each year, but composes each year’s blend drawing on her library of reserve wines which date back to that first 2011 vintage. These reserves account for over 80% of the finished blend of the Brut, Rosé and Blanc de Noirs in this new range. In a very clever Zoom format, Fred took to his tractor with camera for a live tour of the vineyards, then handed on to Corinne in the winery for a similar walk-round visit there.

There has been substantial investment in the project since my visit six years ago. As well as in vineyards and extensive new hospitality facilities, solar energy and other aspects of sustainability have been developed. But the biggest investment of all must surely be in the laying down of these reserve wines over 10 years, to build up the extensive palette of different wines now at Corinne’s disposal. Each release states the number of different components in the blend as part of its labelling – for example, the first release of the Reserve Blend Brut is the ‘Brut 32’. Corinne, who has connection to a Port house in the Douro describes these wines as ‘her tawnies’, indicating that the skill of blending is really what makes the wines, but says she will release single vintage wines in future, as well as one-off special cuvées, if the quality is right.

The Wines

The wines are exclusively distributed by Bancroft Wines, and this launch portfolio is available through the Exton Park website and Selfridges stores.

(2021) This white sparkling wine is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  After three years on the lees, it was bottled with 7g/l dosage. Delightfully zippy, mineral and fresh, yet there is biscuit richness too.  In the mouth the citrus freshness surges through,  with a distinct lick of saltiness through the finish. Despite the lean, saline character there is charm aplenty in this lovely wine.
(2021) Part of the secret here is from having low yields and very ripe grapes, a saignée of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. Dosage is 9g/l. Really fragrant, orange blossom character here, flowers and delicate small red berry fruit, dry cranberry notes and a little peach perhaps. The palate is sharply focused, something gently toasty and biscuity, but really racy and refined fruit, dancing and zesty across the palate, charming but dry in the finish.
(2021) Twenty-eight different wines in this blend, all Pinot Noir from across the vineyard parcels, with 10g/l of residual sugar. Like all of these wines, the base wines do not go through malolactic fermentation, which Corinne believes will change the flavour and thus not be the purest expression of their vineyard. Really attractive nose, with an almond touch of creaminess but great freshness too. The sweetness on the palate is as much about fruit as the dosage, but it has a lively thrust of lemony directness married to a beautifully easy-drinking appeal. Only 8% of current vintage in this - 92% of reserves.

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