Questioning their credibility should not even factor when discussing English sparkling wines any more. Dozens of vintages in, with hundreds of excellent wines tried and tested, arguments might still rage about their absolute place in world rankings, but not about their ability to deliver. Times, however, are still tough out there, with global competition. The wines are also relatively expensive, the product of the significant costs in producing wines in the South of England, from land-ownership, to labour.
Few have had the significant investment that Gusbourne Estate has enjoyed. Listed on the AIM stock exchange, funding for the estate in Appledore, Kent, has been raised from shareholders, with significant sums also ploughed into the business by its majority owner, former Tory party Chairman, Lord Ashcroft. Along with a winemaking team led by the highly respected Charlie Holland, that puts Gusbourne in a strong position to challenge at the very top of the English wine league. It’s staggering to think that exports to countries including the United States, Japan and Canada account for around 20% of sales: who would have predicted 20 or 30 years ago, that English wines would find markets around the globe?
Gusbourne estate was planted to vine only in 2004, though records for it date back to the 15th century. 2010 saw their first wines released, from their extensive 90 hectares, split between 60 hectares of estate vines in Kent, and 30 hectares they own in West Sussex, all planted on a south-facing coastal escarpment. An adjoining area of land in West Susex has been leased that, once planted, will take Gusbourne’s vineyard holdings to around 120 hectares, all planted with the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, but with a proportion in barrel, and all wines are aged for a minimum of 28 months on the lees, some considerably longer.
Gusbourne are primarily sparkling wine producers, but around 5% of production is of still wines, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With the effects of climate change seeming to produce a trend towards warmer conditions year on year, ripening has been good and, as well as being relatively light in alcohol, both of the wines tasted here are beautifully balanced and really very classy examples.
The colour is an attractive pale gold, with a foamy mousse and plenty of very small bubbles rising steadily in the glass (Riedel Veritas Champagne glass). The aromas are delicate. There is a touch of buttery pastry, a fine biscuity and oatmeal sheen, and fruit that has a touch of rich figgy quality, but is mostly about fresh citrus and summer pears. In the mouth, despite a modest dosage of 7g/l, there is an abundant sense of sweetness from the ripe fruit. It's a lovely style this, not at all austere, yet precise and super-fresh, the time on lees and perhaps that barrel component just rounding out the finish which tapers to a fine point.
Another very classy English sparkling wine.