The English wines of Chapel Down

Chapel Down in Kent is part of a company called English Wines Group plc, who also produce beers under the ‘Curious Brew’ label. Chapel Down is the largest producer of English wines, sourcing grapes from their own vineyards and from growers in Sussex, Kent and Essex. The Winery at Chapel Down is the largest in the UK, with a press with a capacity of 10 tonnes and specialised machines for riddling and disgorging their sparkling wines. Their Stainless Steel tanks have a capacity of one million litres, though production is currently around 500,000 bottles. This means Chapel Down accounts for over 50 per cent of all of all commercially available English Wines.

At their own vineyards in Tenterden, Kent, they have grubbed up many of the older, hybrid Germanic varieties, and have increased plantings of the noble French varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyards are on south-facing slopes and cover 25 hectares of well-draining sandy loam. Varieties as diverse as Bacchus, Dornfelder and Pinot Blanc are grown, and the winery and vineyard welcomes visitors.

Chapel Down recently sent me a selection of their wines to try, including their award-winning Pinot Reserve vintage sparkling wine, and their Rosé, which was featured as one of my best rosés for summer 2006. The wines can be purchased direct from Chapel Down at their web site.

The wines

Chapel Down (England) Pinot Reserve 2001
This traditional bottle fermented Reserve is a strict selection of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. It has a bright, pale lemon colour, with plenty of tiny, streaming bubbles. On the nose it has a genuinely lovely aroma, with a soft, butter and elegantly toasty sheen, a very ripe, almost pineapple fruit quality, and a suggestion of honey. On the palate it has much more vibrancy and crunch than the nose suggests, with a palate shot-through with lemony-fresh fruit and a fine mousse. The mid-palate is perhaps somewhat lacking complexity, but it fills out with some toast and peachy flavours before that core of citrus acidity pushes through into a clean, long finish. A convincing English fizz of high quality. £19.99.

Chapel Down (England) Bacchus Reserve 2003
Bacchus is one of the better German crosses, from a Silvaner-Riesling-Müller-Thurgau lineage, and this Reserve wine is a selection of the best tanks. From the very hot 2003, this wine expresses Bacchus’ pungent, quite Sauvignon-like herbal quality well, with exotic fruit suggesting guava and lychee, and there is a little mineral, stony nuance in there somewhere. On the palate this has terrific fruit and zest: there’s an impression of real fruit sweetness, with more of that exotic, tropical character, and a fine lime and lemon quality to the acidity that is just doing enough to cut through a burgeoning sense of juicy fruit opulence. Delightful stuff, and only 11 per cent ABV. £9.99.

Chapel Down (England) English Rosé 2004
This wine has a little bit of everything in the blend: Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Rondo, Madaline, Angevine, Seyval Blanc and Schönburger to be precise. There’s the tiniest spritz of Co2 that has kept this pale pink 2004 very fresh. The nose is floral and redcurranty, immediately suggesting an English summer, which is appropriate. On the palate there is a delicate juiciness of strawberry and dry, redcurrant and pomegranate fruit, with a fine acidity making this a rosé in the decidedly fresh and crisp style. Ideal for sipping well-chilled in the garden. £6.99