(2023) While 'This Septered Isle' used all seven of the permitted grapes of Champagne to make a dry white wine, here only the five white varieties are employed: 90% is Chardonnay, along with Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris and Arbanne. The wine spent nine months in French oak barrels, on the lees. The nose has a gentle almond creaminess, a little touch of Jack Daniels character in the background, golden delicious apples too. In the mouth this is etched by a crisp white fruit acidity, the English orchard fruit of the mid-palate just teasing towards a peachier ripeness. The finished has a Seville orange tang, and is bolstered by some buttery oak.
(2023) This was a tank sample - not a disgorged, finished wine, so had received no dosage. It has not been released at time of writing. It's a very different blend from the 2018, made from 98% Pinot Meunier and with 15% French oak barrel fermentation for the base wine. Very citrussy, with a tangerine brightness, and decisive acidity. A lovely line of saline acidity and the most subtle support from the barrel. Very promising. Note the 2018 is the vintage on sale at time of writing.
(2022) A recent survey carried out by Kent's Gusbourne estate suggested 60% of people intended to drink English sparkling wine over the festive season. Presumably some of them will be be sipping this all-Chardonnay cuvée, which comes from one of England's leading producers in my opinion. A selection of the best grapes, it's a wine that Gusbourne say has the qualities for extending ageing. A small percentage was fermented in oak, it spent 33 months on the lees and was bottled with just over 11g/l of residual sugar. The nose is expressively Chardonnay, with cool, but creamy buttery brioche aromas, a hint of nuttiness and plenty of fresh English orchard fruit. The mousse is cushioning and rich, the wine has a mouth-filling creaminess with hints of toasty barrel in the background, but a rush of ripe apples and lemon, a tang of saltiness and very good balance and length.
(2022) Beware the small print here, as the very dark glass disguises the fact that this is in fact a delicate rosé, not a red, with a fascinating winemaking story: fermented with Rioja yeast and aged in French and American barriques for three months. There's a hessian and herbs, savoury note to the aromas, but also vanilla over raspberry. It's undeniably complex, my mind also going to charcuterie, umami characters. In the mouth a lot of intense fruit sweetness and ripeness, but the grapefruity, lemon-pithy bite of the acidity and that dry redcurrant fruit that underpins the wine gives loads of gastronomic appeal. Balfour suggest matching to strong cheeses, which would be an interesting experiment. Don't serve this too cold; treat it more like a red wine.
(2022) This special limited edition comes from a single vineyard, the fruit selected specifically for structure and concentration. After extended French oak maturation it was bottled without fining or filtration. There is a dark core to the colour, but still a translucent, broad rim. There's a very classy graphite and cool earthiness, then compact, quite wiry and muscular black fruit on the nose. In the mouth this has the grip and concentration as promised. Firm black cherry is polished by the oak and firm, fine-grained tannins, and again black cherry skin acidity. Lively and should cellar well for 5 to 8 years at least. Available from balfourwinery.com at time of review.
(2021) There are two main methods for producing pink sparkling wines, by blending red and white base wines together, or the one used here: saignée, where the colour comes from a short period of skin contact, colour leaching from the skins of black grapes. This is made from Pinots Noir and Meunier, and the skin contact also gives an unusual herbal, twiggy aspect to the aroma, as well as strawberry, sherbetty red fruit and floral notes. In the mouth I find a touch of green bitterness, which although there is plenty of creamy red fruit and fine acidity, just detracts a little.
(2020) Many of us will remember the 'Beaujolais Nouveau Run', the mad dash to have the first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, always released on the third Thursday of November, back in the UK and on dining tables the same day. Now England's Hush Heath has taken on the French at their own game, releasing their Pinot Nouveau on the same day - remarkably enough, a wine harvested less than two months ago on September 23rd, and which saw a brief stopover in French and American oak barrels. It is vibrantly purple in colour, with loads of toast and smokiness, then the palate has really bouyant black fruit - tannins are smoothed into transparency, and there is a hint of cherry sweetness, but the finish is dry with the oak adding some more of that toasty, coffeeish richness. The acid balances in a wine that is good fun, but more than that, a fascinating and youthful interpretation of easy-drinking Pinot.
(2020) Gusbourne is a trailblazer of the English wine scene, and seemingly endlessly inventive, with a clutch of one-off and new releases each year, both still and sparkling. The newest edition to the sparkling line-up, this is Pinot Noir from the 2016 vintage, sourced from Gusbourne's vineyards in Kent and West Sussex, and with 50% of the fruit 'dropped' - removed from the vine - during the growing season in order to strengthen and intensify the fruit that remained. A small percentage of the blend was fermented in oak barrels and the wine is Brut, with 7.5g/l residual sugar. Pale gold to straw in colour with plenty of miniscule bubbles, aromas are fresh and appetising, some hazelnut and almond, creamy and ripe orchard fruits, a hint of hawthorn. On the palate there's a juicy generosity to the fruit which is ripe, sweet and mouth-filling, verging on the peachy, but then the fine core of dazzling lemony acidity pushes through, a chalky element too, driving into a long finish. A superb English sparkling wine.
(2019) The 'Classic Ferment' differentitates this from an amphora-made Ortega, this made in a combination of stainless steel tanks and older oak barrels. It's pretty much dry take on Ortega, a German crossing of Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe that is often used to make sweet wines. There is some sweetness here, but offset by a considerable spine of pithy lemon and grapefruit, though the aromatics to flit nicely around tropical peach and nectarine, before that sour lemon tang of the finish.
(2019) This non-vintage blend of the three traditional Champagne varieties (45% Pinot Noir, 45% Pinot Meunier, 10% Chardonnay) contains 20% reserve wines and is aged for a minimum of 18 months before disgorgement It is a lovely wine, with the abundant fruity charms of the Meunier giving it great likeability. There is a lovely doughy autolysis, yeasty and inviting, but it is a bright orange and lime fruitiness and acidity that drives the palate. There is plenty of refreshing, zippy acidity, but it that slightly riper, more exotic citrus rather than lemons, which adds to the all-round charm and appeal.