Most expensive English sparkling wine unveiled

Most expensive English sparkling wine unveiled

Nyetimber, one of the rising stars of the English sparkling wine sector, has launched a prestige cuvee rose. It’s priced at an impressively expensive £175 per bottle as the wine estate attempts to compete with top tier Champagnes. It’s now the priciest English sparkling wine on the market.

The range is named 1086, which is an allusion to the year the West Sussex wine estate was first mentioned in the Domesday Book. There is a 2009 brut priced at £150 and the 2010 rose at the previously mentioned £175. Together they are the most expensive sparkling wines from England available.

Exceptional vintages

As they’re so pricey, the pair will only be produced during exceptional vintages with grapes from the estate’s very best parcels. As such, the particular blend will vary according to the vintage used.

1086 2009 brut is a blend made from 11% Pinot Meunier, 43% Pinot Noir and 46% Chardonnay. The 2010 rose is a blend of 25% Chardonnay and 75% Pinot Noir and both are aged for at least five years sur lie (on the lees). This ageing process means that they are kept in contact with dead yeast cells and not filtered in any way. This enriches the wine and is mainly done for white wines to give them a deeper flavour.

Nurturing quality

Chief winemaker at Nyetimber, Cherie Spriggs, said that the 2009 brut contains “notes of honey, pastry and roasted nuts” and has “a pure and long finish”. The 2010 rose “is silky and elegant with a pure crystalline backbone, evoking floral, cassis and red fruit aromas.”

The wine producer has bottled a small number of magnums of both the rose and brut, priced at £375 and £325 respectively. They also have second vintages lined up of both wines, with a 2013 rose and 2010 brut planned to go on sale later. Spriggs explained: “A wine like 1086 is only possible because we harvest and ferment each parcel separately.”

Nyetimber has more than 90 separate parcels in its vineyards, meaning they can develop and nurture the most nuanced flavours to create the best product to represent the estate. And 1086, they say, represents the best of the best. CEO Eric Heerema added: “We had a dream to create the ultimate expression of this estate. Harvesting from small parcels of our very best fruit, we have created a glorious prestige cuvée.”

The estate was also the first to launch an English fizz priced at more than £50 a bottle. Back in 2013, it also released a single expression from the 2009 vintage, which was called Tillington and came in at £75 per bottle. Only 2,900 bottles were made, all individually numbered.

In 2017, Chapel Down held the crown for the most expensive English sparkling wine on the market with Kit’s Coty Coeur de Cuvée blanc de blancs from Kent, which was priced at £99.99 per bottle. It’ll be interesting to see what next year has in store!

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It’s going to be a vintage year for Sussex wine

Continuing the trend for an exceptional harvest for English wine, a vineyard in Sussex is looking forward to an unprecedentedly successful year.

The Nyetimber vineyard estate is located in the south of England, between Horsham and Worthing. They began their harvest more than three weeks earlier than the usual time and are hoping for enough grapes to produce one million bottles of sparkling wine. This would be a record beating year and is predicted to be up to 30% more than a normal year.

Hot summer

The long heatwave during the summer months, combined with an ideal amount of rainfall has created conditions not seen in England before. This year’s summer temperatures came second only to the infamous heatwave of 1976 and vineyards across the country are reaping the benefits.

Head winemaker at the Sussex based vineyard said: “We are very excited about this year’s harvest following ideal conditions over the past few months. I would put my money on this being a very high-quality year.”

Single vintage

The harvest looks so promising at Nyetimber that they are planning to use it to produce its newest single vintage Blanc de Blancs. The current release of this wine is from the 2010 vintage, and consumers would have to wait until at least 2024 to get their hands on the release made from this year’s harvest.

If they do go ahead with a 2018 Blanc de Blancs then it would be bottled during the first six months of 2019. The wine is then aged for at least five years before it reaches the shelves.

Industry growth

Nyetimber is one of many English vineyards that is experiencing high levels of growth as the changing climate boosts the wine industry in the UK. Owner and CEO Eric Heerama said: “Nyetimber has been on a remarkable journey, growing 20-fold in just over a decade. Today marks the beginning of what I hope will be our best harvest yet, an important milestone for English sparkling wine which is well on its way to becoming the finest in the world.”

Research shows that Prosecco sales have finally fallen, after consistently rising in the UK for a number of years. This is partly due to the upsurge in enthusiasm for the higher quality English sparkling wine now available.

Vintage year

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has gone on record stating that it fully expects 2018 to be a vintage year for the UK wine industry. They attribute this to a wet spring followed by the extended heatwave. These weather conditions combined to form early flowering vines and very generous bunches of grapes.

WSTA CEO Mike Beale said: “The last bumper year for English wine was back in 2014 when good weather created ideal growing conditions for our grapes, with vineyards across the UK producing the equivalent of 6.3 million bottles of English and Welsh wine that year.”

It’s expected that the 2018 vintage will be even more successful than the one four years ago. Viticultural expert Stephen Skelton said that an early harvest always indicates high quality grapes: “As for volume, we normally crop about one third of Champagne. This year I would guess we would match their level.”

Increase in vineyards

Sparkling wine accounts for two thirds of all Welsh and English wine currently produced. Figures from HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) show that 3.86 million bottles of still and sparkling wine made in UK-based vineyards went on sale in 2017.

At the moment, vines cover 2,200 hectares in the UK, and it’s expected this will increase to more than 3,000 by 2020.

Looking for great value French wines

In a world where prices seem to rise constantly, and the future of the economy is uncertain, it’s good to know that you don’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity.

France is home to some of the priciest, most exclusive wines in the world and it’s certainly the country to turn to if you’re looking for something extra special. So, it could seem strange to link France and value for money, but as a great wine nation should, it offers a bit of both.

Affordable quality

In among the lovely wines produced in France there are, of course, plenty of over-priced and lesser quality wines too. The key, as it always is when looking for a wine to enjoy, is to find a balance of quality yet affordable wines.

Premium wines have been rising in price steadily for a while now, leaving French wine as a good option for value. For example, even champagne is cheaper than English sparkling wine at the moment, thanks to some stunning seasons for English vineyards over the last couple of years. Look out for creamy, stylish champagnes that aren’t too expensive, and the chances are you’ll be enjoying a superior flavour.

Champagne style

If you’re looking for something other than a champagne style wine, then it’s a case of knowing which to look out for. This is particularly the case when it comes to selecting from a wine list at a restaurant, as classic wines are generally heavily marked up.

If you go for Macon Villages rather than the more expensive Chassagne-Montrachet, for example, you’re in for a treat. Or you could choose a deep and vibrant Beaujolais (which is, of course, technically part of the Burgundy region), instead of pricier wines from the Cote d’Or. The massive vineyards in the Langeudoc-Roussillon also offer reliable and enjoyable wines for decent prices.

New regions

Alternatively, if you spy a wine from a region you’re unfamiliar with, the chances are it’s going to better value than the one you know. Good regions to look out for a Reuilly in the Loire, costieres de nimes on the edge of the Rhone river, Bergerac on the outskirts of Bordeaux and jurancon sec in the south west. The very obscure pacherenc du vic bilh region offers absolutely lovely dry and sweet wines, so it’s always worth seeking out.

You should look out for French bottles labelled with the place they’re made, rather than the ones that pick out the grape variety. This generally means a tastier bottle, although there are exceptions like jura chardonnay and piquepoul noir grapes.

France also offers some decent natural wines. These include petillant naturel (also known as ‘pet nat’), which is a gently fizzy sparkling that is bottle while still undergoing the fermentation process.

Keep your eyes peeled, and you can find plenty of French wines to enjoy without breaking the bank.

A choice of whites to enjoy this September

As the weather in the UK is currently in an in-between stage, no-one is quite sure whether to expect an Indian Summer or full-on Autumn. Either way, it’s time to switch from summer wines to a different flavour as we prepare for the start of a new season.

The long, hot summer has meant plenty of lighter white wines and roses being enjoyed with picnics and barbecues, but Autumn mists bring with them the urge to switch to something a bit more substantial. After all, at some point the temperature is set to drop and nights will become chilly.

Late summer temperatures

Many whites work for warmer days and nights, as well as when the temperature drops. For example, if we head to France and the southern Languedoc region, we can find a huge variety of wines at decent prices. An interesting grape from the region is the terret blanc, which delivers refreshing citrus along with sharp acidity. The Villa Blanche Terret Blanc has all of this along with a lemony mouthfeel and is the perfect accompaniment to salty snacks such as anchovies and olives.

Another grape from the same region is Muscadelle, which tends to be used in Bordeaux blends. It’s unconnected with the more commonly known muscat grape. The Chateau Peyreblanque Blanc, Graves, 2016, is a wine consisting of 80% Muscadelle and 20% sauvignon gris. After a short oak ageing, it has a tempting and subtle flavour that combines riche fruit, a floral nose and a definite smokiness from the gris. It goes perfectly with lobster and oyster for a special late Summer dinner party.

Blended whites

A blended white that works very well is the Papa Figos Douro Branco 2016. Only a few white wines come from this region, and this uses local grapes and is named after the beautiful golden oriole bird. It’s a full character wine, with stone fruit and peach flavours working well with the refreshing texture, making it tasty with grilled fish dishes.

While many people will have been enjoying the easy nature of pinot grigio during the hot weather, another version for Autumn is very interesting. The Slovenian Seven Numbers 3 Pinot Grigio 2016 has an oaky texture, along with green apple, stone fruit and vanilla notes.

Mix it up

Another wine ideal for late summer days is The Grey Slate, Dr L, Private Reserve, 2017, from the Mosel region in Germany. An approachable mix of peach, pineapple and lemon flavours with a dry edge, it’s lovely with some simple seafood.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about the kinds of wine you should enjoy during different seasons. However, it’s always nice to mix it up and try new flavours as we wait for Winter to arrive and move on to deeper, more textured, full-bodied wines.

How the global wine industry is changing

The wine industry is going through changing times. Small and medium sized winemakers are struggling against the biggest producers, while higher real estate and climate change are presenting their own challenges.

While the market for wine drinkers continues to increase, it’s becoming trickier for many to find what they want. The demand is primarily for small batch winemakers, who grow their own grapes in the traditionally popular wine-making regions.

Consumer focus

Consumers and trade are both still very much focused on wine from historic regions, and wines made by people who grow their own (grower-producers). However, it’s becoming more difficult for these kinds of growers to be seen against major labels.

The US is the largest wine market in the world and consumes 13% of the global supply according to the Wine Institute. As such, they often dictate certain patterns of buying and consumption. As the biggest producers in the US have consolidated, it’s become trickier for small and medium sized wineries, who are struggling to be seen.

Research from the State of the Wine Industry 2018 report shows that sales growth in the US will likely continue to rise steadily between two and four per cent. However, the premium sector is looking at a softening market, with a growth between four and eight per cent in 2018, compared with 10-14 per cent in 2017.

Challenges for producers

Adding to the concerns for smaller growers, the challenges presented by retail estate prices and climate change are even more pressing. During 2018’s summer, heatwaves struck across the world. More than 1,590 heat records were either smashed or reached, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin reports.

Some experts say that rising temperatures will soon mean that traditional wine regions will not be able to produce wine in the future. They cite Tuscany, the Rhone, Napa, Chile and Bordeaux as just a few regions that will find wine making unsustainable. By 2050, some scientists predict that the area suitable for growing wine will decrease by 73% in some of these areas.

Real estate prices are also rising across the world. For example, in Bordeaux, prices are increasing by 15.5% year-on-year, adding to the pressure for smaller producers. However, this mix of factors is creating different opportunities for up and coming growers.

Adjusting focus

Wine brokers and industry disruptors see wine as a business. For example, Brett Vankoski founded Latitude Beverage, a company that buys pre-made wine and rebottles it under different labels. He said: “While we all focus on the art of making wine, it was always essentially about commerce. When winemakers find themselves struggling because of a poor harvest, they adjust what they’re doing.”

This subtle shift could be a boon for smaller producers, as they are nimble enough to pivot their business to fit the changing needs of the market.

French wine harvest likely to rebound for 2018

It’s all looking a bit more positive than previously thought for France’s all-important 2018 vintage, according to an update from officials.

Despite the fact that mildew has adversely affected crops in many regions, and there have also been destructive hailstorms in Bordeaux, reports say that France’s 2018 vintage should be much larger than the historically small 2017 disappointment.

Conflicting predictions

It was previously expected that French wine production this year would reach 44.5 million hectolitres (one hectolitre is the equivalent of 100 litres or 133 standard bottles of wine). This figure was reached by Jerome Despey, head of the FNSEA (Federation nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles) national farmers union in France, who announced it on 24 August.

The figures, which were announced during a press conference held by FranceAgriMer, the national agriculture agency, were lower than estimates made by France’s agriculture ministry earlier. The agency had predicted it would be somewhere between 46 and 48 million hectolitres. However, Reuters subsequently reported that officials now expect closer to 46 million hectolitres.

Significant increase

Even if the lower estimate from FNSEA is correct, this is still a significant increase on last year’s historically low vintage. It would mean a 20% rise on 2017 and would be roughly the same as the average output for the years preceding.

There have been very earl y starts to the wine harvest in France this year in several regions, most significantly in Alsace and Champagne. Mr Despey, who is a vintner in Langeudoc-Rousillon, also told the press conference that climate change has shifted harvest dates forward by 30 days in the last three decades.

Significant challenge

While planning for the impact of climate change on wine crops all over the world remains a significant challenge, French vineyards will be breathing a sigh of relief as it looks as though 2018 will be a much better year than 2017.

The long, hot summer boosted grape growth and the early harvest means more will be bottled. However, this doesn’t mean growers can take their eyes off problems such as the widespread mildew that has ravaged crops.

The hot weather may have been good for wine in France, but it has decimated other crops in the country, such as maize. But there is no doubt that the scorching heatwave helped to nullify the effects of the mildew that spread during a wet spring.

Champagne in particular will see a sharp increase in production, up an impressive 56% on last year to reach 3.5 million hectolitres.

Limited production

Despite the predictions, some wine growers are still reluctant to cement any forecasts. The impact of the mildew is difficult to measure until harvests are complete, and the state of the weather in the coming weeks will also impact the grapes.

And it’s the long-term effects of climate change that has the industry concerned. Mr Depsey added: “This is the real issue… Even when there’s no major weather event, we can’t do more than 45 million hectolitres anymore.”

Trio of French wines to pair with seafood

The perfect match for a platter of fruits de mer, or even a nice bit of fish, is always a fresh, light white. Here are three that are delicious with your favourite seafood dish.

Domaine Felines – Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet, Langeudoc

There is nothing inherently flashy about Picpoul de Pinet. This unoaked, dry white wine hails from the west of Languedoc and isn’t a wine that connoisseurs will stash in their cellar or try and impress their friends by ordering in a restaurant. But it is delicious and perfect with a relaxed fish dish.

It does it job perfectly, and its job is to match seafood from the nearby Mediterranean and Thau lagoon, with no hassle. There is an acidy nip to the picpoul grape, and the flavour is infused with lemon, touches of herbs and a lovely richness reminiscent of stone-fruit. In short, it’s an unfussy, reliable and tasty addition to your meal and shouldn’t be ignored.

Pierre Luneau-Papin Folle Blanche, Folle Blanche

While Picpoul de Pinet has an immediate affinity with seafood, it is often compared with the original favourite to go with French fruit de mer, which is called Muscadet and is made up north surrounding the Loire estuary.

Wines in this region are mostly made from melon de Bourgogne, and despite comparisons to picpoul, locals tend to compare their wines with chardonnay made in Chablis, Burgundy.

This is definitely the case with Pierre Luneau Papin’s Domaine de Verger Muscadet Sevre et Main Sur Lie 2016. However, the folle blanche is more reminiscent still of picpoul, but rather sharper. Either way, they’re all delicious when paired with oysters or other shellfish.

Chateau Lestrille Entre Deux Mers Blanc, Bordeaux

Muscadet can give a whiff of a classic 1970s wine, but this is just retro-charm that should be enjoyed. It can also replace Chablis when smaller vintages find themselves short of supply. This is perhaps why Muscadet has become a favourite with sommeliers in the hipper restaurants of France.

Some are also giving another old favourite, Entre-Deux Mers, a bit of a new age. This wine is from Bordeaux and is a good spin of sauvignon blanc. Or, try Chateau Lestrille’s version, as it’s very clean tasting, with a hit of tropical fruit to go with its zingy notes.

French experts question how the ‘blue’ wine from Spain is produced

It seems the French are seeing red over Spain’s blue wine. The blue-hued Spanish wine has landed in France and has not gone down brilliantly. Leading experts have challenged the claim that the blue colour is natural, and local winemakers voiced their concern that the label’s origin description is illegal.

Veronique Cheynier is Director of research at the National Institute of Agricultural Research, which is extremely prestigious and is carried in high regard. She has publicly questioned whether the strangely coloured wine, called Vindigo, is completely natural, as the producer insists it is.

French debut

Vindigo made its debut in France this summer and, according to its producers, begins its life as a white wine. After it’s passed through a pulp consisting of red grape skin it turns blue because of the natural colourant called anthocyanin. So, that’s the official story, but Dr Cheynier doesn’t think it’s possible.

Dr Cheynier said: “I don’t see how anthocyanin derived from red grape pulp can make this wine blue. Even if anthocyanin derived pigments that are blue in colour in an acidic medium have been successfully isolated in a laboratory, these pigments are only present in tiny quantities in grape skin pulp.”

Does it add up?

She goes on to point out that the pigments are: “red in acidic medium, at low pH, and only turn blue in a basic medium, at a pH higher than seven” while the pH of wine is usually between three and four.

Her colleague, fellow researcher at the French government owned institute, agreed. Jean-Louis Escudier said: “A wine with a pH higher than four is unstable in microbiological terms and oxidises much faster. You can see this effect in brick-coloured red wines, which take on an orange hue.”

They also say that if the producer of Vindigo’s claims are true, then he’s effectively saying that they are adding red grape skin pulp to white wine, which is illegal even with rosé.

Analysis needed

The disquiet is such that apparently French supermarkets who had imported the wine from Spain, consequently withdrew it from their shelves. It’s still available online, but Dr Cheynier insists that a definitive answer to its blue colour can only come from a proper scientific analysis of the composition of the wine.

A different blue Spanish wine, called Gik, which was launched in 2015 was analysed. While it was discovered to have derived its colour from anthocyanin, it also contained “indigo carmine (E132) colourants, whose presence was not explicitly indicated on the label.”

The producers of Gik said at the time that this omission was due to EU regulations. They said that there was no category for ‘blue wine’, so it couldn’t be labelled ‘wine’. The labels were subsequently amended and it’s now available online with a full ingredients list.

Are screw caps a good way to seal wine?

When screwcaps hit the market some years ago, wine aficionados may have looked askance. The cork has been such an integral way of sealing wine for centuries, that changing something so fundamental seemed strange to many. The question became: does it affect the wine inside.

According to industry experts, screwcaps are actually the superior way to bottle wine as they slow down the ageing process. Australian-based D’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn believes that it acts “like a really cold cellar”.

Slows down ageing

Osborn stores all 72 of the wines in his cellars, even the most expensive versions, with screwcap closures. He said: “We’re 100% screwcap now as we find Australian sommeliers don’t want Australian wines bottled under cork.”

After various experiments in storing wine, he found that the key to great wines is slowing down the ageing process. He said: “I want my wines to age as slowly as possible. “

Screwcaps achieve this as they let in no oxygen, which means the wines don’t oxidise. They also don’t add any copper to the wines.

What about consumers?

As screw-tops have been accepted by consumer much more over the last few years, there is very little market resistance to them. The Chinese market in particular has recently taken to them in a big way.

While consumers previously insisted on asking for a cork sealed wine, screwcaps are becoming less of an issue as people recognise that they affect the wine positively.

Chinese market growing

China is a rapidly growing market for many wine exporters, including Australia where year-on-year sales have leapt by 300%.

“Attitudes in China are changing towards screwcaps, they used to ask for cork but are more open minded to screwcaps now,” he said.

For example, in a normal year, Osborn makes 72 separate wines and always has two new ones under development. And while in that part of the world, the harvest hasn’t been as strong as last year’s, some grapes have done better than others. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Rhone whites are thriving, and the Grenache is the best since 2002.

However, as they have endured the wettest August ever in 2017, immediately followed by a very long, dry summer which led to a drought, some have been adversely affected.

More acceptable

In the UK, of course, this year’s long, hot summer means we’re likely looking at the largest and best vintage to date. And with the increasing prevalence and acceptance of screw-cap bottles, it’s likely that more and more winemakers will turn away from corks.

Regular wine drinkers are familiar with the experience of opening a corked bottle, and the tainted taste and odour. Corked wine means undrinkable wine, with an often unpleasantly mouldy flavour. Figures to show how many cork sealed bottles are tainted by being corked are difficult to nail down, but a study from 2007 showed as many as one in 10 may be affected.

It’s not surprising that since then, more winemakers around the world have decided to get rid of corks and choose a metal screw-cap opening. In the 1990s, corks sealed 95% of all wine bottles produced around the world. This fell to 62% in 2009 and in 2018 it’s much lower.

Technology and innovation in wine industry

When you think about the wine industry, technology isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind. One company that takes tech in the global wine industry seriously is Wine Technology Marlborough in New Zealand.

Owner of Wine Technology Marlborough, David Gill, developed a winery automation system which is transferable to any winery around the world. David thinks that the wine industry as a whole is lagging behind in terms of innovation, and this has motivated him to push tech boundaries to provide wine makers with the tools to create premium vintages.

Cooling system

He created his tech company in 1995 when he was asked to work on a winery cooling system. An electrician by trade at the time, David decided to look into ways to create the best kind of cooling system. And now, 23 years later, his system is one of the premium automated winery control systems available.

Called VinWizard, the system has been designed along with industry feedback and is based on self-designed and printed circuit boards which are incorporated into the cheap Raspberry Pi computer. All of these components give every cooling tank a ‘brain’.

David said: “We were using off-the-shelf tech and realised we couldn’t go any further. We put much more smarts in them by designing and building our own circuit boards.” His team puts all the hardware together in their workshop based in Renwick, New Zealand. They support all their systems around the world remotely from the workshop as well.

Innovation award

This keeps their overheads low as they don’t need massive resources. And it’s working well for the company, which recently won an innovation award for the multi-level probe at the Innovation and Quality Napa Valley forum in the US.

The probe has 50 sensors on the circuit board and can take measurements at multiple different depth in the wine tank. The success of the tech lies in the understanding the company has of how wineries work. It invests heavily in research and development to fully understand the industry and what wine-makers need from technology.

Solutions based

David said: “We listen to our winemakers and try to design solutions around what they want.” The company is working on a range of sensors powered by batteries that will be used around a winery.

This focus on technology is likely to increase over the next decade, as wine makers realise that they need to continue to innovate to stay in the game. It’s such a traditional industry, and these kinds of tools make the future more exciting for winemakers.