According to Decanter (www.decanter.com), the New Year is already upon us. Which is to say, the new - January 2020 - edition is out. (I'll avoid making any of the "2020 vision" jokes which we should all be expecting in the coming weeks).
And we have some of its top wines.
The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine appear on each product page.
You've probably already heard the big new of this issue: that is, of the Fairmile Vineyards Classic Cuvee NV, the 'English Fizz' that tops the English Sparkling Wine (ESW) panel review with an Outstanding, 95-point score. SADLY, NOW ALL GONE HERE, BUT AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE VINEYARD.
We - among a small handul of stockists - offer this wine in quantity and at a great price of £27.50. Being the feature that it is, we've created a much more detailed page all about English Fizz, that panel test and (specifically) the Fairmile (click here or the image below).
As you can see, Decanter's cover story is pretty clear - their Wines of The Year. There are (oddly) 59 of them. Some, we've seen in panels and tests this year ... some we haven't. It can't be their absolute toppers of the year, as many we've featured - such as the Talinay, the Cerro Anon, the Five Bells - don't feature and quite a few "lesser" ones do. That said, these are clearly all great wines, and we offer 9 of them.
Highest scorer (97 points) of all 59 wines is Charles Heidsieck's Blanc des Millenaires 2004 super-Champagne. Thing is, at £150 a bottle, it's (very much) not for everyone.
Much more for everyone is the 96-point Xanadu (Estate) Chardonnay 2017 from Western Australia's Margaret River, which we offer att a great £18.40. Of the wines here, it's definitely the pick of the bunch, the only real top-scorer at a lowish price, not to mention a real personal favourite Chardonnay. Xanadu's top-end Chardonnays are world-beaters, but you get all the expertise and skill here for less than £20. It's painstakingly made (barrel- and wild fermented, lees-aged, oak aged etc) for a wine of its price-point, and really should not be missed. There's not much stock in the UK, so do move quickly.
Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance 2015 makes its first of two appearances in this edition on 94 points, and !ATTENTION SHERRY FANS! there are two superb (and amazing-value) sherries from Hidalgo: the Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada (94) and the La Gitana Manzanilla (92). See also great offerings from Zorah, Akarua, Gusbourne and Craggy Range.
There's a super article on dessert wines (as there often is at Christmas), Top 10 New World Sweet Wines. We make no secret of being dessert wine fans (see our ever-growing compendium), and we offer 5 of the 10 that are reviewed and score well. Some are pricey (esp the icewines - but not as pricey as the icewine being marketed by an ex-Apprentice candidate - we're not allowed that), but there's some superb value to be had with the Greywacke, Seifried and Framingham offerings, all from New Zealand. Again, our old friend, the Vin de Constance 2015 appears...
There's a feature on the wines of Washington State. It's probably not fair to say that this region is forgotten, but it definitely doesn't see the praise it deserves. Impressive - and attractively priced - are Chateau Ste. Michelle's Eroica Riesling and Charles Smith's excellent Kung Fu Girl Riesling (£14.75). There are some plush, luxury reds from Betz and a great Cab Sauv, also from Chateau Ste Michelle.
A fascinating, beautifully made, Chablis-style Chardonnay from NZ's Yealands - their State of Flux 2018 - appears among Steven Spurrier's top-end choices (but isn't a top-end price).
Finally, there's an unusual Extremadura (Spain) red from Palacio Quemado (92 points) at £18.20. Pretty fascinating, this.
Awarded 87 points and Recommended status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition panel tasting of English Sparkling Wine ("English Fizz") (see blue link below).
Balfour - Hush Heath Estate, situated in Kent, dates back to 1503. At the heart of the property is a Tudor manor surrounded by 162 hectares of perfectly manicured oak forests, vineyards, and apple orchards. Forward-thinking Richard Balfour-Lynn first planted vineyards on the property in 2002, with the aim of making England's finest sparkling rosé. Today, the 25 hectares of vineyards and eight hectares of apple trees are meticulously and sustainably managed by a family of viticulturists. The wines and cider, some named after Richard’s family, are made from estate grown fruit by winemakers Owen Elias and Victoria Ash. Owen is a four-time UK Vineyards Association 'Winemaker of the Year' winner and has nearly 20 years of experience making English wines. In the summer of 2018, Balfour - Hush Heath Estate opened their new state-of-the-art winery and cellar door tasting room.
The flagship Brut Rosé is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, which spends over three years on its lees. The result is a crisp rosé with balanced red berry fruit, richness from the lees ageing and elegance from the restrained dosage. The non-vintage 'Leslie's Reserve' offers great value for an English sparkling wine. It is made from the same three grape varieties as Brut Rosé and is aged on its lees for 15 months. It is fruity and appealing, with lovely roundness on the palate and a refreshing acidity on the finish. The Blanc de Blancs is only produced in very small quantities and only in the finest vintages. The wine spends 30 months on its lees which adds depth and complexity. It is a clean vibrant style with crisp acidity and a wonderful lightness.
The Estate’s still wines, known as the ‘Family Collection’, are a real discovery. ‘Skye's English White’, a blend based on 55% Chardonnay, has a lively citrus fruit character on the palate and racy acidity that is balanced by good depth on the mid-palate. The beautifully pale ‘Nanette's English Rose’ is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier, which gives it a citrus edge. ‘Luke’s Pinot Noir’ is an elegant red, with ripe and soft tannins, beautifully balanced acidity and juicy red fruit and spice notes. ‘Liberty’s Bacchus’ is a new addition to the list, made from grapes from the Foxwood vineyard, the highest point on the estate. A proportion of the wine underwent fermentation in barrel with wild yeasts, resulting in a lovely toasty complexity balanced by zesty acidity. The Springfield Chardonnay is the first still Chardonnay that Balfour has made since 2015. Made exclusively from fruit from the marvellous 2018 vintage, with careful use of new French and American oak, this wine showcases the huge potential of English still wines. With a bright straw complexion and a fresh palate of grapefruit and green apple, this wine is drinking beautifully now but also has the capacity to age elegantly.
All vineyards are located on the 400 acre estate in the heart of Kent. Wealden clay soils overlay Tunbridge Wells sand. Vines are trellised using the double guyot method with vertical shot positioning. Planting density is 3300 vines per hectare and the whole estate is managed sustainably.
The grapes for this non-vintage (NV) wine are usually harvested in October.
The grapes were whole bunch pressed and then fermented at 16°C in stainless steel. Secondary fermentation took place in bottle and the wine aged on its lees for 15 months. The grapes are all grown, fermented and bottled on the Estate.
Residual sugar = 19g/l (ie this is just a Sec).
55% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier.
A golden colour with pink highlights, Leslie's Reserve is a fresh and vibrant style with an expressive and fruity character of citrus, green apple and a creamy mousse. It has a lovely roundness on the palate, refreshing acidity on the finish and complexity derived from the lees ageing.
ABV = 12.0%.
Awarded 96 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition article, The Most Exciting Wines of 2019 (see blue link below).
NB: previously called the Xanadu Estate Chardonnay, recently renamed by the producer!
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2019 edition article: Decanter buyer's guide: Australian Chardonnay (see blue link below).
See the link below for the full set of awards the Xanadu Estate Chardonnay 2017 has (so far) received (it has only just reached the UK!).
Xanadu was established by Dr John Lagan, an Irishman, who arrived in Margaret River in 1968 and was inspired by the pioneering spirit of the region. At the time, the potential of Margaret River as one of the world’s finest wine-producing regions was only just being considered. So less than a decade on, Dr Lagan with his wife Eithne established one of the region’s earlier vineyards, planting his first vines in 1977. Lovers of literature will remember Xanadu as Samuel Coleridge’s mysterious, idyllic, exotic city; home of Kubla Khan. Dr Lagan, himself a great literature enthusiast, drew parallels between Coleridge’s visions of utopia and his newly adopted home, and thus the name Xanadu was born.
To see Xanadu's excellent information sheet for this wine, please click on the blue link below.
ABV = 13.0%.
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their January 2019 edition article: The Most Exciting Wines of 2018 (see blue link below).
Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) (see blue link below) in their Summer 2018 review of English sparkling wine.
For a full description of this wine, we would direct you to the data sheet/fiche technique from Gusbourne themselves (click blue link below).
A bright golden colour with a delicate mousse, the Blanc De Blancs has classic Chardonnay aromas of green apple, citrus and mineral notes combined with buttered toast and tarte tatin richness from extended lees ageing. This wine is a great accompaniment to seafood in general, but is perfect with freshly shucked oysters.
ABV = 12.0%.
The 2017 vintage was awarded 89 points and Recommended status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition article, Top Washington (State) Buys (see blue link below).
As the maker puts it: "It takes an unconventional winemaker to make a totally unexpected dry Riesling. One night, Charles was eating Chinese takeout and watching a fight scene in a notorious martial arts film when he had an idea: a killer white wine made to be paired with Asian food. Just like that, Kung Fu Girl was born. And it’s been kicking ass and taking names ever since".
More traditionally put: This wine is made by Charles Smith, a self–taught winemaker who brings his rock and roll spirit to the vineyards of Walla Walla, Washington. As a romantic young man, Charles Smith moved across the world to Denmark to follow his love for his girlfriend at the time. In Scandinavia, he became a recognized manager for rock bands such as The Raveonettes. While travelling on the road with these bands, he developed his passion for wine. In 1999, he moved back to Washington, opened a wine store and became friendly with a French winemaker, later convincing him to move to Walla Walla to make wine together.
Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling grapes comes from Evergreen Vineyard vines, where they stretch across the steep cliffs overlooking the Colombia River. This makes for ideal Riesling growing conditions that rival those in Germany. This wine is made from 100% Riesling grapes, carefully cultivated and pressed at the winery. The wine is barrel-aged for only 2 months (using the sur lie method, ie leaving the wine on its fine lees). Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling is crafted to be approachable and ready to drink the day you buy it.
The wine is a party in a glass. Young and fun, bright balance and tropical fruit notes make this an easy introduction to the world of Riesling. White stone fruit, apricot and white peach aromas with honeysuckle undertones make it a stand out. These flavours are balanced with elements of lime zest, citrus blossom and a floral hint of jasmine.
This wine would pair well with any number of foods. It can very easily be enjoyed on its own but Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling is a match made in heaven with Korean BBQ, spicy curry any kind of Thai food and sushi. Snow crab, lobster, prawns, roasted chicken or grilled salmon would also pair well.
Residual sugar = 12.8g/litre (ie off-dry; there is a slight error on the tech sheet, as confirmed by the producer).
To see an information sheet and tasting note for this wine from the team at Charles Smith Wines, please click on the blue link below.
ABV = 12.0%.