With the festive season with all its celebrations and debauchery now upon us what could be better to review than a classy sparkling wine? Well, yes and no - I have never held much with going for wines that are in season. Sometimes I want a bold red in summer, sometimes a refined sparkler on a dull Tuesday evening with nothing to celebrate. When it comes to wine I tend to go with the advice the head of department in my first full time job gave me: "A good Riesling in itself is a reason to celebrate." A wise statement, although I think it can be expanded to cover all glorious grapes and wonderful wines of this world. So here is another reason to celebrate - and behold, it is an English sparkling wine.
A Nyetimber 2003, to be precise - a wine from the Nyetimer vintage that caused a little sensation when a few years ago its sibling, the Classic Cuvée, won a respectable international sparkling wine tasting, beating the likes of Bollinger, Pommery and Louis Roederer. How good is the Blanc de Blancs?
I still remember my first encounter with the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, a sparkling wine made with the same grapes and in the same method used in the Champagne (and from a soil and climate that isn't hugely different either). Fellow wine blogger David from the Elitist Review had invited me for an evening of Riesling, Pinot Noir - and a surprise wine, which turned out to be the Nyetimber. It impressed all of us, so much that even the sceptical David concluded: "Hell’s bells, I just said the extraordinarily improbable statement that an English wine is properly good; are there no certainties left in the world?"
Sadly I haven't come across another bottle of the 2003 Classic Cuvée since, but just a few weeks ago I took a 2003 Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs with me to the Wine Rambler committee meeting in Munich. Whereas the Classic Cuvée is made from all three Champagne grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) the Blanc de Blancs is a pure Chardonnay. It comes from the same 152 hectares of land Nyetimber own in West Sussex and Hampshire though and the grapes have ripened in the same gloriously hot summer of 2003. So I was curious to see whether we would like it as much.
What struck me most about drinking the 2003 Blanc de Noirs in late 2013 is how fresh and elegant it felt - "elegant" and "fresh" are the most frequently used words in my tasting notes (I counted). The freshness was even more pronounced in comparison to a great 2003 Rheingau Riesling we enjoyed on the same evening, so much so that the wines felt almost like they belonged to different decades. Now, putting a dry Riesling against a sparkling wine may not be a fair comparison, but it may serve to highlight that the Nyetimber felt like a teenage ballet dancer gliding over my tongue (is that even a legal sentence?). The mousse was quite refined and the wine smelled of cool, chalky citrus, the finest vintage apple juice (is there such a thing), yeast, a little honey and her- and-hay-candy. All these elements also resurface on the palate in a cool and elegant way with present but well-integrated yeast and a fresh finish that features citrus and a touch of grapefruit. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between bitter and sweet elements and of course the, did I mention this, elegant freshness.
It may not quite have the complexity that I remember from the Classic Cuvée but the Blanc de Noirs is a refined sparkling wine that delivers balance, elegance and joy. It also shows that there can be real benefit to putting English sparklers away for a few years extra as it aged (if ageing is the right word here) so beautifully.