This week marked the 4th birthday of Digby Fine English Sparkling Wine, a minor birthday in the eyes of many, but my goodness, what a lot this wine has achieved in a short space of time. Their seemingly over-night success is reflected in their global distribution, international acclaim and a bevy of awards culminating at yesterday’s UK Wine Awards where they received 3 gold medals for their NV Brut, Leander Pink NV Brut and Vintage 2010 Brut, as well as a trophy for the latter. In short every wine they entered struck gold.
This success has been achieved the old fashion way, through the toil and passion of owners Jason Humphreys who focuses on the vineyards, Trevor Clough who is in charge of blending, and winemaker Dermot Sugrue. As with many sparkling wines, and most particularly Digby as the UK’s only négociant, blending is absolutely vital for creating balance, layered complexity and consistency of style. The complexities of blending were beautifully illustrated by Trevor on Tuesday evening when he hosted a ‘blending salon’ of the base wines that contribute to the flagship vintage blend.
The impact of soil and mesoclimate on the grapes was demonstrated with perfect clarity when we lucky few were treated to tasting 3 chardonnays from 3 different sites; green sand from Hampshire, sandstone from Dorset and sandstone from a warmer site in West Sussex, as well as a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from Dorset sandstone.
#1 Chardonnay 2015 – Hampshire green sand
Vibrant, crunchy green apples, wet stone, citrus and a hint of bruised apple on the nose leads to an austere, poised citrus palate underpinned by a lean, chalky, wet stone minerality.
As Trevor explained, the unrelenting precision, power and drive expressed by this Chardonnay requires extended lees aging to add flesh to the bones, making it the perfect core component for their flagship vintage blend which undergoes extended aging (the exact time on lees is dictated by the vintage conditions, in 2009 this was 3 years on lees and 1 on cork and in 2010 it was 4 years on lees and 1 on cork) both pre-disgorgement and post. This is a wine that contributes structure to a blend.
#2 Chardonnay 2015 – Dorset sandstone
On the nose it exhibits a spicier white pepper note supported by green apple, baked pear and citrus. The palate is juicy yet creamy, a silken, crystalline textural delight ending with some puckering, pithy grapefruit freshness.
This more feminine, creamy wine requires less time on lees to achieve balance and harmony. This is a wine that adds silken texture and elegance to the blend.
#3 Chardonnay 2015 – West Sussex sandstone
This immediately shows the relative warmth of the site with much riper baked apples, a sweet spice and a bruised apple and nut note. The palate follows through with the trademark English green apple acidity and citrus tang.
The sweet spice notes and bruised apple/nuts were swiftly explained by the more oxidative use of old oak on this warmer, richer expression of Chardonnay. A component to be used in smaller quantities in the blend to add depth, texture and richness to the wine. … And so the picture of this complex wine begins to build and take form in our minds.
#1 Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier 2015 – Dorset sandstone
Showing a very pale copper blush to the wine reflecting the delicacy with which the black grapes were pressed. A beautifully ethereal nose of rose petals, summer berries and juicy yellow peaches led into a palate of pink grapefruit, roses and smoky minerals. Absolutely mesmeric.
#1 Blend 2015: 60% #1 Chardonnay, 30% #2 Chardonnay, 10% #3 Chardonnay
A wonderfully layered nose showing white blossom, mineral spice, green apples, pear and a background richness of baked apple and smoky chalk. Utterly beguiling. The palate shows silken lemon, green apple crunch and the tart bite of rhubarb.
#2 Blend 2015: Blend #1 + #1 PN/PM
2/3 Chardonnay blend, 1/3 PNPM blend
A stunning nose of apple, peach, berry and floral notes, the palate is taut yet creamy and abounds with savoury spice effortlessly balanced by the silken fruit weight. Crunchy red berries on the mid palate lead to peaches and green apples and finally a pure, lifted citrus and chalk finish. Long, powerful, lean and complex, the sum really is greater than the parts. It is exciting to think of the aromatic and textural complexity the lees aging, and the balancing effect of dosage would have on this raw, naked expression of English Sparkling wine.And the crowning moment – to taste the finished wine, the flagship Vintage 2010 Brut; subtle yet complex, effortlessly harmonious yet razor sharp, thrilling, persistent, a wine giving huge amounts of pleasure now but with superb development potential. So on this, the 4th birthday of Digby Fine English, hats off to two gentlemen who had a dream, an unremitting commitment to quality and an infectious sense of fun for bringing us these beautiful expressions of England’s greatness.