4 November 2015 by Chris Boiling

Wine and travel writer Chris Boiling uncorks his new ‘Wine of the Month’ column at the opening of Hove’s new wine shop and deli, Fourth & Church.

Wine of the month: Albourne Estate Bacchus 2014 (English & Welsh Wine of the Year 2015)

Winery: Albourne Estate, Shaves Wood Lane, Albourne, near Hassocks, West Sussex

Winemaker: Alison Nightingale

Grape variety: Bacchus 100%

Alcohol: 12%

Tasted in: Fourth & Church, 84 Church Road, Hove, BN3 2EB

Also available in: Butlers Wine Cellar (247 Queens Park Road, Brighton; 88 George’s Road, Brighton); Drakes, 43-44 Marine Parade, Brighton.

Price: from £12.95

English sparkling wine is getting a great deal of attention at the moment, after picking up 14 gold medals at this year’s International Wine Challenge. The attention is deserved as Sussex producers such as Ridgeview, Nyetimber, Wiston, Court Garden and Bolney are making wines that burst the bubble of many winemakers in Champagne. 

But English still wines often get overlooked. In many cases this is deserved too. Much of it is mediocre and overpriced. There are exceptions. Gusbourne’s Guinevere (a subtly oaked Chardonnay) and Burgundy-style Pinot Noir come to mind. Plumpton College’s Ortega, only sold in a top Cantonese restaurant in London, is another. And this wine – the Bacchus 2014 from Albourne Estate. 

It beat all other English wines – including the top sparkling wines – to be crowned the UK Vineyard Association’s English & Welsh Wine of the Year 2015 in the summer. 

Bacchus is the Greek God of wine and a grape variety created in Germany in 1933. One of its parents is Riesling. In Germany, it is in decline and only usually found in basic off-dry blends, where it is reunited with one of its other parents, Muller-Thurgau. But since it was first planted in England in 1973 it has been on the increase and is now the second most planted white grape variety here after Chardonnay (most of which is destined for sparkling wines).

Many see it as England’s answer to New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc. It is a pale wine with aromas of lemon, lime, grass and elderflower, flavours that include gooseberry and lime, underscored with a hint of flint, and a lengthy honeyed finish.

English wineries Camel Valley, Chapel Down and Three Choirs have been setting the standard over recent years, but it is newcomer Albourne that has taken it to another level with the 2014 vintage.

“2014 was a good grape-growing year in England,” Albourne’s winemaker, Alison Nightingale, reminds us. “We not only had a good amount of grapes, they also ripened well.”

Alison gave up a career in marketing to have three children and while they were still young, she went to Plumpton College part-time to get a degree in wine production. After graduating, she and husband Nick, who works in the oil industry, bought a farm near Hassocks in 2009, planted 41,000 vines the following spring and produced her first wine in 2013. Alison’s debut Bacchus won a bronze medal at that year’s International Wine Challenge.

So this Wine of the Year is only her second vintage. The added complexity comes from using grapes picked ten days apart. The earlier grapes, picked on 23/9/2014, give the wine its herbaceous aromatic characteristics of nettle and elderflower while the grapes picked in early October add some tropical fruit aromas and flavours. Another of the winemaker’s secrets is that she presses the bunches whole, which is more normal for sparkling wine than still wine. 

Alison also makes a white Pinot Noir and an Estate Selection (a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Bacchus). Next year she will launch her sparkling wine. I can’t wait to taste it but I hope it doesn’t distract her from making great still wines.

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