Monthly Archives: November 2017

A visit to Gusbourne Estate

We’ve all heard of a busman’s holiday, well for the purposes of this blog I think it should be renamed a monkey’s holiday. For what would a holiday be to a wine monkey without a visit to a winery or cracking open a bottle or two of something special. Lenka and Alex have written previously about their monkey’s holiday experiences in Greece, Croatia and New Zealand – and now it is my turn. But for me it wasn’t the azure waters and sunny skies of the Med or the shires of Middle Earth – instead I stayed rather closer to home and enjoyed a week’s holiday right here in England.

Kent is called the garden of England because of its abundance of orchards and hop farms. But these days it is also home to some top-class wineries. And so on my recent holiday there it seemed only appropriate that we should visit one of them and learn more.

Gusbourne Estate as a property dates back to 1410, but its winemaking history is rather more recent, with the first vineyards planted in 2004. They now have over 60 hectares of vineyards (all estate owned), with two thirds planted on the estate near Appledore in Kent and the remainder planted in West Sussex. This is particularly interesting due to the differences in soil type. Despite what many people think, there are multiple soil types across southern England – vineyards are not all planted on chalk. So whilst Gusbourne’s Sussex vineyard is indeed on chalk, their main vineyards in Kent are on clay – and this gives very different profiles to the grapes.

Gusbourne Estate

Gusbourne Estate

We were lucky enough to taste some of the new 2017 wines from tank and were able to compare both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from clay and chalk soils. And the differences were quite marked with both varieties particularly showing higher acidity levels on the Sussex chalk soils. For the Chardonnay, chalk gave a much tighter, leaner wine whilst the clay soil Chardonnay was a bit riper with more weight. And for the Pinot, the clay soil gave a distinct savoury note whereas the wine from chalk soil was fruitier. It was fascinating to taste the differences.

In common with many English wineries, Gusbourne focuses on sparkling wine made from traditional varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Whilst they also make two still wines, these only account for around 5% of total production. After a tour of the vineyard and winery we got the chance to taste through Gusbourne’s three bubbles as well as both of the still wines.

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Gusbourne’s wines

Gusbourne Rosé 2013

Unusually this vintage is 100% Pinot Noir. Normally their rosé has 10-20% Chardonnay blended in, but in 2013 Charlie, the head winemaker, felt that the fruit suited being solely Pinot Noir. This is quite a serious style of rosé having spent nearly 3 years on lees which gives a vibrant, toasty note to the wine along with some bright red fruit as well as a savoury note – perhaps that Kent fruit showing through?

Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2013

55% Pinot Noir, 27% Pinot Meunier, 18% Chardonnay with 3 years on lees. Whilst this has that typical acid drive you expect in an English sparkling, here the richness and toasty core really holds that acidity in check and balances it out beautifully.

Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2013

100% Chardonnay. This was my favourite wine of the tasting – elegant with a real purity. Creamy in texture with some nutty notes and slight saline minerality all driven by a pure apple/lemon core of fruit. Delicious now, but this will surely age beautifully.

Gusbourne Guinevere Chardonnay 2014 (still wine)

From their Boot Hill vineyard in Kent, which Charlie believes to be their best vineyard. Toasty oak notes on the nose also give a richness to the palate which nicely balances the bright, zesty acidity.

Gusbourne Pinot Noir 2016 (still wine)

Boot Hill vineyard. Very young – only just released – but already very impressive. Red fruit dominated with cherries and crunchy redcurrants along with some savoury and spice elements. I’d defy anyone to correctly guess this as English in a blind tasting.

Thanks to Charlie and the team at Gusbourne for a wonderful visit. If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend visiting yourself – for details see their website.

Emma

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Visiting Canberra

It is fair to say that Canberra probably isn’t high on many tourist’s ‘must-visit’ lists when travelling to Australia. The capital of this vast country sits rather inconveniently in the middle of nowhere and, despite being the seat of Parliament and being home to an array of national museums, understandably it usually gets overlooked in favour of the bright lights of Sydney or Melbourne. Similarly, as a wine region it is not exactly well known and visiting wine lovers are much more likely to tour around Hunter Valley, the Barossa or Yarra Valley rather than step foot in Canberra. But it is for that very reason that I was so excited to visit Canberra last month and learn about the wine scene in this relatively undiscovered region.

I have to say though, upon arrival Canberra itself wasn’t exactly inspiring. In retrospect that was more to do with the fact it was a public holiday and our hotel was smack in the middle of ‘Parliament district’ – so it felt like arriving into a ghost town with vast empty roads that I wouldn’t be surprised to see tumbleweed blowing down.

Parliament in Canberra

Parliament in Canberra – note the lack of people

But of course we all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and so the next day we hit the road with open minds ready to start tasting wine and learning about the region.

The first vines were planted in the Canberra district back in the 1840s and for a time a fair amount of wine was produced in the region. But by 1900 a combination of competition from South Australia, drought and the rise of the temperance alliance stalled the industry, gradually leading to the closure of all the wineries. It was not until the early 1970s that viticulture started again – predominantly led a number of scientists employed locally. Today Canberra accounts for approximately 0.1% of New South Wales’ total grape harvest, which itself is just 20% of Australia’s total. A mere drop in the ocean really.

The main defining characteristic of Canberra is the cool climate – it is the third coolest region in Australia. This is driven by a combination of altitude of up to around 900m and continental influence giving a large diurnal variation. So, whilst it might get pretty warm on summer days, it always drops cold at night – a key influence on retaining high levels of natural acid in grapes, something we would discover when tasting the wines.

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We visited a number of wineries across Canberra and I think it is fair to say that at the minute it is a region that is still finding its feet. On the one hand we tasted some wines that were absolutely sublime and that really spoke of the huge quality potential in the region. On the other hand, some wines were simply dull and disappointing. I am sure over the next few years or so, and as more winemakers move to the region and overall knowledge levels increase, this will only improve – for there is no doubting the underlying quality potential. But for now I think it is a region where it pays to know the names to look out for.

My top three picks from the region were Helm, Clonakilla and Eden Road. Ken Helm was one of the original people who restarted viticulture in the region, planting his vineyard in 1973. Now at a little over 70 years old he still makes the wine – although in his words “the vineyard produces the best Riesling, I’m just the custodian of the grapes”. Ken is a true raconteur – one of the real characters of the Aussie wine industry, and a fount of knowledge on any number of subjects. He also just happens to make some truly delicious Riesling and the most Bordeaux-alike Cabernet I have ever come across in Australia. Both more than worth your while hunting out.

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Ken Helm

Of course we knew before we visited that Clonakilla was going to be pretty special, and so it proved. Another one of the original wineries, planted by Dr John Kirk in 1971 – it is now run by his son Tim. Tim can probably be credited for really putting Canberra on the world map back in the early 90s when he released his first Shiraz Viognier, an ode to Guigal’s ‘La La’ Cote Roties that he said “changed my life” on a visit to the Rhone in 1991. The Shiraz Viognier won instant acclaim both in Australia and internationally, and it is now a real cult wine. Tim treated us to a vertical of the Shiraz Viognier spanning 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009 ,2008, 2005 and 2004 – a very special tasting that I doubt I’ll ever be lucky enough to do again. Certainly it showed how special the wine is and how well it ages – but also the subtle variation from vintage to vintage. But actually for me, it was a different Clonakilla wine that really stood out – the Syrah 2015. The Hermitage to Shiraz Viognier’s Cote Rotie, I just fell in love with the wine and to me it had everything you could want in a cool climate Syrah – purity of fruit, lifted florals, smoke, a mineral stony element and gorgeous silky tannins. All in all, a very special wine – one of the top wines I’ve tried all year.

Clonakilla Syrah

We also tried some delicious Syrah at Eden Road, the Block 94 particularly standing out, along with an excellent Riesling and a host of elegant Chardonnays from Tumbarumba.

Although we tried wines from a number of different varieties, including a lovely Grüner Veltliner from Lark Hill, it is clear that Riesling and Shiraz are the two stars of the region. What really impressed me is the clear regional character that I found in both of the varieties. The Rieslings all had a floral blossom note, citrus fruit character and defining almost saline minerality along with really bright, fresh acidity – but never piercing. Quite a different style to the more classic Rieslings from Eden and Clare Valleys. And the Shiraz (or Syrah) all had a real elegance to them, based more around red fruit than black and often with a lifted violet note – and again that bright acidity giving length.

So whilst not all of the wines are at the same level at the minute, I have no doubt that is more down to the youth of the region than anything else. The quality potential is surely there and I am sure in time we will hear more and more about this exciting cool climate region.

Emma