Balfour Hush Heath Estate Brut Rosé 2006
It is easy to criticise wine competitions, of which there are two very significant examples based in the UK, the Decanter World Wine Awards (in which I judge, in the Loire category) and the International Wine Challenge, the latter headed up by Charles Metcalfe and Tim Atkin. They are cannon fodder for some writers. Unwieldy, slightly mysterious in their organisation, churning out often nameless opinions and some might say seemingly random medals, awards and trophies, they make for an easy target. Whose tasting note is that? You gave a gold medal to this wine? You think that is the world's best example of Bordeaux? Whaa-a-at?!....the best red wine in the world isn't 2005 Le Bourg from Clos Rougeard??!!!
Alright, alright, perhaps that somewhat esoteric final criticism might be overplaying it a little, but the other exclamations are commonly voiced disparagements of gigantic wine competitions. And I think - although many are valid points if taken in isolation - they generally reveal an unrealistic expectation of what wine competitions can do, or indeed what they aim to do and why they even exist at all.
One undeniable reason for their existence is revenue generation of course - these aren't charitable bodies, touting opinions out of a selfless sense of a need to inform. This is the 21st century, and wine competitions must pay their own way. It isn't cheap to submit a wine to the Decanter World Wine Awards or International Wine Challenge. There is more to them than the ring of the cash till though; I would argue that wine competitions can provide a useful looking glass through which winemakers and consumers can gain sight of one another. And through which interested consumers can glean information other than simple wine recommendations; wine competitions provide glimpses of new trends, up-and-coming regions, usurped idols and new pretenders.
English wine - especially sparkling English wine - has long since finished playing its role as a pretender and surely now wears a crown, of some sort at least. And in part this has been achieved through wine competitions, particularly the two mentioned above. Only this year Ridgeview Estate - featured many times on these pages before now - triumphed in the Decanter Awards, proprietor Mike Roberts walking away with the trophy for best sparkling wine over £10 for his 2006 Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs, something of a landmark victory especially when we acknowledge that the wine was pitted against other well-known names including Taittinger and Charles Heidsieck. Sure, not Taittinger's Cuvée Blanc de Blancs, and not Heidsieck's Blanc des Millénaires, and not Salon nor Krug, but - as I have stated above - to diminish the results by stating these obvious criticisms is to miss the point. What the result says is that - if you haven't already - it is time to look at English sparkling wine.
Balfour Hush Heath Estate is also no stranger to such accolades, with a gold medal for the 2004 Brut Rosé in the 2008 IWC, and a trophy (for the best UK sparkling wine over £10) in the 2009 DWWA for its 2005 Brut Rosé, about which I wrote very recently on the Winedr blog. The next vintage along is the 2006 of course, and this wine is the focus of my attention this week. A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier, the 2006 Balfour Hush Heath Brut Rosé has a fabulous colour in the glass, a pale but vibrant onion skin hue, and a vibrant, vigorous and fairly fine central bead. The nose is fruit-rich, just bursting out from behind the cork, with the characteristics of strawberry and raspberry, together with an open, vivacious, sherbetty minerality. Very well composed on entry, quite broad although cut through with a steely acidity, the fruit behind it a blend of crunchy red berries with the bright flesh of Cox's Pippins. Very attractive, with a fresh, sour-sappy finish, and a chalky end to it all. This is very good indeed; perhaps not quite the same level as the delectable 2005, but still a fine effort, showing once again that English sparkling wine is certainly here to stay. 16+/20 (27/9/10)