Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury 2003
It now seems accepted wisdom that the English invented sparkling wine, with ancient documents verifying that Christopher Merret presented details of the process to the Royal Society in the 16th Century, decades before Dom Pérignon achieved anything similar over in Champagne. But I feel it is a rather hollow victory about which some people crow a little too loudly, because a little in-bottle fermentation is just one of many steps involved in the production of high quality sparkling wine. The process starts with terroir and the right fruit, and it wasn't that long ago that England seemed to have neither.
The terroir has, in fact, always been there, as I made clear in my comparative tasting of three basic Champagnes versus some sparkling English wines which I published over six years ago now. That piece, now rather aged, was the stimulus for a very recent sequence of initially peremptory and subsequently informative emails from MW and English wine specialist Stephen Skelton, who had obviously overlooked the date of publication (which is included on all articles that include tasting notes on this site) when he accused me of having outdated views. Outdated notes? Yes, notes on a website do date with time, that's why you must take note of the date they were written. Outdated views? That needs a little more investigation.
One fact that hasn't changed since 2000 are the two leading names in English fizz, Nyetimber and Ridgeview. They don't send samples, they don't seem to turn up at the same tastings as me, and they don't sell cheap, so tasting opportunities over the last few years have been non-existent. But with a wine from the delightfully hot 2003 vintage on the market, I thought it appropriate that I put my hand in my pocket and buy a bottle, picking up one from Ridgeview. The Ridgeview estate is located on the Sussex Downs, with 30 hectares planted on a terroir of paludina limestone over sandstone, although the soil underfoot is actually one of silty clay and loam, so retentive of water that field drains were required. And the fruit is right, the vines supporting the three classic Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. All three have a presence in the Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury 2003, named for Christopher Merret (as, confusingly, are many of the Ridgeview wines), which has an incredibly effervescent bead, the whole glass absolutely teaming with bubbles, culminating in a jostling layer at the head. The colour is an elegant, pale straw hue, and following up is some appealing, smoky, mineral stone fruit on the nose, in a quite peachy style. The palate has panache, with a firm, nettly, mineral acidity cutting through a rather elegantly styled, poised presence, although it does have a little hint of richness too. A leafy, fresh character, with a lean frame of acidity, softening into a slightly sherbetty feel towards the end. It has a rather short and crisply defined finish, but overall I think this has the composition and acidity to age well in the cellar. Is it good wine? Yes, indeed, and I certainly find much more pleasure here than I did in the 1996 vintage, tasted just over six years ago now. Is it going to usurp Champagne, an inevitable comparison in view of the style, and prices? Of course not, but I think the Roberts family of Ridgeview, who describe Champagne as "the quintessential sparkling wine" would accept this. It is the overly vocal supporters of English wine that make such wild claims, doing few favours for the English winemakers striving for real quality like the Roberts family, who need to establish their reputations on their own terms. But let us not lose sight of the wine behind this debate. In this case it gives much pleasure, and the vineyards of England hold real promise for the future; I look forward to future tastings of Ridgeview. 16.5+/20 (20/11/06)