England's Best Vineyards
Wondering where you'll find England's best vineyards? Roberson winemaker Alex Hurley looks at what science can tell us. Many vineyard regions are adjusting to the challenges of a warming climate. In England this has opened the door to an exciting opportunity to explore our own terroir. We have historically been a large wine consuming nation and remain one of the most important wine markets in the world, yet now we have an opportunity to produce our own world-class wines. This growing industry is particularly intriguing as our viticulturists can follow their own passion free from any historical baggage. This unique situation has turned the UK into one of the world’s most exciting wine regions. As a relatively new wine producing country, we are still learning where we can produce great wines. You may have noticed vineyards popping up everywhere from Kent to Wales. Unlike many traditional wine regions, such as Mosel, Burgundy & Champagne, who have had 100s of years of exploration and vine selection, in England this adventure is just starting. STRAP YOURSELF IN… HERE COMES THE SCIENCE Whilst experimentation and growing vineyards where we like is one way to find the best sites, this takes many years and will inevitably result in some low-quality failed developments. On the other hand, with a scientific approach, we can assess vineyard suitability linked to soil type, aspect and climatic parameters, finding sites which will have less risk of frost, lower disease pressure, and where it is easier to ripen the grapes and produce first-class wines. Based on a study by Dr A. Nesbitt in 2018, the potential prime viticulture land in the UK is around 33,700 ha. Most of these regions are based in Kent, West and East Sussex, Essex and Suffolk. While this is certainly a significant area of suitable land for vineyards, on the scale of Champagne, it is interesting to understand what makes these sites suitable. SOIL When explaining the aromas and taste of a wine, the first point wine commentators like to present is the soil type of the vineyard, such as clay, chalky or loamy soils, and perhaps how similar it is to other regions in the world. Whilst this is certainly interesting, the soil type is just one element that defines the quality of a vineyard site. Factors such as vineyard aspect and slope, site drainage, quantity and intensity of sunshine, susceptibility to frost, and rainfall are just as important. SUNSHINE The amount of sunshine is an obvious requirement for the development of healthy plants. A vineyard site needs enough sunlight hours during the growing season to successfully ripen the grapes. The vines convert the energy of the sun through photosynthesis into sugars which feed its growth and development. These sugars fuel the growth of the vine, make their way into the berry and subsequently are fermented in the cellar into alcohol. A grapevine without enough sunshine or leaves to catch the sunshine will ultimately not produce quality grapes. In these cases, the resulting vine will be poorly supplied, the grapes will not ripen, and the wine will have an unwanted green and vegetal character. In fact, each vine variety has specific climatic requirements. The optimum amount of sunlight hours per day, growing season average temperatures, the slope of the parcel, the canopy system, differences in day and night time temperatures, and the orientation of the vineyard will change variety to variety and even clone to clone. This explains why many of the vines planted in the UK from the 1970s were early ripening hybrids such as Reichensteiner, Müller-Thurgau and Bacchus, as these varieties ripen earlier and require fewer sunlight hours to achieve maturity. More recently as the climate has warmed, Champagne grape clones have been extensively planted throughout the UK. These vines are well adapted to growing in cooler climates and, due to the lower sugar requirement of sparkling wine, can be produced with exceptionally quality in the UK. In the last few years, particularly the warm 2018 vintage, the ability to ripen still wine clones such as Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones has also become a reality in the UK. Whilst quality will vary vintage to vintage, the climatic trend implies that achieving ripeness with these varieties will continue to become easier. There may even be a day where grapes like the early ripening Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot could be planted and achieve maturity, but we are still many years from this. FROST Another key consideration in finding the best vineyard sites in England is their exposure to frost. When the vines are breaking dormancy due to the warming weather of spring, the buds and shoots will start to emerge. These shoots are delicate and very sensitive to damage by frost. To make things a little more complicated, the buds actually consist of 3 or more potential shoots. The first shoot is the most developed and will have the highest fertility, while the secondary and tertiary buds, which the vines will utilise after a frost event, have dramatically lower fertility. Frost has dire significance for grape growers as these less developed buds will produce fewer grapes per hectare. Consequently, the probability and intensity of frost events in April and May must be considered when you have the goal of producing great wines year in year out. Vineyard sites in flat, low lying areas are obvious examples which should be avoided and sites with a slight slope and known to be sheltered to some degree from frost should be sought after. RAINFALL AND… BACK TO SOIL The final important factor we must consider in order to locate England’s best vineyard sites is the amount of rainfall throughout the year, critically during the growing season. Vines need water for photosynthesis, transporting nutrients from the soil throughout the vine, and to regulate temperature. However, excess water in the soil can waterlog the vine’s roots and stunt their growth and development. Going full circle back to the topic of the soil type, the real importance of soil type in the vineyard is typically associated with its water holding capacity and drainage. Another point regarding rainfall throughout the growing season is that it will increase the humidity in the vine canopy and the likelihood of diseases, such as Downy Mildew. Regions with high rainfall during the growing season will have a larger incidence of canopy challenges and will require more intervention and chemicals. In England the East Coast is known to have a much lower rainfall than the West, with the regions in the South East having the most suitable amount of rainfall during the growing season. SO WHERE ARE ENGLAND’S BEST VINEYARDS? Considering the soils, sunlight, frost, and rainfall helps us to identify the most suitable vineyards regions in the UK. However, it will still take many years as the industry matures to sort the wheat from the chaff. Currently, Essex, Kent, and Sussex are well established and for good reason. From the start of spring, these regions have a lower chance of frost events, less rainfall during the growing season, and have the most suitable amount of sunshine in the UK. It should be no surprise that many of England’s most acclaimed vineyards are found in these regions, including Roberson's new English producer, Simpsons Wine Estate, and the vineyards that supply fruit for Roberson's own wines, London Cru. Of course this doesn't preclude great wines being made elsewhere in the UK - just that, due to climatic conditions, it'll be trickier to do it consistently. The English wine industry’s future is very promising and ultimately, we will be a producer of world-class wines with a real sense of place. Just watch us.
Bordeaux 2018 Vintage Report
Looking for info about the 2018 vintage in Bordeaux? Head of Fine Wine Oliver Bartle has just returned from tasting the latest releases in Bordeaux – here’s his take on the 2018 vintage. 2018 Bordeaux - A Snapshot After spending four days in Bordeaux to taste the 2018 vintage, I arrived back into the office last week and like every year, my colleagues were keen to ask my thoughts of the vintage. My response this year, “up and down”. I can use the term up and down to talk about many parts of the past week. It applied to the short one hour flight to the south west of France, the weather over the four days I was in Bordeaux, climatic conditions during the 2018 growing season and most importantly, the wines produced in 2018. The 2018 Growing Season in Bordeaux: The first half of 2018 was extremely wet, also with hailstorms, followed by a much milder spring. This led to a lot of mildew which impacted the amount of wine produced at many estates. These weather conditions at this stage worried winemakers and put the quality of the vintage in doubt. But then the sunshine prevailed and led to an extremely hot and dry summer, rescuing 2018. Grapes were small, but extremely rich in sugar and tannins, conditions which led to high alcohol in most wines, some up to 15%. But do not be put off this, as I will explain below. 2018 Bordeaux - The Wines When I look through my hundreds of tasting notes, I always search for the words I’ve written the most to describe the vintage. So here goes: Rich, Elegant, Fresh, Pure & Balanced. So if they are my most commonly written words, why am I saying "up and down"? 2018 is not 2016, where every wine I tasted sang from the trees. It is a vintage where the top Châteaux have produced simply brilliant wines, but many smaller estates have failed to reach those heights. People always ask for vintage comparisons. I would say 2018 offers a mix of the richness of 2015, coupled with the freshness of 2016, but without the consistency of either of these years. If pricing is reasonable, I wholeheartedly recommend buying 2018s; they are up-front wines, yet have the ability to age for decades to come. Alcohol is certainly high, but the freshness and balance of the wines hide it, unlike in 2009 and 2010, where it is prevalent. In terms of highlights, I can certainly recommend once again Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion. They have produced an excellent wine in 2018 with wonderful purity and balance. We have been following this up-and-coming estate for a number of years now and I have no doubt it would be a great addition to your cellar this year. Château Tour Saint Christophe is another estate we have followed and it again hits the great heights of previous vintages this year. Power, complexity and richness prevail, it is a bargain! Château Beychevelle is always a fantastic wine to taste En Primeur, but the 2018 is the finest I have ever tasted from barrel. Their second wine, Amiral de Beychevelle, is serious too and is certainly worth a look. 2018 Bordeaux - Left Bank Highlights Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) Palmer (Margaux) Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux) Lafite Rothschild + Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac) Montrose + Le Dame de Montrose (Saint-Estèphe) Cos d’Estournel (Saint-Estèphe) Beychevelle + Amiral de Beychevelle (Saint Julien) 2018 Bordeaux - Right Bank Highlights Tour Saint Christophe (Saint Emilion) Cheval Blanc + Le Petit Cheval (Saint Emilion) Canon (Saint Emilion) Vieux Château Certan (Pomerol) Lafleur (Pomerol) Bordeaux 2018… What next? We expect releases to begin within the next two weeks, with most coming in May/June. Our private client manager Paul Williamson will be offering as soon as the Châteaux release. If you wish to receive those offers or have specific requests, please do contact him via email, or call him on 020 7381 7881.
Provence Rosé Guide
Enjoy drinking Provence Rosé, but don't know a Côtes de Provence from a Côte De Boeuf? Consumer Buyer Jack Green sets you straight. Provence Rosé - A Beginner's Guide Provence, the spiritual home of rosé, has become a summer staple throughout the gardens of Britain and beyond. Famous today for its characteristically pale, delicate rosé from Cotes de Provence, historically, it was the first region in France to be planted under vine and as the Roman empire made its way north, other wine regions developed into the appellations we know today. The region of Provence extends over nearly 200 km, from Marseille in the west all the way to Nice in the east. The sun-soaked, picture-perfect landscape offers ideal terroir for growing grapes. While the days are long and hot, the Mistral wind that blows down from the Rhône keeps the vineyards cool at night, an integral part of the region’s climate. Tourism has also played a very important part in the rise of Provence; the long summers spent cycling through the rolling vineyards of the Cotes de Provence have bought a thirst for the region's delicate, pale pink rosé back to the UK. Luckily, there is plenty of supply in these parts. The three main appellations, which include Cotes de Provence, have a total of 26,948 hectares under vine - about the same size as Burgundy. These vineyards can make a staggering 155 million bottles per year, 89% of which is rosé. Given this equates to roughly 5% of the world’s entire rosé production, they certainly know a thing or two about making it. Provence Rosé Production Method There are two ways to make rosé. The common misconception is that they blend red wine with white wine to make the rosé, yet the only region this is allowed in France in Champagne, and it is not permitted anywhere else. The two methods used are: Traditional Method, or pre-fermentation cold skin maceration – this is where red grapes are allowed to macerate between 2-20 hours, like a teabag in cold water, gently extracting colour before fermentation. It’s a delicate balancing act, since macerating for too long will result in too much colour and extract, yet most high-quality Provence rosé will be made using this method as it results in a more characterful wine. The ‘Saignee’ method or direct press. This is where red grapes are pressed until they start releasing colour. A small amount of lightly-coloured juice is then ‘bled’ off and fermented, creating a second rosé product and concentrating the colour and tannins of the remaining red wine. Provence Rosé Food Matching For me the beauty of Provence rosé has to be the diversity of ways in which it can be enjoyed and the different food flavours it can stand up to. The laid back seafood restaurants that line the cobbled streets of St-Tropez provide ample inspiration for cooking back home. Roberson’s house favourite M de Minuty Rosé is a perfect match for a creamy shellfish pasta, or ripe melon served with cured ham. Yet don’t discount spicy food, as some of the top rosés with a bit of power to them, like the Château Minuty Rose Et Or, will pair remarkably well with medium spiced curries. The acidity will even cut through the fat of grilled or roasted meats - think BBQs with plenty of fresh tomato salads and Provençal herbs. Bring on summer!
Best English Grapes
Looking to get into English wine, but not sure what grapes to be looking out for? Head of Consumer Sales Simon Huntington checks out some of the most delicious options. The Best English Wine Grapes to Try England, in recent years, has become acclaimed as one of the world’s best producers of sparkling wines, and English fizz has beaten French Champagnes at a number of blind tastings. Yet the rise in quality of English still wines has been just as remarkable, if not as headline-grabbing. Some grapes like Bacchus actually seem to work better in English terroir than anywhere else. Others like Chardonnay aren’t better – just different – with distinctive flinty characteristics when grown in England’s chalky soils. The modern English wine industry is still so young that it’s a time of incredible learning, growth and change. The famous wine regions of continental Europe have had centuries to work out the best terroirs for growing grapes, and the best varieties to have planted. England’s just getting started – so while there are exquisite wines being made, there are also plenty of wines out there that have… room for improvement. So to save you the trouble of sorting the wheat from the chaff, we’ve outlined England’s best grapes: 3. English Chardonnay Flinty Perfection If you love Chablis, but hate buttery Chardonnays from the southern hemisphere, then English Chardonnay is for you. Like Chablis, good English Chardonnays have delicate structure and rounded mouthfeel from ageing on lees, yet they add a flinty mineral character from being grown on England’s chalky soils. Two superb examples are London Cru Chancery Lane Chardonnay, which is fresh, delicate and incredibly gluggable, and Simpson Estate Gravel Castle Chardonnay, which shows wonderful apple and nashi pear character, with creamy texture and a finely mineral finish. 2. English Pinot Noir Not just for sparkling England’s Pinot Noir is principally grown for sparkling wine production – as one of the three authorised varieties in Champagne, it’s a crucial component of most Traditional Method English sparkling wines. Many sparkling wine producers also make a still wine with some of their left over Pinot, but these can lack body and fruit intensity, since grapes for sparkling wines are typically picked too early for optimum still wine production. The best examples – like Simpson Estate Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir – are made from Burgundian Pinot Noir clones – specifically intended for still wine production and farmed separately to sparkling wine grapes. In this case, they can show the body and ripe fruit of a good red Burgundy, with a distinctive mineral character from England’s chalky soils. As a sideline, English Pinot Noir can also make exceptionally pure, delicate rosé. For a superb, Provence-like example from Kent, check out Simpson Estate Railway Hill Rosé, or for bashfully pale Pinot rosé from Surrey, try London Cru Rosaville Rd Rosé. 1. English Bacchus The Queen of England Bacchus loves the English climate. Like a typical northern-European who gets burnt the second the sun comes out, Bacchus suffers when the climate gets too warm, and its wines can lack vibrancy, acidity and aromatic profile. Of course too much sunshine is rarely a problem in England, and Bacchus grapes ripen perfectly, yet maintain a wonderfully zingy, citrus character, to match with aromas of elderflower and freshly-mown meadow. Top examples like London Cru Baker St Bacchus are utterly evocative of the English countryside – and there really isn’t a better match with a plate of freshly-shucked Whitstable oysters. For more news and offers on English wines, join our mailing list
Teaming up with Simpsons
Roberson Wine and Simpsons Wine Estate join forces Simpsons Wine Estate and Roberson Wine are delighted to be working together as the Kent based winery launches four new English still wines in 2019. Following a bumper English wine harvest in 2018 that delivered extremely high quality fruit, Charles and Ruth Simpson will be introducing four prestige still wines to the UK market this year, which will be distributed via the team at Robersons. With a strong emphasis on provenance and a sense of place, the four wines are all named after interesting local roads that surround the vineyards and winery in Barham, including: Gravel Castle Chardonnay 2018 – the ‘early release’, baby brother of Simpsons Wine Estate’s Roman Road Chardonnay. Derringstone Pinot Meunier 2018 – the team believes this may be the UK’s first Blanc de Noirs still Pinot Meunier - sealed under the Vinolok glass closure. Railway Hill Rosé 2018 – a delicate Provencal-style rosé, created from 100% Pinot Noir, beautifully packaged and sealed under Vinolok. Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir 2018 – created from low yielding still wine clones 115 and 375, the team are most surprised and delighted with the quality of this still Pinot Noir. These four new wines will be joined later in the year by the Roman Road Chardonnay 2018, which will now age for 12 months prior to release. This will be the third vintage of their highly acclaimed Chardonnay, which has been produced in very limited quantities over the past two years. We had been looking for an English wine partner for some time, and Simpsons Wine Estate fits the bill perfectly. Their still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are produced from Burgundian clones grown in chalky soils close to Canterbury and sit superbly alongside our award-winning portfolio of great wines from France and California. We are looking forward to introducing them to our customers this spring. Ruth Simpson, co-owner of Simpsons Wine Estate says, “2018 was an incredible year for us at Simpsons Wine Estate and we’re thrilled to be working with the team at Roberson Wine to launch our new premium still wines. We are both quality-driven, family businesses that are passionate about English wine, so we share many commonalities. Robersons have a fantastic list of prestige customers in the wine world and we look forward to introducing our exciting new wines to their exclusive client base.” About Simpsons Wine Estate Charles & Ruth Simpson have been making award-winning wines at Domaine Sainte Rose, their stunning, southern French property, for the past 17 years. Combining Old World terroir with New World techniques in the vineyard, as well as in the winery, they now produce an eclectic range of award-winning wines that have won international acclaim and are sold around the world. In 2014, they bought their expertise and savoir-faire back to the UK establishing Simpsons Wine Estate in Barham, Kent, with an aspiration to create the finest quality Method Traditional English sparkling wine. Simpsons Wine Estate now has 30 hectares of vineyard, planted with the grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The vineyards occupy glorious positions on the sunny, sheltered slopes of the North Downs, protected from the whimsy of the English climate by ancient woodlands and anchored in the iconic, free-draining, chalky soils, so revered in the world of sparkling wine. In 2016 a state-of-the-art winery was created in Barham in preparation for their first harvest and a modern tasting room was completed during 2017, complete with a helter skelter slide. For more information on Simpsons Wine Estate and other news and offers, join our mailing list.
Alex Hurley, Roberson Wine's Assistant Winemaker, takes a deeper look into what goes into our wines. They put what in my wine? With ‘Veganuary’ more popular than ever this year, many of us spent last month deeply considering our food choices. This magnifying glass can also be applied to the production of wine, which sometimes involves the inclusion of products that are not in line with vegetarianism or veganism. Drinking wine romantically conjures up images of picturesque vineyards, musty cellars full of barrels, and passionate winemakers. Whilst this idealistic representation of wine helps us connect with the product, it shouldn’t be overlooked that in the production of every bottle there are hundreds of viticultural and enological decisions impacting how the grapes were grown and the wine was made. Some grape growers and winemakers approach grapes with their hands in the air. These are the minimal interventionists, who allow the wines to set their own course. This hands-off approach can result in some astonishingly fabulous wines; wines which speak of their place, their grape, and the personality of the winery. This winemaking method, however, does have its risk and many examples find their way to the table with severe problems. These faulty wines struggle to represent their variety or vineyard, but rather speak of wildness where the hard work with the vines, the vitality of the soil, the climatic influences of the vintage, as well as efforts in the cellar are whitewashed by off-aromas, haze, or poor balance. This is where a winemaker’s knowledge of chemistry and microbiology enters the arena. From fruit arrival to bottling, a winemaker’s responsibility is to guide the process to ensure that the best wine possible is created from the grapes. This involves making thoughtful enological decisions which fit with the wine style and winery ethos. As part of this process, whether a wine is conventional, organic, or biodynamic, non-grape products, commonly referred to as ‘additions’, are regularly used and added into the wine. These additions have a purpose such as improving the wines clarity, protecting from oxidation, improving shelf-life stability and age-ability, softening or reducing astringency and bitterness, or preventing unwanted yeast and bacteria from hijacking the wine. One such traditional method of wine clarification was, for example, to add egg whites into barrels of red wine. The proteins in the egg white helps to attract and settle out tannins and solids in the wine and helps the wine to become more palatable. The challenge for the consumer, however, is to get to the bottom of what was used to make a specific bottle of wine. For vegans, vegetarians and people with allergies, this point is perhaps a little more critical as many of these products are derived from animal sources such as eggs, fish, cow’s milk, and gelatine. Whether or not these products have been used can be difficult to answer, so it is the best course for vegans to source accredited vegan appropriate wines. Another option would be to contact producers directly as many wines which are not explicitly labelled as vegan would, in fact, fit the criteria. The good news in this area of winemaking is that many producers are now taking heed of the growing demand for vegan-friendly wines. There are now effective substitutable products in the market place which can be used with similar impact. We've taken the hard work out of finding vegan wines by putting them all in a handy collection. Browse the vegan wine collection now.
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