English Chardonnay: a quality revolution

It’s interesting times for English still wines at the moment, and one variety catching the eye is Chardonnay. Sommelier Donald Evans of La Trompette convened an informal gathering at Wright Brothers in Battersea for us to look at a range of wines, with some of the winemakers present (pictured above, Chris Wilson of Gutters and Stars; Liam Idzikowski of Danbury Ridge and Sergio Verillo of Black Book). As well as being a fun chance to get together, there was also a good spread of wines to look at. These are my notes on the still wines; some also brought sparkling Chardonnay and there were a few international benchmarks.

Liam Idzikowski and Donald Evans

Tillingham Qvevri Dharc 2018 England
11% alcohol. This is a blend of two lots of Chardonnay: one from chalk soil (Greyfriars in Surrey) and one from clay soil (Woodchurch in Kent). The grapes were destemmed and foot crushed, macerated for 48 hours, and then put into two Qvevri for six months, one with 10% skins, the other without. The wines then spent another six months in used oak and were bottled with no fining or filtration and a small dose of sulfur dioxide. This is lean, taut and mineral. It’s intense, with great precision and a lovely crystalline quality. Pure with a sense of tension to the citrus fruit core. Quite stunning. 94/100

Danbury Ridge Octagon Block Chardonnay 2018 Essex, England
Octagon is a vineyard in the Crouch Valley. It’s not just clay here, but there are also glacial deposits of gravel and sand. It’s a warm site, and in 2020, for example, there were 8 days at 35 C. It’s really good in a warm year for Chardonnay, but they are finding that Pinot Noir does better in a wetter year, as long as the harvest period is dry. This is fine, rich and opulent, but also beautifully balanced with fine bready hints as well as ripe pear and lemon. This has such a wonderful texture and purity with great balance. Amazing depth of fruit. I’d heard a lot about Danbury Ridge and this was the first time I’d tried one of their wines: it lives up to the hype. 94/100

Danbury Ridge Octagon Block Chardonnay 2020 Essex, England (barrel sample)
Very rich but fine with a lovely tapering, spicy quality on the finish. Has bold flavours of peach, pear and table grape with finesse and minerality. Shows lovely spiciness: so expressive, with a hint of pineapple and melon, even. Really concentrated and fine. 95/100

Gutters & Stars Chardonnay 2020 Essex, England
This is from Chris Wilson’s urban winery in the base of a Cambridge windmill. From Essex fruit (Missing Gate in the Crouch Valley) harvested at 98 Oeschle (13.3% potential alcohol), after settling for 8 h this was fermented in barrel with topping but no battonage. This is very fresh, fine and fruity with nice grapey richness. Has lovely pear fruit with some juicy lemony notes. Very pure and balanced. 91/100

Langham Chardonnay 2018 Dorset, England
12% alcohol. Estate grown on limestone with very little top soil, wild ferment, no fining or filtration. This is fresh and finely spiced with some nice citrus fruit. Pure and lemony with amazing crystalline acidity. There’s a brightness here, good texture, and a sense of minerality. Very fine. 94/100

Black Book Clay Hill Chardonnay 2020 Essex, England
One of the leading still wine producers in the UK is London-based urban winery Black Book. This is fine and delicate with pear and citrus fruit. Has fine-grained texture with lovely mineral hints and some fine spiciness. Real delicacy here, and it’s so expressive. 92/100

Black Book Clay Hill Chardonnay 2019 Essex, England
This is bright and focused with a lovely lemony edge. Mineral and lemony with a nice acid line. Expressive, with good purity. 91/100

Bride Valley Chardonnay 2018 Dorset, England
12% alcohol. Bride Valley is a vineyard on south-facing slopes in the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, and in 2018 they left some rows of Chardonnay for still wine. Fermented in stainless steel. Ripe and slightly honeyed with a touch of apricot and appealing pure citrus fruit. Rounded, fruity and generous with a nice grapey edge, and a touch of creaminess. Really fine. 91/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com