A few weeks ago I was at Plumpton with the judges of the South East Vineyards Association Wine of the Year Competition . Chairman was Andy Howard MW (buyer for M&S) , Charles Metcalfe , Cat Lomax (laithwaites) , Lindsay Oram and Stuart Graham ( top tasting student at Plumpton) , I was there to put in a winemakers perspective.
We started with the Dry whites(17) which included a couple of oaked wines(moving back into fashion) , followed by a much shorter flight of off dry whites (4), usually a much maligned category but when made with thought and care can be very attractive working with English acids and flavours.
Roses next(12), the full range of colours and styles from light red to light Provencal pink, some with a touch of tannin from short maceration.
The reds(10) were a category I wasn’t looking forward to judging by what had been on offer at the EWP tasting earlier this year, true there were a couple of horrors presumably from outside the wine scheme, but In the main I was pleasantly surprised.
The sparklings both pink(11) and white(17) were pretty solid if perhaps a little on the dull side(need to check if it was a root day) . We eventually finished at around 2pm and repaired for pint and fish and chips at the local .
Fast forward to 7/6/12 and I am driving around a damp and desolate Denbies avoiding the presumably blind driver heading the wrong way down the one way system. If there is a better example of why you should not plant in a frost pocket let me know. The damage wrought by nature over the last 20 years stretches tundra like almost as far as the eye can see, some valiant replanting is going on, but as we know there is a masochistic gene common to most English vine growers.
Anyway, time for a quick SEVA committee meeting on the vineyard app. the summer barbecue , the Cool Climate conference ( Brighton 2016) and proposed jolly to Alsace.
As the dinner and results time approaches , judges are pretty thin on the ground with apologies for absence from 3 leaving Andy Howard, Stuart and me. I nobly offer to talk about the reds and rose sections.
The corporate area at Denbies where we have been consigned to the last couple of years is quite dull, much more exciting was up in the tower with its splendid views. The staff and atmosphere is friendly enough, the helpings generous.
A young Sandhurst Bacchus 2011 from CD is first up. Young and fresh , 3 different yeasts used in the ferment but the Sandhurst terroir come through,I always think Bacchus improves with age, its good now and will only get better. Next up came a oaked wine 2009 from Denbies,(Ranmore Hill) and we were duly graced with a rare appearance from Marcus . 5% ortega, 65% bacchus 35% Pinot Gris. I thought it tasted more Ortega, not sure where the PG came from either, in the end as you end up wondering how much the oak adds to it but I enjoyed it and it was well made. A blend next from amateur growers made by Sam Linter including some of my least recommended grapes. It just worked , it got one of my highest marks .
Onto the Roses . There had been some debate on the day as to what colour roses should be and what should be judged typical. Typical to me is a dangerous path . Biddenden Gribble Bridge rose 2011 fell somewhere in the middle colourwise, attractive pink. Fresh crisp acidity with a slight tannin grip (overnight maceration if you you want this). Dornfeler and Acalon, rose is the best home for them. I would drink this with food rather than on it own.
Bolneys Pinot Noir 2011 , 12.5% ,(silver) 2011 was a great year for still winemakers, if not accountants, the crop was small , clean, high in sugar , so I have been looking forward to tasting the result though I did not expect to taste them so soon. Apparently has seen a touch of oak which I didn’t pick up on, the wine had a freshness and aromatic purity of fruit more cherry than the more typical raspberry and strawberry(tend to get these with slightly less ripe fruit). The colour was deeper and darker (more NZ?) . 2% Dunkelfelder might be one explanation.
Sams 3rd contribution to the evening was the 2009 Lynchgate, an oaked Rondo and Dornfelder. This was the 2nd highest marked red and for what it is ,its pretty good. Rondo is always diffcult and slightly rustic ,even with a bit of Dornfelder for finesse it will never reach the sophisticated heights that Pinot is capable of, so a good country red is what you get. Aged in 2 year old barrels with no brett.
Sparklings next, Plumptons “The Dean” (silver), labelled as a NV but 2009? I had tasted a “Dean” someweeks earlier which was somewhat meaner and leaner. Peter Morgan dully informed us that the dosage had been moved up to 13g/l which made all the diffrence to this high acid wine. Fresh and young and pink. This was the winner of the top prize.
Runner up was the Gusbourne 2007 (silver) which showed more age and complexity and which moved some judges more than others. Both these winning wines where from Classic chamapagne grape varieties , wines from these varietals generally scored higher than seyval or mixed blends.