Steven Spurrier revolutionised the perception of fine wine in 1976 when he arranged a blind tasting in Paris of the top Bordeaux and Burgundy against comparable wines from the USA. The result was that the French judges scored wines from Stags Leap & Chateau Montelena, both Napa estates, as being the very best in the tasting – superior to all the First Growths and the finest from Batard-Montrachet.
He now owns Dorset winery Bride Valley, along with his wife Arabella, and has been producing some fantastic fizz for the past few years.
Yesterday we visited the vineyard for the first taste of their inaugural Dorset Chardonnay, which I’ve been excited to try ever since Steven first mentioned it when he visited No 8 Wine Shop in December.
2018 was described as a ‘dream vintage’ for the British wine industry and what Steven has managed to create is testament as to why. Typically it’s always been nearly impossible to produce still wine in the UK, at least not one that anyone would want to drink, as the weather isn’t warm enough and the grapes only have sufficient sugar for 8 degrees of alcohol when harvested. This is perfect for fizz as you can chaptalise up to 11, but no good for still wines as they’ll be too acidic and too low in alcohol.
However the 2018 vintage yielded enough sugar to achieve 11% without chaptalisation. The result is their first ever Dorset Chardonnay, a wine with a bracing but perfectly balanced acidity and a minerality reminiscent of fresh rainfall on a hot, stone patio in early summer, notes of green apple, lime zest, pink grapefruit and kiwi skin in the long finish – which tantaslises the tastebuds for well over a minute.
It would be far too easy to compare this wine to Chablis, and whilst it does share a lot of the same characteristics, I don’t think I’d mistake it for one. It has its own identity, one which is less assuming and without the sense of entitlement to a place at the table. There’s still an underlying hesitation for people to try English wines because England “doesn’t make wine”. Well, we do now and if you’re yet to try one then this is a bloody marvellous place to start.