Being invited to a private tasting of Jenkyn Place’s first ever Blanc de Blancs in their beautiful Hampshire estate, standing next to the very vines upon which the ‘blancs’ were grown… it’s a yes from me. Even when dark clouds started to roll in and the heavens threatened to open, there was nothing that could dampen the enthusiam for the occasion – which is English winemaking in a nutshell, as it goes. By midday, there were blue skies, sunshine, Scotch eggs and puppies bounding around the garden – and a vertical tasting of Jenkyn Place Brut Cuvée from 2006 to 2014. It couldn’t have been more perfect (including the Scotch eggs, which still had soft, orange yolks).
Jenkyn Place is a family-run estate, headed by Simon Bladon, which began growing vines in 2004 after Simon was handed a glass of sparkling wine at a furniture auction. He had commented what fantastic Champagne it was, to the response: ‘That, sir, is not Champagne – that is English Sparkling Wine.’ The winemaker behind that glass of wine is now, amazingly, the person who makes Jenkyn Place wines – the very talented Dermot Sugrue.
Across 12 acres of vineyards, the Champagne grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – thrive upon greensand and marlestone soils and serve to make crisp, elegant, dry sparkling wines. Jenkyn Place specialise in single-vintage wines, so each year, consumers can experience a time capsule, reflecting all the sunshine, all the rain and all the hard work that went into that growing cycle. And if it wasn’t a good 12 months? Well, then the wines simply don’t get made that year; quality has to be paramount.
And so, we have the Blanc de Blancs 2015 – made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in the long, dry summer of 2015. It wasn’t a hot year, but the conditions were ideal for Chardonnay, leading Dermot to give this grape a starring role. I take my first sip under the cover of grey cloud, and it immediately makes the world brighter – it’s fresh, crisp and brimming with lemon sherbert. The present acidity feels bracing on the palate and gives a clean finish. With more bottle age, the slight honey on the nose is sure to develop into something sumptuous, alongside some rich, toasty brioche notes.
The vertical tasting of Jenkyn Place Brut Cuvée afterwards is a real treat and we get to see how the wines have evolved over time, each one bringing something different to the table. The 2006 was particularly popular – gorgeous aromas of warm brioche, dried apricots and nuts, which come through seamlessly on the palate – still with such bright acidity.
Simon himself said that when the first vines were planted in 2004, they didn’t really know what they were doing. But with a skilled team on board, now including his daughter Camilla, Jenkyn Place wines are receiving much critical acclaim and admiration. Much like the weather, it turned out all right in the end.