When I went full time on Wine List, it was just weeks before lockdown. Plans for regular team outings to vineyards soon got scuppered as lockdown took hold.
Last week, our team paid its first two vineyard visits of the year.
Oxney, the largest single estate organic vineyard in the country, is owned by Kristin Syltevik who as you talk to her, becomes clear, is motivated by the quality.
The Oxney Classic – their top sparkling cuvee – is classic English sparkling wine: rich in body, aromas of toast, brioche, apples, and lemons, and a really elegant mousse.
But increasingly with Oxney, it's the stills which are beginning to shine. When we sent out the 2018 Rosé as part of our rosé special earlier this year, one customer emailed in to say it was the best rosé they'd ever had.
This year, they released their still 2018 Chardonnay. The nose here is dominated by a toasty flinty goodness that nods towards white Burgundy, backed with the lemon citrus & apple zip typical of English chard. It's the best English chardonnay I've tasted yet.
I'm not a fan of wine scores, but even so, when Jancis Robinson rates your wines as some of England's best, you listen. Visit oxneyestate.com.
10 minutes down the road is Tillingham. for England, not much land separates these two vineyards, but in style and approach they're a world apart.
Ben Walgate cut his teeth making wine on the Isle of Wight before a stint leading classic English Sparkling house Gusbourne.
Today, Tillingham has learnt a reputation as England's leading natural wine producer. Ben is at the centre of this, a tour de force in PR and branding, both he and the winery are everywhere – on Instagram, covered by all best wine publications, and being served in London's best restaurants and wine bars.
Tillingham have released by my count 17 wines this year. Ben loves experimenting. Whether that's using Georgian qvevri to ferment grapes, or age under floor. Or whether it's – in the case of the most recent Athingmill magnum – doing a field blend of everything they've made this year (nine varieties, and a cider).
The Tillingham site is built for tourism: 10 rooms, a pizza bar, a wine bar, and restaurant all support the winery and vineyard. The aesthetic is spot on and mirrors the back to nature approach of winemaking.
Despite the development of the site, it still feels like Tillingham is just at the start of its journey. With its 17 odd wines released over the last year, I can't wait to see what comes out over the next one. Visit tillingham.com.
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In Taste this week, we revisit the June wines and explore a great addition to Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range. And in Learn, we look at Albariño.
We're road-testing our new referral system. From today, when you have referred a friend or family, we'll email you a £15 voucher towards your next delivery. This can also be used in our online wine shop instead if you prefer.
Barbera, sauvignon gris, and albariño
La Zerba (£18.99) has a beautiful colour as soon as you pour it into the glass. This is bold and grown up. A mixture of concentrated red and black fruit aromas – all feel the right ripeness – not too jammy, nor too tart. Smooth on the palate, and despite how big the aromas feel, there's a real elegance here too.
For an unassuming bottle, Le Petite Fugue (£15.99) really took me by surprise. The nose had a wild floral note, underpinned by a touch of pear, some peach, and a background nuttiness. This is sauvignon gris-dominant, and as a result there's real body and texture here – far more than you'd get from a straight sauvignon blanc.
If you love lime-driven whites, then the Taste The Difference Albariño (£8.5 from Sainsbury's) is well worth exploring. This has a herbal essence to it, and there's some stone fruits hiding in the back, but the lime leads the way.
What is albariño?
Albariño is a thick-skinned grape that thrives in high altitudes and harsh climates.
It will exhibit a variety of aromas including citrus, stone, and tropical fruit, as well as many signs of winemaking and minerality.
In Portugal, the grape is called both alvarinho and cainho branco.
A grape by the same name rose to fame in recent years in Australia, however it has emerged through DNA testing that these grapes were in fact savagnin rather than albariño.
Like most lesser-known grapes, we believe there's great value to be had with albariño – and if you ever spot one in a supermarket, it's a worthwhile purchase to explore the grape.