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What is English for Blanc de Blancs?

Upperton Alia Blanc de Blancs

Upperton Alia Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay

When the “New Wine this Week” crowd (follow them on twitter #NWTW) put out a call for wines beginning with the letter “B”, I was straight in there with Bacchus. As I saw suggestions coming in from other quarters, I did feel we were a bit optimistic to be challenging Barolo in the winter months, but worth a try, anyway.

The way the system works is that after the call for wines has been responded to, a shortlist of 6 are put up for voting. As it happens, Bacchus did not make the shortlist, but Blanc de Blancs did. That was the only one an English Wine Lover could vote for, and the ultimate winner. Next stage is that a few suggestions come out of particular examples available, but essentially anyone who wants to tries a Blanc de Blancs and tweets, blogs or simply drinks!

So what is a Blanc de Blancs? Essentially it’s a sparkling white wine made from white grapes only – classically, but not exclusively, 100% Chardonnay. See New Wine This Week’s blog post “So what is Blanc de Blancs when it’s at home” for a nice explanation.

To backtrack just a moment – in Champagne, and increasingly in South East England, the varieties grown for sparkling wine are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. A Classic Cuvée will be a blend of all 3 varieties and, quality and quantity of grapes permitting, a Blanc de Blancs might also be made with a batch of Chardonnay and maybe a Blanc de Noirs from the black or red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, too. These produce wines of immensely different character and if you have never done a comparative tasting, I would urge you to do so. Not only is it fun and interesting to compare the fresh, high acidity Blancs de Blancs between themselves and against the more rounded fruity Blancs de Noirs, it gives you a whole new insight into Classic Cuvées and appreciation of both the art of blending and enjoyment of the results.

Needing to find a Blanc de Blancs to try myself, I headed for my modest stash of cellar door treasure to find examples from Upperton and Exton Park and decided to go for the former.

Now Upperton’s vineyards are in the Sussex village of Tillington. Sounds vaguely familiar? Yes, you might well have heard of Nyetimber’s premium Tillington brand, grown in the adjacent field. Upperton’s wines are made at Ridgeview, so the terroir and the winemaking both give cause for optimism.

Upperton Terrace

View from the terrace at Upperton Vineyards

Upperton’s Alia 2011 (from the Latin for “distinct”) was very pleasant indeed, clearly a Blanc de Blancs, but certainly not excessively high in acidity and a most enjoyable aperitif – as they say themselves on the label they don’t hurry the grapes, leaving them as much ripening time as possible, or the wine, leaving it reserved in the cellars to develop which allows it “to evolve deep, rich and complex flavours which add to the natural minerality of Chardonnay grapes … and for the acidity to become beautifully soft and rounded” . Remembering my lovely dinner at Nyetimber, there’s no reason not to have fizz with every course of your meal and so I carried on drinking it with roast chicken and it stood up happily.

The cellar door shop at Upperton is open on Fridays and Saturdays, the view is stunning and a café is planned too; I’d definitely recommend popping in if you are in the Petworth area.

There are lots of other options, too. If you fancy pushing the boat out, Gusbourne Estate’s Late Disgorged 2007 has been getting rave reviews (they also have a 2010 available) as has Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blancs 2007. There’s actually a good variety out there, so why not check out your local cellar door?

Blanc de Blancs might not sound very English, but our producers certainly do a good job of making it!

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