Exton Park were The Editor’s and my introduction to quality English sparkling wine, you can read my surprise at finding Exton Park to be so good here.
Since then Exton Park have been building up a large library of reserve wines. Indeed, the wine from each year’s harvest is not used as the ‘base vintage’ for that year’s non-vintage wine – it goes straight into the reserve library. This is very unusual in England.
Exton Park have set their sights on being more like a Champagne house that relies on its array of reserve wines to produce consistent wines every year. This will protect them from the vicissitudes of the English weather, but will result in very different wines from the producers who make vintage wines every year, such as Black Chalk. We shall see if this is a good idea!
The number given in the name of the wine is the approximate number of reserve wines that made it into the blend for the release of that wine. It is an approximate number because, clearly, the number of reserve wines and the proportion of the correct character to produce a consistent wine will vary from year to year.
Let us pop and drink!
On the nose this has a similar abundance of fresh fruit to other English Sparkling Wines, red currants and raspberries here, but that this where the resemblance ends.
Firstly, there are a lot of autolytic, toasty, brioche, bread-y flavours here. This is because once the final blend of reserve wines is created and put in bottle to age, it gets three years on its lees. This is easily enough for autolytic characters to develop.
The autolytic characteristics are light and elegant, in harmony with the fruit, and they are rather attractive. Consequently, I have no problems with pursuing an ESW in this style.
The second set of aromas that differ from most ESW’s I have tried are a rich and complex set of aged scents. They are not oxidative, but certainly deep and powerful – this impression is only enhanced by the cold cocoa/chocolate flavours from the pure Pinot Noir this is constructed from.
These aged, mature flavours are a result of the wine being constructed from a library of older reserve wines, stored in tank away from oxygen, that goes back to wines harvested in 2011.
This is quite unlike the fresh, lively, fruit-forward style of most English producers. This does not make it bad; far from it, it is delicious – and most certainly properly good!
There is plenty of fresh fruit on the palate – light red fruit from Pinot Noir – and it seems a little sweet, but these are harmonious characters with the rest of those on the palate, so this is fine.
The other characteristics on the palate are, again, the toasty, bread-y flavours of autolysis and the mature, slightly mushroom-y tastes from aged reserve wines. This last one boosted by the richer flavours of older Pinot fruit. It has good acidity, although it is not quite as energetic as wines based around younger vintages.
In one sense, one could say this has qualities the wines of the Black Chalk-mould lack: It has autolytic flavours from long lees ageing and mature wine flavours thanks to being constructed from Exton Park’s repertorium of reserve wines.
However, the ‘young and fruity’-style of ESW allows for transparent communication of the qualities of a single vintage vintage, the properties of an estate’s terroir and the vivid life of the fresh fruit – with both acidity and fruit being more dominant.
Which is best? De gustibus non disputandum est – ultimately meaning, naturally, that one can argue about taste until the cows come home. So, to plonk myself down in an irritatingly central position, they are both delicious, high-quality wines that show different characteristics of English wine.
To be more confrontational, I like my wines to taste of where they came from, so I have a preference for Black Chalk over Exton Park here*, so Black Chalk is what I would choose if they were both on a wine list for the same price. If only one were, I would choose that and grin with great satisfaction to be drinking a real quality English Sparkling Wine!
*“Surely”, the knowledgable ESW drinkers asks, “Exton Park is from a 25 hectare single vineyard and so that, too, is a wine of terroir?” “Not so fast!”, I snarl. The Exton Park may have come from a specific vineyard, but it is a wine of process. It has been fiddled with and jiggled about with by being blended from base wines from different locations of different ages in different amounts. It has then had long yeast lees ageing that further masks terroir specificity.
I would go as far as saying that Exton Park is probably recognisable as an English Sparkling Wine (Christ, whatever the arse that is!), possibly even a Hampshire Sparkling Wine (Jesus Shit, whatever the hell THAT is), but as a unique product of the Exton Vineyard? Not really.
That being said, the terroir derived from English/Hampshire/Exton Park’s vineyards, in terms of the fruit and directness, make it vastly more interesting than all but the very best non-vintage Champagnes.
Buy direct from Exton Park’s website.