The English invented sparkling wine, and now they’re making it, and the 15th century Gusbourne Estate in Kent is helping lead the way. South African Andrew Weeber purchased Gusbourne in 2003 and planted vines the next year with the aim of creating sparkling wines that compete with the best in the world. Today, Gusbourne has 61 hectares of vines in Kent and another 32 hectares in West Sussex. The maiden vintage was 2006; in this article, we review the current releases from the 2013 vintage. Charlie Holland, formerly with Ridgeview and other wineries in Australia and California, is the winemaker. The US importer is Broadbent.
History of English “Champagne”
While myth has it that Dom Perignon “saw the stars” and created the first Champagne at the end of the 17th century, the truth is somewhat different. Spritzy wines were viewed as a defect by Dom Perignon, who devoted himself to preventing the refermentation in bottle that would create bubbles. The English, on the other hand, loved bubbles, and English merchants in the mid-17th century began purposely adding sugar to wine (i.e., liqueur de tirage), recorking it, and letting it referment, which is the Champagne making process. An English scientist, Christopher Merret, documented this process in the mid-17th century.
Originally, Champagne was a still wine, but cold winters could stop fermentation before all the sugar had been converted, and in the spring, after the wine had been bottled, refermentation would resume within the bottle, resulting in a spritzy wine. Bottles at the time were not very strong, so the pressure from carbonation often led to exploding bottles. After their forests became depeleted, English glassmakers turned to burning coal, which resulted in stronger bottles that could withstand the pressure of carbonation. Stronger bottles and the English preference for sparkling wine led to the creation of the world’s first sparkling wine industry in England.
For more on sparkling wine, see our Report # 53 American Sparkling Wine, Report # 34 Champagne Revisited, and numerous articles on Champagne and sparkling wine available at www.iwinereview.com
Gusbourne 2013 Brut Reserve 90 The Brut Reserve is very fresh and bright with vibrant acidity and lovely notes of citrus and orchard fruit complemented by hints of shortbread and spice. It has 9 g/l RS and spends 28 months on the lees. It’s a blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 27% Pinot Meunier, and 18% Chardonnay.
Gusbourne 2013 Blanc de Blancs 91 The Blanc de Blancs is a fragrant and flavorful sparkler that offers a leesy mouthfeel with flavors of concentrated pear. It is rich tasting and shows good depth with notable persistence on the palate. It spends a minimum of 28 months sur lie and has 11 g/l RS.
Gusbourne 2013 Brut Rosé 90 This is a very dry sparkling rosé with a peachy color and aromas of light red cherry and apple. It has a lovely mousse and is lively, fresh and vibrant on a very fresh palate. It shows bright acidity and a pleasing dry finish. It pairs beautifully with deviled eggs and stuffed red potatoes and caviar. The Brut Rosé spends about 30 months sur lie. It’s a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with 8.2 g/l RS.