‘Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!’ So said Dom Perignon when he tasted his Champagne – or so legend has it. Well, I am in no way likening myself to that esteemed 17th Century monk, but I have to say that when I tasted our Wine of the Month I had pretty much the same sensation. So which wine prompted this reaction? It’s none other than an English sparkling wine, made in exactly the same way as Champagne.
Nestled in the heart of Hampshire, just about mid-way between Winchester and Salisbury, you will find the Test Valley, home to the most beautiful chalk streams, and an up-and-coming vineyard and winery called Black Chalk.
After 8 years of making over 120 different English sparkling wines in Hampshire, Black Chalk is the personal project of award-winning winemaker Jacob Leadley and his family. The Black Chalk project now comprises four vineyard sites, all within the Test Valley. The sites – Hide, Rivers, The Levels and The Circle – are all within a one-mile radius of the Black Chalk winery and comprise 12 hectares in total.
The four sites are considered amongst the best in the country, in terms of aspect, soil, elevation and quality of fruit grown to date. The key site for Black Chalk is Hide, a 4.6 hectare vineyard: its microclimate is perfect for growing the Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Black Chalk is a ‘juvenile’, in terms of wine production. But despite this, the team have already amassed an impressive array of awards. In 2020, their Black Chalk Classic was awarded three Golds in various competitions, and their Wild Rose achieved a Gold and Silver.
So what of the wines themselves? The Black Chalk Classic is everything you would expect from a top-quality sparkling wine: aromas and flavours of green apple with floral notes and a hint of floral honey on the finish, together with traces of brioche and vanilla. The use of oak barrels and time on lees provide this wine with depth and complexity. The result is a fruit-driven, perfectly balanced, crisp English sparkling wine. Wine connoisseur Jamie Goode says this of it: “I reckon this is one of the best UK sparklers out there. So delicate with purity and balance. World-class.”
Like Black Chalk Classic, their sparkling rosé, Wild Rose, is made in small batches using the three classic Champagne varieties to give a complex blend of gently perfumed pure raspberries and strawberries with subtle hints of biscuit. A dry, crisp, elegant finish rounds off this superb wine.
And why is it called Black Chalk? As Jacob Leadley explains: “Black chalk was used by the old masters to sketch ideas onto canvas before painstakingly creating a masterpiece. At Black Chalk Wines, we hand-select the very best locally grown grapes before beautifully crafting each wine, they are not rushed but allowed time to age in order to produce English sparkling wine that stands out from the crowd.” It certainly does!
Black Chalk is not widely available – in fact, there are only 16 outlets nationwide (other than at the cellar door). The good news is that The Wine Shed is one of those very few stockists so order yours now and become one of the limited number of Black Chalk aficionados!
By Maureen Little