Product Review: Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut 2013

Every wine tells a story. Wiston Estate is a family-run enterprise situated on the picturesque South Downs in Sussex. The chalky soil and gentle south-facing slopes of the vineyard create an ideal environment for growing vines. The hills of the South Downs provide protection against prevailing winds and allow for maximum sun exposure which promotes the slow, steady ripening of the fruit.

Wiston Estate focuses on sustainability, tending the vines with the utmost care and attention. They utilise a Boisselet cultivator in the vineyard to manage root and weed growth by returning them gently to the soil, “rather than resorting to ‘quick fix’ chemical herbicides and synthetic fertilisers.” These environmental methods are continued in the winery where solar panels generate renewable energy.

Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut 2013 is made from the three traditional sparkling wine varieties: 47% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier. The grapes were hand-harvested by a team of skilled pickers between 18th – 28th October 2013.

In the Winery
Each grape variety was pressed separately using Wiston Estate’s traditional Coquard basket press. This impressive wooden press is only one of four outside of Champagne and the only one in the UK. Its gentle technique ensures the fruit and juice remain at the highest quality, preserving the delicate aromas and flavours. Each variety was pressed as whole bunches – this is where each bunch of grapes is put into the press as is, rather than having the grape berries removed from the stems.

Each variety’s juice was fermented separately in old, (on average 10 years old) Burgundy barrels. Specially selected yeasts, according to each variety’s individual characteristics, were added to start fermentation. The use of old barrels helps to promote gentle micro-oxygenation in the wine. This process allows tiny amounts of oxygen to penetrate into the wine through the oak barrels, creating a softer, more refined mouthfeel and structure. Old barrels which have previously held Burgundy wine are used to ensure that no obvious oak flavours are imparted into the wine – the aim is to round out the structure rather than add any woody characters.

The Cuvée Brut 2013 wine was then rested on its lees until the following spring. Lees are the dead yeast cells from the fermentation process – by allowing the wine to remain in contact with them, complexity of flavour and structure is achieved. Many producers choose to remove the lees by racking the wine into a different tank. Wiston Estate’s award-winning winemaker, Dermot Sugrue, specialises in creating a distinct, complex house-style within all of Wiston’s wines by using this initial lees-aging method.

In the spring of 2014, the three wines, (one each of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) were carefully blended together. The blending process is an art form as the percentages of each variety influence the finished wine’s flavour profile dramatically. This blended wine was put through malolactic fermentation, (where the malic, ‘appley’ acid is transformed into lactic ‘milky/creamy’ acid) to soften and smooth the natural crisp acidity.

In July 2014, the wine was put into its sparkling wine bottles along with more yeast and some nutrients, (known as the ‘liqueur de tirage’) to trigger the secondary fermentation. The wine underwent a slow secondary fermentation, being kept on its side to increase the contact between the liquid and the new yeast lees. The wine was aged in this manner at a cool 11°C for 36 months, progressively gaining mature, tertiary flavours and structure through the process of autolysis. Autolysis is where wines gain their complex ‘bready’ and ‘yeasty’ flavours. This part of the traditional sparkling wine production method is arguably the most important stage.

Once the wine has completed its secondary fermentation and aged for the winery’s desired amount of time, (Wiston Estate aim for 3-5 years of aging) the bottles are riddled. Riddling is where the bottles are slowly turned and twisted from a laying position to an upright one with the neck facing downwards. This causes the yeast to gather in the neck of the bottle where it can be easily removed via the disgorging process. Disgorging took place at the end of 2016. The bottle neck containing the dead yeast cells was frozen and then the bottle opened, releasing the yeast in a pellet of ice. The disgorging process also includes the addition of the wine’s dosage, where sweetness is added to the wine to create the perfect balance. Dermot added a restrained about of dosage, (8g/l) to the Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut 2013 in order to preserve the wine’s natural elegance and balance. The wine was then resealed with the characteristic sparkling wine corks and cages.

The disgorging process is quite a traumatic time for the wine as it is opened and has additional components added to it so the finished wine was aged for a further six months prior to release on the market to allow the flavours to marry together and become a harmonious blend.

Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut 2013 is a wonderful example of how expressive, elegant and complex English wines can be. Utilising the traditional method and traditional grape varieties, Dermot has crafted a wine which is delicious to drink now and will continue to develop with age.

Tasting Note
An outstanding wine with beautiful aromas of rich brioche, ripe red apples and a touch of caramel. A full, creamy palate showcases fantastic depth of flavour and complexity with notes of lemon zest and spice.

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