NEW RELEASES : The exceptional 2018s from Hundred Hills - from the new reference point English vintage

NEW RELEASES : The exceptional 2018s from Hundred Hills - from the new reference point English vintage

NEW RELEASES : The exceptional 2018s from Hundred Hills - from the new reference point English vintage

I had been looking forward to tasting these wines for quite some time, in fact, ever since I saw Stephen Duckett’s beaming smile at the conclusion of the 2018 harvest.
 
Stephen is the owner and winemaker of Hundred Hills in the Stonor Valley in south-east Oxfordshire, which was founded in 2013. As I have written before, ‘I have tracked this project since its infancy and have been fascinated by the journey as much as the meticulous planning that has gone into establishing the vineyard and the winery. I have known Stephen and Fiona Duckett from way back, long before the idea of founding an English sparkling wine estate had gripped them. Stephen has always been a methodical person; but that isn’t at the cost of foresight. When he told me that they had explored well over 100 different sites located in dry chalk valleys across southern England before settling on a run down 50-acre farm in the Stonor Valley, I wasn’t surprised. A clear point of differentiation is that Hundred Hills is a wine estate by design; the Ducketts explored possible locations across the UK, sending soil cores off to be analysed in a laboratory in Champagne and assessing climatic data before committing. If the data and analyses had led them to the other side of the country, that’s where they would have been located – they had the intention from the outset of producing a great sparkling wine, not just another English sparkling wine’.
 
The Hundred Hills journey has been catapulted further forward by the 2018 vintage – of that there is little doubt. As Stephen commented three years ago, ‘the 2018 vintage will be a reference point vintage for English wine’ thanks to the near ideal conditions. Given this was a few years back, it is worth recalling that the Met Office recorded 2018 as the warmest summer in England since detailed records began in 1910! After an unusually warm May, temperatures touched 30 degrees Celsius in June, as the country basked in a glorious summer with customary hosepipe bans. A little rain at the end of August was much need, increasing berry size and pushing the fruit on to full ripeness. A hallmark of Hundred Hills is the long hang time they achieve: in basic terms, the duration the grapes can stay on the vine to reach optimum maturity. In 2018, the autumn was dry and unproblematic, so the grapes remained on the vine for between 102 and 110 days, enabling hints of those riper, stone-fruit flavours and aromas that already seem part of the Hundred Hills signature to develop.
 
If you would like to read more background on Hundred Hills, please follow this link to my previous introduction.

Stephen’s pride and enthusiasm for the 2018s is fully founded. Low acidity is not an issue in English vineyards; in cooler years, wines can show a racy, almost bracing acidity in their youth. On account of the conditions in 2018, the acidities are a touch lower, the ripeness is such that a wonderful balance is struck with fine depth of fruit. Unsurprisingly, the 2018s are the most complete wines I have tasted from Hundred Hills. Their inaugural 2016 release was and still is staggering, the 2017s showed a ripeness uncommon to a cool year, and frankly uncommon to English wines, and the 2018s move up a notch in purity and poise, with depth that comes from riper year. There is a classicism about these wines, which relates to how the balance has been struck. I think the 2018s could be enjoyed earlier than their 2017 counterparts in most instances, given the generous fruit and lower acidity (note lower not low, all things are relative), but those character traits will certainly not preclude these wines ageing gracefully for many years to come; it is all a question of balance.
 
The new releases feature the follow up vintages to the 2017 Blanc de Blancs (made from one distinct parcel of Chardonnay) and 2017 Preamble No 2. Initially the Ducketts intended to use the Preamble name for a series of first releases, but given how well it showed and sold, they have now decided to make one Preamble every vintage in the style of the 2017 Preamble No 2. This wine aims to showcase the stone-fruit characters that the ripest fruit in the vineyard attains. And then, we have the first release of the stunning Rosé de Saignée, a wine that is sure to turn some heads. This is a tiny production, just 600 bottles were made in 2018, and it is possibly the most extraordinary English sparkling wine I have ever tasted…more on that below. We have been fortunate enough to wrestle a good allocation away from the team at Hundred Hills, who had one eye on holding it back!
 
Please note that none of the following three releases went through malolactic fermentation. All the wines were aged on their lees in bottle for 30 months before disgorgement, and the dosage on each is between 5 and 6 grams per litre.

 

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2018 Preamble, Hundred Hills
£170 per 6 bottle case in bond

The follow up to 2017 Preamble No 2. This is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir is the low-yielding 115 clone from an early-ripening parcel near the winery. Only the Chardonnay component went into cask for 2-3 months with some bâtonnage (stirring of the fine lees).

 A little more classical than the 2017, which was a touch more exuberant. The 2018 reveals aromas of ripe, juicy Cox’s apple, with hints of nectarine and white peach. Revealing a soft, luxuriant mousse, the fruit is beautifully ripe with an underlying, bright mouth-watering acidity and hints of almond patisserie. The texture of this wine is so appealing, almost satiny, leading to a long, persistent finish that captures almost a zesty, creamy orange note. Not quite as flamboyant as the 2017 but shows the same DNA and a notch ahead in quality. Drink 2021-2025. (SL)
 
 
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2018 Blanc de Blancs, Hundred Hills
£150 per 3 bottle wooden case in bond

This pure Chardonnay comes from a single plot at the top of the west-facing slope opposite the winery. The base wine spent two to three months in cask with batonnage (stirring of the fine lees).

Pure, scented aromas of white flower, lemon cream and livelier citrus leads to a wonderfully defined palate. There is a delicate nature here, a lightness and precision, but equally a surprising depth and persistence to the fruit. Racy, leesy notes develop on the palate with discreet notes of creamy patisserie and a tell-tale chalky mineral nuance. This is a striking Blanc de Blancs, with very fine balance and wonderful purity. It has that crystalline quality to the fruit, and a certain raciness, but the acidity is so well wound to the core of the wine. Again, a very complete Blanc de Blancs and one that competes well in the wider category. Drink 2022-2029 (SL)


saignee - Copy



2018 Rosé de Saignée, Hundred Hills
£180 per 3 bottle wooden case in bond


The base wine for this pure Pinot Noir was entirely fermented in old oak. The Rosé was made by allowing the colour from the skins to gently bleed into the juice over seven and a half hours. The fruit comes from the top parcel of clone 115, from the bank of vines just upslope from the winery, where the team harvested just the darkest, ripest berries individually.


Highly individual, the Rosé de Saignée boasts a remarkably deep hue in the glass, and a bright hue at that, on account of the efforts of the Hundred Hills team to avoid oxidation. The aromas are similarly unusual for a sparkling wine, with scented, ripe Pinot nuances of red berry, hints of toast, all of which reminded me of the youthful nature of a young Côte de Beaune Burgundy. Showing terrific depth of fruit with sappy, spicy Pinot characters with raspberry, pomegranate through to hints of tangy blood orange, this is a remarkable wine. Completely captivating and a great success – you almost forget it is a sparkling wine. Conditions do not permit the production of a saignée each year, but this might well develop a cult-like following! A little patience will be rewarded here for it to hit its stride. Stunning. Drink 2022-2030. (SL)


Please let us know of your interest. This is a much anticipated follow up to our initial offer. 

Given we do not have any shipping woes to contend with here, all wines will be available for Christmas despatch!
 
All the best,
 
Simon 

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