You may have been seeing Sussex more in the news lately, perhaps partly due to the recent nuptials between the new Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. The rural destination in southeast England is also home to a small concentration of English vineyards making sparkling wines, including Rathfinny Estates, who chose Hong Kong as their first export market to debut their vintage sparkling wines: a Blanc de Blancs 2014 and Rosé Brut 2015. Owned by Sarah and Mark Driver, Rathfinny’s launch in Asia follows the initial launch of the sparkling wines in April in the UK.
Rathfinny’s location is a large contributing factor to the quality of its wines. Situated only three miles from the coast, the influence of the sea helps to moderate the otherwise continental climate, keeping the temperature up during the day whilst cooling the vineyards in the evenings. That combined with chalky soils, a long growing season and lack of spring frosts and extreme vintage variation offer ideal conditions for growing the grape varieties required for sparkling wines including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Using the same techniques as their prestigious counterparts in Champagne, Rathfinny aims to show the world just how the terroir of Sussex has the potential to produce wines that “rival the best Traditional Method sparkling wines in the world.” As part of the collective effort from Sussex wine makers in the application for PDO status from the EU, the Drivers have spared no expense when it comes to ensuring their own wines adhere to similarly high standards. Using Germany and France as benchmarks (countries where they also happened to source the clones for Rathfinny’s grapes), they have hired the likes of winemakers Jonathan Medard from Epernay and Cameron Roucher from New Zealand to manage their estate and vineyards.
Sitting alongside other critically acclaimed wineries in the region, including Ridgeview (which incidentally has been awarded “English Wine of the Year” several times and whose wines are served at Buckingham Palace) Rathfinny’s place in addition to other Sussex sparkling wines on the international wine scene appears promising. Despite a small initial production of 11,000 bottles this year, Rathfinny is not shy about its ambitions. According to Mark Rathfinny,“We expect to increase production to a half million cases in the next five years.”
Though labelled as Brut, both wines we tried at a special preview were refreshingly acidic without the cloying sweetness that often accompanies Champagnes in a similar or higher price range. The Rosé Brut 2015 displays a deceptively deep salmon hue that would lead one to believe that it is much sweeter than it actually is on the tongue. With pronounced aromas of fresh red fruit including hints of strawberry, red apple and whiffs of rhubarb and caramel, the Rosé is more than just a pretty wine.
The Blanc de Blancs 2014 displays fresh citrus aromas along with notes of peach, pear, and brioche with an equally satisfyingly long finish. In a nod to recent trends towards drier, less sweet wines, the low dosage for both the Blanc de Blancs (4g/L) and the Rosé (2.5g/L) leaves an impression of fresh fruit and tantalising acidity on the palate. Both are a perfect choice as an aperitif or paired with the entree or dessert course of a lighter tasting menu.
The Rathfinny Rosé Brut 2015 is priced at HK$335 and Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs 2014 priced at HK$355, both available at Jebsen Fine Wines in Hong Kong.