There cannot be many people on planet earth – at least very few of our wine-interested brethren – who haven’t been hearing about the phenomenon that is English sparkling wine. Certain sectors of the printed media have published stories of one or other of our homeland fizzes covering itself in the glory of a blind wine tasting victory when pitched against some of France’s finest bubbles. Well, on Monday last week I drove down to deepest East Sussex to visit one of the finest exponents of English sparkling wine, to taste a few bottles, view the vineyards and have a chat with the owner.
The wine in question is Fox & Fox.
After a 30-year career trading US treasury securities, Gerard Fox and his wife Jonica retired to their house near Mayfield in East Sussex. They had purchased the property as something of a wreck in 1995, but the house at which I arrived on Monday was quite the finished article: extended, clearly cherished and, from the windows to the rear of the property, offering a view of a five acre vineyard nestling at the bottom of the well-tended garden.
Gerard Fox among his vines at Lake Street
Gerard originally mooted the idea of planting vines on this patch of ground as a bit of fun, perhaps little realising how bitten by the viticultural bug both he and Jonica would become.
Having tasted an utterly stunning Fox & Fox cuvée in Gerard’s kitchen, we wandered down to the vines to check the condition of the fruit, which will be harvested in three-or-so weeks’ time. All was well, with each variety ripening nicely.
Back in the kitchen we gathered up a picnic and a chilled bottle of another of Gerard’s cuvées, jumped in the car and drove the few miles to the main vineyard blocks, named Lake Street after the local hamlet.
Our lunching spot overlooking the Lake Street Fox & Fox vineyards
Varieties (and here we’re talking Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris) are planted on a mixture of Wadhurst clay, green sand and ironstone shale over a sandstone base. Gerard tells me that, in places, the sandstone is so near the surface that young vines struggle to get their roots down into the soil, taking some time to establish themselves.
The inclusion of Pinot Gris in the vineyard might raise an eyebrow or two and I like to think that I am at least partly responsible for its presence. Many years ago I sold Gerard some Aubry champagne: a wine made using all seven permitted grapes of the region, one of which is Pinot Gris (locally called Fromenteau). Gerard was so impressed by that wine he decided he wanted Pinot Gris in his vineyard. He now makes a much-admired cuvée called Inspiration that is virtually all of that variety.
We sat in the newly constructed metal barn that overlooks the vine-clad valley and ate delicious sandwiches whilst taking in the view and sampling another of Gerard’s wines.
And what wines they are. There’s a thread here: a style clearly born of deep thought about how to best let the fruit of these vineyards express itself. These are wines of enormous energy, dry and profoundly mineral. They have density and directness and are extremely well-defined. Perhaps most importantly, they are completely delicious.
2014 Tradition Brut Blanc de Noirs, Fox & Fox
£162 in bond per 6 Drink 2019-2023
N.B. This spent 36+ months on its lees. Platinum medal winner Decanter World Wine Awards 2019. The Tradition Cuvée is mostly Pinot Noir with a dash of Chardonnay for backbone.
Nose is clean and I find a touch of autolysis, showing dry spice (turmeric) nuance to the yellow apple fruit. On the palate, the mousse is fine and nicely supportive and held within is dense, spiced, earthy structure. Great sustain of life and energy here. And there’s lasting acidic grip. A delicious wine with a fabulous lemon thrust.
Decanter Tasting Note: "Lovely creamy aromas balanced with aromatic strawberry notes. Great palate of fragrant stewed strawberries, red cherry and a hint of sour rhubarb. Long, profound length, with minerality adding to the complexity." 97 points.
2014 Meunier Brut Blanc de Noirs, Fox & Fox
£162 in bond per 6 Drink 2019-2024
N.B. This has 34+ months of lees. 5% Chardonnay, the rest Pinot Meunier. Awarded Gold by IWSC (International Wine & Spirit Challenge) in 2018 and by The IEWA (Independent English Wine Awards) in 2019.
Nose here is a rich, nutty thing showing excellent autolysis allied to aromas of spice. The bead is fine, but contributes structure. There is really firm citrus acidity at the core of this wine, along with dense, clay-like grip. Cut apple and mineral flavours. This is a very, very long wine and very energetic with it. Fabulous density and vim. A direct thing, really quite saline. The mousse becomes softer as it warms, then suddenly a very fruity flavour is introduced at the back: red fruit and ginger spice.
Judges’ Comments from IEWA 2019: “Almond stone with splendid acidity”; “Lovely developed nose of brioche. Good mouth texture, vibrant acidity.”; “Nose is distinctly champagne-like with biscuit/nutty undertones. Pleasing bitterness on the lengthy finish”; “Long finish, well rounded”; “Very pleasant, balanced and English. Distinct. Almonds and soft stone fruit. Definitive length which would pair well with food. Still tasting it and enjoying the mouth feel”
We can also offer the 2013 Tradition at the same price. I haven't tasted it but we would be happy to supply mixed cases for those wanting a full Fox & Fox experience:
Mixed Case of Fox & Fox Wines
2 bottles of the 2014 Meunier
2 bottles each of the 2013 and 2014 Tradition
£162 in bond per 6
2013 Tradition - Gold medal winner Glass of Bubbly Awards 2018; Silver medal winner IEWA 2017; Silver medal DWWA (Decanter World Wine Awards) 2017.
Decanter Tasting Note: "Red apples and ripe lemons with bready and yeasty notes. The palate has a perfect marriage of acid with dosage." 90 points.
Click on any of the wines names, or email Caspar, to order.