An English Wine tour like no other: Part 2 – Simpsons
If you missed part 1, you can start by clicking here.
After a ready heady start at Gusbourne, Simpsons Wine Estate was the next stop, with their famously limited Q Class Pinot and Chardonnay on the menu. Located in the small, quintessential English village of Barham, just outside of Canterbury, it provided a nice quiet spot to tour the vineyards.
We met Henry Rymill, sales and events manager, to show us around. A short walk to the first vineyard, the iconic Roman Road vineyard, was filled with details about trellising, chalky soils, frost prevention, grape varieties and so on. The pigs near the entrance seemed to enjoy the company too. It was made all the better as we got to taste a Chardonnay from this vineyard later on.
The next vineyard we visited was further afield and required a car to get us there. It was the famous Railway Hill Vineyard, where the grapes for the Q Class wines are picked. So named for the old Q Class train which used to trundle beneath it. It was a large sloping vineyard with fantastic views over the Kentish countryside. As we made our way back, Henry gave us a bit of insight into the Q class wines as well where we found there were only 1000 bottles made of each (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and they were only in Magnum format.
Once back at the winery we headed up to the rather luxurious tasting room (complete with a slide down to the winery itself). We kicked off with sparkling, the 2019 Canterbury Rose Brut, which evoked strawberries and cream beautifully. The follow up was the 2018 White Cliffs Blanc de Blancs, their second release, which had spent 36 months on its lees giving it a really punchy, weighty backbone. It displayed lovely citrus fruits and toasted brioche as you’d expect from a Champagne lookalike with a lengthy, mineral finish.
After the fizz we moved to still wine. Besides the Q Class wines, my standout here was the white (blancs de noirs) Derringstone Pinot Meunier, which has switched between a rose and white wine in recent years depending on the ripeness of the grapes. It did have a hint of pink about the colour, but barely perceptible. Why did it stand out? It was incredibly floral and aromatic, reminding me of some Greek whites like Moschofilero. On top of that, it was full of orchard fruits and red berries. It wasn’t just interesting and novel, it was genuinely complex and delicious too. The Roman Road Chardonnay from the vineyard we had visited was next on the list. Made with a Burgundian clone, it had all the hallmarks of great Chardonnay. Peach, honeysuckle and lemon were lifted with some oaky textured vanilla and hazelnut notes, whilst a classically English mineral finish capped it off.
Then of course the main event was due. Both magnums of Q Class were brought out with some anticipation, possibly made all the more exciting by the vast quantity of alcohol consumed throughout the day. I couldn’t say. Given only 1000 bottles of each had been made, it was nice to make a small dent on the stocks too. Q Class wines are only made in the best of years, these being 2020, and Simpsons even go to the length of hand sealing their bottles with wax. If the Roman Road was a fine Burgundian example, The Q Class Chardonnay was the Grand Cru version. Full of tropical fruit from pineapple and mango to citrus notes of lime and lemon which were wrapped up in a nutty, caramel cloak. The Pinot was equally Grand Cru Burgundy, and, for me, even better than the Chardonnay. This led to some sadness when Henry informed us the Pinot Noir bottles had all been sold. I suppose there were only 1000. It was elegant, powerful and structured with ample herbaceous complexity and a deep layer of red and black fruit. Smoothly integrated tannin and crisp acidity really combined on the finish to enhance the flavour profile and let the wine linger.
Sadly the tour was at an end, but not before taking the slide down into the winery itself and enjoying a quick walkthrough. Stay tuned for the final part of English wine tasting next week!