Balfour – An English Wine Leader
Balfour plantings began in 2002 on the Hush Heath Estate and within a few years had picked up their first award for the 2004 Vintage Balfour Brut Rosé. This was produced in just 10,000 bottles but had given Balfour all the prestige it needed to become what it is today. Not only did it strike gold at the International Wine Challenge, but it was also the first English Sparkling to be served on British Airways First Class and the only English Wine at the London Olympics 2012. As you can see it’s got quite a name for itself.
The Balfour tour
I visited Balfour winery back in September 2023, perhaps foolishly not doing any official tastings or winery tours, but just doing the self-guided vineyard tour and heading to the lunch area for a generous flight, a little more wine, and lunch. A new restaurant has recently opened up which is supposed to be fantastic to treat yourself to.
Balfour proudly proclaims themselves the “UK’s best vineyards to visit” and on visiting you might get a good idea of why. Arriving by train (we weren’t going to drive with all that wine on offer), they have a regular shuttle bus to and from the local station to get you there, making it that bit easier. Once there, we were able to set ourselves off on the vineyard walk in no time. You sort of say “hello, we are doing the guided tour”, they hand you a map and like that you’re off into rows of vines, orchards (for their cider) and ancient woodland. I’d say the easy route of the walk takes about 30-40 mins but we did get off the beaten track to go check out what Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Bacchus grapes look like when on the vine. Well, that was mainly for me. The walk is really just a great warm up to the big tasting event through the countryside.
We got back to the winery and under the outdoor covering at just the right time as it began to tip it down not long after. It was funny watching people run back from halfway up the vineyard and beyond! But that sight was quickly distracted from as our flights arrived. The flight gives you 6 wines: The Brut Rose 2018, Liberty’s Bacchus, Cinque Ports, Blanc de Noirs 2019, Skye’s Chardonnay and Leslie’s Reserve NV. The flight also came with a handy strip of card giving you details about the aromas, flavours and grapes in the glass. I’ll break down the wines in order as best my memory serves:
How does Balfour taste?
Balfour Brut Rose - Made from the 3 classic Champagne varieties, the esteemed wine was, as expected, very good indeed. It reflected the richer side of red fruits such as cranberry and blackcurrant on the nose, even going towards sloe berry. The palate carried this through nicely with the addition of orange notes and blackcurrant leaf.
Liberty’s Bacchus - This is Balfour’s wine to showcase one of England’s top white grapes. Interestingly the wine had a notable green tinge which gives an indication of depth. The wine was intensely aromatic too. Apple, grass, gooseberry, passionfruit and elderflower were backed up by spice and Turkish delight. Acidity was bracing and refreshing which paired very well with the surprisingly full mouthfeel.
Cinque Ports - Perhaps my favourite of the day was this still wine made from all 5 of the white Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Petite Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Fromenteau, Arbanne). I suspect it most appealed to me thanks to 9 months lees ageing as well giving flavours of nougat, coconut and pastry. It was also distinctly floral with honeysuckle and orange blossom coming through nicely. This is truly delicious.
Blanc de Noirs - A white fizz made from the only two black Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Displaying some ripe red fruit flavours such as blackcurrant and plum, it had some tangerine and lime zest adding a rich layer to fruits. A streak of minerality and citrus through the core of the palate make it very moreish.
Skye’s Chardonnay - Made from Burgundy clones, it is a great expression of unoaked Chardonnay with 8 months lees ageing behind it. The nose screams Chablis with a very steely character accompanied by semi-sour green apple, lemon and lime and a hint of grapefruit. A herbaceous, sweet thyme and catnip underly this too. The creaminess from the lees ageing comes through more strongly on the palate which helps round out the high acidity and citrus character whilst the finish has a lovely saline lick to leave you asking for more.
Leslie’s Reserve Brut - This is rather classic as Champagne method sparkling goes and is a great benchmark for how good English sparkling is these days. Citrus fruit, green apple and brioche are lifted by a hint of spice and a herbaceous undertone. It is poised and refined.
I can also strongly recommend the Balfour Pinot Noir which combines dried herbs and red cherry flavours very nicely for red drinkers who like a little more complexity to their Pinots. On the white front, Balfour ‘The White’ is a great Sauvignon lovers alternative with gooseberry, passion fruit, mango, lemon, lime and grapefruit abounding.
Updated 16th January 2024