Every January, our winemaking team eagerly anticipate blind-tasting the base wines from our most recent harvest. This annual ritual sees the team take meticulous note of colour, aroma, acidity, overall flavour profiles and specific characteristics. Precious data that, combined with skill and experience, helps to identify which wines to blend and craft into that year’s vintage. And every now and then, something they taste stops them in their tracks.

“When we do our blind tastings,” says Head Winemaker Charlie Holland, “we occasionally come across a young base wine that makes us think, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting. Different. Unique.’” In January 2016, when the team were blind-tasting the 2015 wines, there were a couple of barrels that did just that. “They really stood out as something special. Something we could – and should – try something new with,” Charlie recalls.

That something new was fermenting and ageing sparkling wine in just French oak barrels. Nothing new in the world of wine per se – oak barrels have been used in the storage and transportation of wine since Roman times. In more recent centuries, winemakers began to discover that oak added flavour and aroma, while also providing ideal conditions for secondary malolactic fermentation – the metabolic process that converts tart, astringent malic acid into creamy, mellow lactic acid.

Oak ageing imparts a roundness, weightiness and creaminess, alongside hints of vanilla, toast and subtle spice, to wines. And in the secondary fermentation – the prise de mousse as winemakers call it – certain characteristics of the younger wine can be amplified in oak. “This part of the process sort of hones everything already present in the wine,” says Charlie. This is in part due to the porosity of the barrels, which slowly allows small amounts of oxygen into the vessel, mellowing the texture of the wine.

In still wines, for example, oak ageing translates to a toasty, full-bodied Chardonnay or a silky, subtly spicy Pinot Noir. Of course oak ageing isn’t unheard-of in sparkling wines – many of the Champagne region’s grand maisons use oak. And at Gusbourne we use a selection of wines aged in oak barrels as part of our expertly blended vintage sparkling wines. But until now, had we never made a single-barrel, oak-aged sparkling Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs.

Within these two particular barrels of 2015 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, certain characteristics piqued Charlie’s interest – and his natural predisposition for innovation. After repeated tastings, the team decided to bottle these wines as single-barrel expressions to create something “really unique, really special.”

In our 2015 Oak Barrel Aged Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs, the combination of oak, lees and malolactic fermentation, then over five years on lees, has delivered a fusion of freshness, oak and extended lees-ageing complexity. “These wines are very different from our signature Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs, where we might use up to 10% oak-aged wine in a blend – these are 100%. Obviously the oak barrel is just a fermentation vessel, but it does have a tremendous influence on the finished wine. These two sparkling wines really are very special and deeply individual.”

The result is a very limited release of two exceptional single-barrel sparkling wines: Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2015 and Gusbourne Blanc de Noirs 2015. Just a barrel of each. Fermented in French oak barrels and on their lees for a minimum of 64 months before disgorgement. True artisanal creations, highly crafted, that showcase two unique stories of one exceptional vintage year. 

Oak Barrel Aged Blanc de Blancs 2015

This 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine was made from grapes grown in our Cherry Garden vineyard in Kent. It was fermented and aged in Oak Barrel Seven, an old 228l barrique from a Bordeaux cooperage. Like our signature Blanc de Blancs, it’s bright gold in colour, with a fine, persistent mousse. On the nose, you’ll find aromas of white stone fruit, ripe pear, toasted hazelnuts, which all carry through to the palate. This fresh and elegant wine earns its complexity, richness and weight from the barrel ageing, which also brings hints of spice, a buttery toastiness and a long, rounded finish. Unique, elegant, generous.

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Oak Barrel Aged Blanc de Noirs 2015 

The first small crop of Pinot Noir from our Down Field vineyard (planted in 2013) was the genesis of this bottling. Fermentation happened in Oak Barrel One, an old French oak barrique. Golden in colour, with a fine and persistent mousse, this wine intrigues with aromas of red apple, white nectarine and candied peel. Silky in texture, this wine bursts with notes of raspberry, red cherry and white peach, giving way to floral hints combined with spice, toasted nuts, liquorice and pastry in its long, complex finish. Complex, opulent, expressive.

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