Twenty years ago Le Mont restaurant opened at the top of Urbis. Aspirational dining in the Manchester building that most symbolised renewal in the aftermath of the IRA bombing. I was a beneficiary of this bright new dawn, accompanying chef Robert Kisby and his team on a pre-launch photoshoot in the Bollinger Cellars and vineyards. The tie-in? Spreading the glitzy glad tidings that Le Mont was to host the first Bolly bar outside London.
It all came rushing back the other evening on the 19th floor rooftop terrace of 20 Stories, with its stupendous view across the city (Le Mont at half at the height was hindered by the architect’s choice of window frosting). In my hand was a glass of bubbly, but not Champagne. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée to accompany some canapés. Cementing the brand’s partnership with the glamorous restaurant/bar du jour. The link is due in no small part, I suspect, to the arrival of D&D London’s northern head sommelier Andreas Rosendal (pictured above), an English Wine regional judge for the Decanter Magazine Awards.
The country’s sparkling wine has undoubtedly been spearheaded by Nyetimber, created by pioneering Americans who had made their fortunes in the dental industry. They saw the potential in a Sussex terroir not unlike Champagne. Did they also anticipate the boost climate change might bring to the ripening process?
The first Nyetimber vines were planted above Pulborough in 1988, the debut harvest was four years later and then Eureka! The first wine, the 100 per cent Chardonnay 1992 Premiere Cuvée Blanc de Blancs won gold at the 1997 International Wine and Spirit Competition. It was the springboard for a procession of awards as Nyetimber expanded to blend the full range of Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.
I sampled the current version of Blanc de Blancs (£18.50) during our visit to the vine-strewn terrace of 20 Stories. It was gorgeous. I concur with the tasting note of one of the sommelier team, Callum Black: “Aromas of citrus and honeysuckle lead into subtle brioche and vanilla characters. The palate offers generous yet elegant notes of baked lemon and white peach with the warmth of the vintage shining through. Subtle mineral notes accentuate the fresh, crisp acidity, leading to a long and complex finish.”
Over the years the Nyetimber operation has changed hands. There was an obvious chuckle to be had when it was sold to Andy and Nichola Hill, best known for writing the Eurovision winner, Making Your Mind Up, for Bucks Fizz (sic). But the real push towards Nyetimber’s current eminence came when ex-venture capitalist Eric Heerema bought it fr £7.4m in 2006 and soon installed Canadian duo Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix as winemakers. They’re still there, sourcing grapes from over 260 hectares of vineyards (with on stream a further 70 hectares planted across various sites).
It’s big business. Millions of pounds have been invested in a new winery and state of the art equipment with yearly production predicted to reach 2 million bottle by 2025. Yet when Robin Skelton, for his 2019 book, The Wines of Great Britain, asked Heerema if there was a profit on the horizon he replied: “Yes, but not yet within our grasp.”
Skelton admires this single-minded dedication to quality and so do I. Impressive though the early wines were, they are far more impressive now, underpinning classic bread and apples on the nose with a distinctive tinge of mushroominess, then freshness on the palate and great length, even at entry level (they also now offer daringly expensive prestige versions).
According to Jancis Robinson’s magisterial website the Classic Cuvée regularly gets better scores than non-vintage equivalents from Roederer, Pol Roger and, yes, Bollinger. So still more than holding their own against burgeoning number UK claimants for the UK sparkling crown – Gusbourne, Rathfinny, Wiston and the rest. My own favourite in The Trouble With Dreams from Dermot Sugrue’s boutique South Downs operation. He severed a 16 year connection with Wiston this year and was once winemaker at Nyetimber. Dynastic? Who would have ever have believed in such a wondrous world of bubbles.
20 Stories’ Vineyard in the Sky promotion continues with the Classic Cuvée at £14.95 a glass with five other Nyetimbers right up to the Prestige Cuvee 1086 Rosé at £330 a bottle.
A good chance to sample the range and match with food comes on Thursday, September 29. Th venue is offering a four course ‘End of Summer Dinner’, wines included, for £70 a head. Book here.