The lowdown on vintage wines and non-vintage wines

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Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine Bottles

We make many different styles of sparkling wine, each with its own unique Ridgeview recipe. Yet we also release our wines in ranges to make it easier for you to choose between them all. Perhaps the most useful distinction is between our Signature non-vintage wines and our Limited Edition vintage wines. But what do these terms mean and how do they affect what’s in the bottle?

Read on for all the answers…

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine, 3 Bottles in front of racked bottles behind

What is vintage sparkling wine?

In technical terms, it’s quite simple to define what any vintage sparkling wine is. It’s a sparkling wine made from grapes grown exclusively in the year shown on the label.

They are, as our Head Winemaker Simon Roberts puts it, “wines made to celebrate the uniqueness of a particular year in the vineyard”.


What is non-vintage sparkling wine?

The basic definition of non-vintage wines (NVs) is sparkling wines made using grapes grown in different years. To be more precise, they’re a combination of base wines from the current vintage and ‘reserve wine’, a stock of base wines stored up over many years and replenished year on year for future releases. 

Our library of reserve wines is a mix of previous vintages, all stored together in tank and topped up annually, in a simplified version of the Sherry solera system. We can also make sparkling wines by assembling archive wines from a number of specific vintages. These are known as multi-vintage wines and are a very different proposition from NVs.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Blancs held up in front of bottles in our cellar

Why do we make vintage sparkling wines?

Every year in the vineyard is different. For Simon, the joy of making vintage wine lies in the potential for these wines to “tell the unique story of the growing year”.

This is particularly exciting for wines such as Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs, which is always made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown on our estate. 

With non-vintage wines, we have the freedom to select grapes grown in vineyards over a wide geographical area, to help us achieve a consistent and recognisable house style. With our Blanc de Blancs, the focus is purely on what happened here at Ridgeview, to a specific set of vines on a specific plot of land, and all of the climatic variations they faced that year. 

The entire story of the year is locked up in the grapes that come into the winery, and we intervene as little as possible to tell that story.

“Our Blanc de Blancs is all about the fruit profile – the style is always fruit-focused. We want this to be the main character that shines through the wine in every vintage and we basically do as little as possible to the grapes to achieve that”, says Simon.

5 Things you need to know about Blanc de Blancs
Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine, Cavendish bottle held in hands with tattoos, watches and red nail varnish

Why do we make non vintage wines?

We mentioned the term ‘house style’ above. This is what we’re looking to deliver in our non-vintage wines, such as Ridgeview Cavendish NV. Unlike vintage wines, the ultimate goal of NVs is a reassuringly familiar sparkling wine in every bottle you open.

So how do we achieve that familiarity, working with different base wines for every release? The secret is in how we select and blend those base wines together. This is the alchemy that turned NVs like Cavendish into gold!

In terms of grape varieties, the proportions for Cavendish are typically a fairly even split of the Champagne trio – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – grown in carefully selected vineyards around South East England. This may be at odds with the cult of estate wines that has taken root in English winemaking, but it’s in line with the Champagne model, where the top houses select the best grapes from around the region, purely in service of quality and consistency.

When we blend, the overarching aim is to use around a [66/34] ratio of new wines to reserve wines. With each batch, we subtly tinker with the formula to reach that sweet spot of consistency. Fortunately we have plenty of ingredients to work with: Simon estimates that well over 20 different base wines go into Cavendish NV.

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Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine in a glass

What to expect from the two styles

Vintage wines are less immediate and more complex than NVs. They’re not for everyone because they demand more attention”, says Simon. One of the reasons for this complexity is the extent of lees ageing in wines like our Blanc de Blancs. 

Our vintage wines spend at least three years resting on their lees (the expired yeast cells responsible for the second in-bottle fermentation – see our recent blog post on how English sparkling wine is made for more).

During this time they develop the ‘autolytic’ notes which dovetail so beautifully with the primary fruit characters – the hallmark of this style. And three years is the bare minimum: we may age our Blanc de Blancs for far longer, only releasing when the balance between lemon-citrus and toasted brioche is at its most elegant. 

By contrast, says Simon, “NVs are a lot more accessible. They’re made to be familiar and they’re ready to drink any time.” This is partly due to shorter lees ageing – typically 18 months – resulting in a more obviously fruity style. With Cavendish NV, you can expect a real depth of red-fruit flavours, plus almond aromas and subtle spice notes.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine Magnum Blanc de Blancs in front of our Chardonnay Vineyard and a bespoke gift box

Are vintage wines better than non vintage wines?

“Vintage wines aren’t superior wines to NVs at all. With NVs, you know what to expect and that brings its own pleasure. They’re different wines for different purposes, different occasions”, says Simon. 

Vintage sparkling wines arguably carry more prestige and you can always expect to pay a premium for them. But the reasons for this are largely economic. 

For one thing, they’re made in far smaller quantities: the number of bottles of Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs we can make is restricted to how many grapes we can harvest from a single vineyard each year.

On top of this, it simply takes more time to make vintage wines, and all those extra years ageing in our sustainable underground cellars don’t come for free!

However, in terms of craft, it’s NVs that come out on top. As Simon says, the aim with vintage wines is to let the grapes express the qualities of the year, which means less oenological tinkering. NVs, on the other hand, require more active care and attention in the winery to achieve that all-important house style.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine enjoyed at a summer party with a couple smiling (2)

Wines for every occasion

Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs and Cavendish NV are both undoubtedly celebration wines. But of course, some moments are more celebratory than others! Our Blanc de Blancs is definitely worth opening on big occasions, like King Charles’ first State Banquet at Buckingham Place where our 2015 vintage was served.

You have plenty of time to pick your moments too. Vintage sparkling wine ages gracefully for many years, so it’s as rewarding on, say, your 10th anniversary as it is on your wedding day. But as Simon points out, this isn’t to say it’s only for the big occasion. “This summer, one thing I’m really looking forward to is taking a bottle of 2018 Blanc de Blancs to the beach with fish and chips. It’s pretty much the perfect combination.”

And Cavendish NV? “It’s one of our more food-friendly wines – great with a roast, really good with canapés and charcuterie too.” Like all great non-vintage wines, its charms may be a little more everyday, but they’re no less pleasurable for it.

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We are proud sponsors of The Beauty Show Live (at the Business Design Centre in London on 20 and 21 September 2024). Brought to you by the producers of Marie Claire, woman&home and Who What Wear, this brand new event celebrates everything the beauty industry has to offer all under one roof. VIP tickets include full access to the Ridgeview VIP lounge with complimentary beauty treatments, a premium beauty box, a free glass of Ridgeview sparkling wine and so much more…

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