English sparkling wine is now a global player. Fiona Beckett picks the best for summer 2015
The problem about these endless “awareness” days and weeks is that it’s all too easy to miss them. To those of you who were expecting a piece on English wine in the runup to last month’s English wine week, all I can say is, “Sorry, totally passed me by.” But obviously that doesn’t mean I can’t write about the stuff now, especially seeing that next week marks the start of that all-English sporting occasion, Wimbledon.
Not having been for years, I have no idea what Wimbledon offers at its catering facilities these days, but it should by rights be doing its bit to promote English wine. Especially fizz, which is getting better every year. The latest releases, many based on the excellent 2010 vintage, picked up an impressive 14 gold medals in the 2015 International Wine Challenge; it was good, too, to see some new names alongside pioneers such as Gusbourne and Nyetimber.
One good example is Court Garden, near Ditchling in Sussex, which won a trophy for its elegant, creamy, 100% chardonnay Blanc de Blancs 2010 £24.95 South Down Cellars, £25 Butlers Wine Cellar; 12% abv). I also love Court Garden’s rich Ditchling Reserve (£29.95, same stockists; 12% abv), a weighty blanc de noirs (a sparkling wine made with dark-skinned grapes). Also from Sussex, there’s the rich, toasty Bluebell Hindleap Blanc de Blancs 2010 (£23.99 from the winery; 12% abv) which is one to drink with grilled lobster, if you’re feeling decadent
For a lighter, fresher, more canapé-nibbling and Wimbledon-watching style, try the crisp Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV (£28.50 Fareham Wine Cellar, or £26.95 from Berry Bros if you buy six or more; 12% abv), from Hampshire. It’s an indication of how seriously English fizz is now being taken that Hambledon’s winemaker, Hervé Jestin, used to be chef de cave for champagne house Duval Leroy.
Talking of the c-word, it won’t have escaped your notice that these wines are not significantly cheaper than champagne, although English sparkling wine producers don’t seem to slap quite as hefty a mark-up on their rosés as their French rivals do: the elegant, strawberry-scented Langham Estate Rosé (12% abv) from Dorset, say, is only £23, though it could easily pass for rosé champagne. Marks & Spencer has just taken it on in 18 branches.
The great thing about English fizz is that, as the vines mature, it’s getting better and better. Most people would already be hard pushed to tell it apart from champagne, and I’m betting that in five to 10 years many of us will choose it for preference.
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