British sparkling wine has a reputation for exceptional quality and is an award-winning local product that operators would do well to champion. Roger Jones rounds up some of the best
The British are now producing sparkling wine that is setting the wine world alight and that no longer has to play second fiddle to French champagne.
In recent years, British vineyards have won numerous accolades, including the Bollicine del Monde, the Decanter Trophy and the International Wine Challenge Trophy. That’s no mean feat considering not so long ago UK wines were the butt of jokes. As Peter Ustinov once said: “I imagine hell like Italian punctuation, German humour and English wine.”
But now British sparkling wine has broken onto wine lists at some of the UK’s top restaurants, where it is becoming increasingly popular by the glass. Chefs might be banging the drums for bespoke British produce, but many restaurants are missing out on a world-class wine product right on their doorstep.
There are few places that can emulate the soil and climate in the south east of England, which is perfect for producing grapes for sparkling wine. Leading the way is Nyetimber, with its vineyard in West Chiltington, West Sussex, which produces wine to rival the best Champagne. The wine making is led by Cherie Spriggs, who famously decided in 2012 not to make any wine at all, rather than produce a sub-standard product.
This year, Nyetimber released a single vineyard sparkling called Tillington from the 2009 vintage. Only 2,000 bottles were made and this wine has received rave reviews – even in France. A further vintage will be released from the 2010 crop.
Consumers are increasingly keen to support British wines and are realising they can be proud of their nation’s produce without compromising on quality. Here we round up the qualities of the best of British sparkling.
Nyetimber, West Sussex
Nyetimber classic cuvee 2009
Made from the ‘classic’ three Champagne grape varieties – 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier – this pale golden wine has great clarity and very fine bubbles. It offers some melon and apricot nuances with hints of brioche, a continuous clean freshness and aromas of wild flowers.
Without question one of the finest sparkling wines available, this slightly off-dry wine gives a lovely rich mouth feel. With hints of preserved lemon and tangerine, this honeyed and minerally wine with its crisp finish is a perfect accompaniment to a foie gras dish or sashimi with a hint of spice.
The rest of the stable includes Rosé 2009, Tillington Single Vineyard 2009 and Blanc de Blancs 2007.
The suppliers are Liberty and Corks Out.
Dermot Sugrue makes just one sparkling wine from this vineyard. He has been making some of the best sparkling wines in the UK for a decade, including a stint at Nyetimber. This personal project of his, mainly using grapes from a one-hectare vineyard in Storrington, has been an instant success, with his first vintage (2009) selling out overnight.
The current vintage, Sugrue-Pierre Brut 2010, captures the purity and elegance from chalk-grown Chardonnay and Pinot grapes.
For the technically minded, a small proportion of this wine was fermented and aged in old Burgundian oak barrels, with the remainder in stainless steel with full malolactic fermentation. The wine was bottled without filtration and was aged on its lees for between two to three years before disgorging with just eight grammes per litre of dosage.
The supplier is Hallgarten Druitt.
Wiston Estate Winery, Sussex
Dermot Sugrue’s main job is head of winemaking at Wiston Estate, where he produces the estate’s sparkling wines, but he is also the contract winemaker for other vineyards.
Wiston’s wines have been signed up by Corney & Barrow, the exclusive distributer, and it sells the wine in all of its 12 sites.
The Cuvée Brut is a low-dosage, 100% barrel-fermented assemblage of all three varieties, while the 2011 rosé, which will be poured by the glass, is a stunning example of what is possible in England in a warm vintage.
Later this year sees the release of Wiston’s long-awaited range of non-vintage wines, entitled Goring NV, after the family who has farmed this beautiful estate on the South Downs for more than 250 years.
The supplier is Hallgarten Druitt.
Ancre Hill Estates, Monmouth, Wales
Away from the glory boys down in the south east, this picture-postcard vineyard in Monmouth, Wales, has been turning heads and winning the Bollicine del Monde last year for the best sparkling wine in the world.
Current releases include the Ancre Hill Sparkling Rosé 2009 (made from Chardonnay and Pinot), which has the hallmarks of a classic Champagne in depth of flavour and elegance.
The Ancre Hill Sparkling (Seyval Blanc) 2009 is the last year Seyval Blanc was used, with more recent vintages being made from Chardonnay and Pinot.
The estate has been biodynamic since 2011 and has just built its own winery.
Balfour, Hush Heath, Kent
Based in Kent, one-time Malmaison owner Richard Balfour-Lynn and his wife Leslie are the founders of Hush Heath Estate, which was created in 2001 when they acquired the 400 acres of farmland and orchards that surround their family home, Hush Heath Manor.
The vineyard was planted the following year. The head wine maker is Owen Elias, previously head wine maker at Chapel Down, and he works with Victoria Ash, one of Britain’s top wine makers.
The vineyard is probably best known for its Balfour Sparkling Rosé, which hit new heights when it was named as the pouring wine for British Airways’ first-class customers.
The 2009 rosé is a fantastic wine, offering a deep colour and rich shortbread aromas followed by a lovely orange citrus flavour with hints of white chocolate and ripe strawberries.
Gusbourne Estate sits on the low slopes of the ancient Kentish escarpment at Appledore. The extensive 200-hectare estate is on a single site, with 20 hectares under vine cultivation with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. A further 10 hectares of Champagne clone vines are planned, with the construction of a multimillion-pound winery to follow.
The estate consists of south-facing slopes, ensuring that for most of the summer the vines bask in a warm and dry local microclimate. Together with the clay and sandy soils, these help ensure exceptional quality grapes.
Recent successes include gold and silver awards for three sparkling wines: Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2009, Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2009 and Gusbourne Rosé 2010. The sparkling rosé is of exceptional quality, very pale pink in colour, with hints of strawberry, rhubarb and cranberry on the palate. All the wines have a very delicate sparkle which give them serious vintage Champagne style.
Champagne v British sparkling wine
Most English and Welsh sparkling wines are vintage, with 2009 and 2010 being the current vintage. Comparing these to vintage Champagne clearly sees a major cost saving.
When you compare British sparkling wine to standard non-vintage Champagne, there are few who would doubt or challenge the quality of our home-produced product.
Not just for Christmas
These are high-quality, aged wines, which are a perfect match with food or just as an aperitif. Sales can be encouraged by offering these wines by the glass
in smaller measures, such as 100ml and 125ml – this helps to make the product more appealing and cost-effective.
Matching Sparkling wine
• Sparkling rosé Don’t be boring and match it with desserts. This style is perfect with milk-fed lamb, shellfish, such as tempura lobster and, of course, roast turkey.
demi-sec The first option would be foie gras, try matching it with sashimi or carpaccio of sea bass.
• Sparkling This goes well with grilled fish, especially plaice or sole, or with English grey leg partridge.