Sparkling Wine & Champagne: £14-£20
The Champenois no longer dominate at this price category like they once did, and there were some unusual competitors happy to steal their thunder
This price category used, traditionally, to be dominated by non-vintage Champagne, which would regularly yield Golds at the £15 level. Price rises in Champer-land, however, have had a real impact on this section, making the drink far less dominant here than it used to be. Last year, for instance, saw the only Gold go to the Australian Brown Bros Pinot/Chardonnay.
It may not all be Champagne any more, but it was really heartening to see a strong presence from UK sparkling wine for the first time – and to see entries in this price band still growing strongly.
‘It was pretty mixed in style and standard. We had everything from very little bottle ageing, fruity styles through to lots of wines with bottle age and some wood ageing – and everything in between,’ said the The Tate Group’s Hamish Anderson.
And of course, there were times when a winery’s ambition outstripped its ability to deliver. ‘Some of them were chancing their arm a bit with the pricing,’ said consultant Angela Reddin, with more dryness than was shown by some of the entrants.
‘Some wines were knocked out because of their price,’ added River Café’s Emily O'Hare. ‘I liked them, but I wouldn’t pay that much.’
Although most of the wines here would be drunk on their own, at the upper price levels the tasters had food-friendliness as a consideration, and the Gold medal-winning wines all showed that.
Edouard Brun 1er Cru Reserve NV, for instance, was quite tight and fresh, but felt to be a good match with smoked salmon or smoked halibut.
The Ridgeview Knightsbridge Blanc de Noirs 2009, meanwhile, with its faint pinkish tinge was one of the outstanding wines not just of the entire Sparkling section but of the competition as a whole. Last year the winery’s Blanc de Blancs picked up a Silver, but the Knightsbridge left the judges in no doubt at all.
‘That’s one of my star wines. I absolutely love it,’ said The French Table’s Sarah Guignard. ‘It has this peche de vigne quality, or pink grapefruit, white flowers. The acidity was spot-on too.’
The fact that it became English wine’s first ever Critics’ Choice recipient was not the only big story in this section, though, with the Majella Sparkling Shiraz becoming the first fizzy red to get a Gold.
‘I just love the flavours,’ said The Glasshouse’s Sara Bachiorri. ‘There’s a lot going on. A touch of sweetness, but perfectly balanced – smokiness, spices. That’s a really exciting wine.’
‘You can get some simple sparklers at lower prices. At £14-£20 you’ve really got to step it up. People are happy to pay under £10 or over £20, but here you’ve got to be almost as good as over £20 to sell.’ Emily O’Hare, River Café