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English Sparkling Wine

First time out in a category of their own, and English sparklers put in a hugely impressive performance, winning over even the most sceptical sommeliers

Giving English fizz its own category was a gamble. Not only would poor results have been ‘nowhere to hide’ obvious, but the sommeliers knowing the wines were English might not always have worked to the entrants’ advantage.

Last year, for instance, one eminent taster assumed that one wine was so ‘thin, green and acidic’ that it had to be from the UK’s sun-starved shores. On checking the codes, it turned out to be a Champagne…

So, how would things pan out? Well, pretty nicely actually. There’s a tendency to think of English sparklers as Champagne-like in style, but in fact, once all this year’s entries were lined up it became obvious quite quickly that there were myriad styles here, from floral, aromatic, hedgerow-type wines to those walking a knife edge between edgy fruit and sugar.

Interestingly, our tasters’ caveats were less about the wines themselves, which were positively received, than with having to overcome customer wariness. Despite the whole ‘eat and drink local’ movement, and the Olympics/Wills ‘n’ K Middy-inspired ‘Isn’t Britain Marvellous’ summer of 2012, the trade, it seems, is still a fair way ahead of the consumer when it comes to English wine. 

‘When we’ve done English sparkling tastings and the winemaker has come in, everyone is really impressed. But unless you’re going to do it by the glass, it’s a little intimidating,’ said Vivat Bacchus’s Laura Ward.

Even Garry Clark, from the decidedly upmarket Chester Grosvenor agreed. ‘For people to pay as much as they would for Champagne, they need to know that it’s going to be very good,’ he said.

Fortunately, our tasters were big enough not to let this bother them too much, finding three excellent wines for the list – one of which, the Jenkyn Place, scooped a Food Match (fish and chips, natch) and Critics’ Choice as well, delivering freshness, elegance and ‘Englishness’ at a great price.

‘This is fresh and easy drinking,’ said Bread Street Kitchen’s Ram Chhetri. ‘It meets the expectation of English sparkling wine for many people; perfect for a refreshing glass in the summer.’

Henner’s Brut 2009 vintage ‘shouted out English sparkling wine’ for the tasters, its freshness given added complexity by a hint of autolysis. ‘This matches the hype in the quality of the wine; being from England is simply a bonus,’ said Tom Forrest of Vinopolis. It made a successful competition for the Sussex winery, which also picked up a Gold for its 2010 Rosé.

Ridgeview, meanwhile, followed up Gold for its 2009 Blanc de Noirs at last year’s competition with a top award for its Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs in 2013. At a touch under £20 it even won over the French sommeliers, who probably drink vintage Champagne for breakfast.

‘Complex, complete, showing concentration and elegance, this could easily be mistaken for a vintage Champagne,’ approved Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie. ‘At the price, this would be a fantastic wine, with a lot of attitude, to show people how good English sparkling wine can be.’

‘The medal winners were a very impressive flight with a lot of complexity showing. It was good to see the wines coming through on quality, not just a sense of patriotic duty.’
Julien Sahut, China Tang