Jokes aside, England sparkles

27 August, 2008
Page 25 
Gone are the days when the mere concept of English wine was guaranteed to get a laugh. Sparkling wines from England are beginning to gain currency and are even being taken seriously in the home of quality fizz, France.

At the annual English Wine Producers tasting on April 23 in London the sparkling wines put in a strong show . Particularly of note was the range of rosÚs, even some of those not made from the classic French varietals.

The top names - Ridgeview, Nyetimber, Denbies, Camel Valley - are all known in the trade, and in March the UK's premium supermarket Waitrose announced plans to plant vineyards in Hampshire, primarily with the intention of producing its own sparkling wine.

All English Quality Sparkling Wine is produced by the traditional method and subject to full analysis. "It's something we're quite proud of," says Julia Trustram Eve, marketing manager of generic body English Wine Producers. "New hectarage is mostly being planted for sparkling wine, and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are now in the top three planted varieties."

Competition success is becoming the norm, with Ridgeview's Merret Fitzrovia 2004 RosÚ taking the Jean Feraud trophy for Best International Sparkling RosÚ at Le Mondial du RosÚ in France last year, and the same producer's Merret Bloomsbury 2004 a Silver at both the IWC and IWSC competitions in the UK.

Dutch entrepreneur Eric Heerema has invested heavily at Nyetimber in Sussex, with 100 ha planted and a target of producing 600,000 bottles by 2014. Kent's Chapel Down has similar volume ambitions, and also intends to switch from its current 65 per cent still wine production to 65 per cent fizz, according to sales and marketing director Guy Tresnan. "On my radar is more in Japan, some in Hong Kong, then the US, China and Russia," he says, "which in terms of consumption of luxury goods have to have potential."

As for prices, land and production costs are high in England's south east, but then these, as well as the soil and climate conditions, are not dissimilar to those in Champagne. The evidence of this tasting is that all the talk is justified. If you get the chance, you must give it a go.

David Longfield

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