When English Wine Producers showed their wines to the press and trade in May, it prompted no less a grand fromage than Hugh Johnson to tweet: "A score of truly excellent English bubblies [with] the buzz of a historical moment; something unstoppable". And I overheard an Italian wine merchant saying to a German sommelier: "I am surprised they are so good. They really can compete on quality with the French".
Jingoism aside, the tasting was impressive for various reasons. Of the 97 wines on show, 57 were sparkling, corresponding roughly to the fact that three in five bottles of English wine made are fizz. From a standing start when Nyetimber pioneered the use of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier for bubbly, today's growing volume has brought the credibility of critical mass to English fizz. As big projects such as Hambledon and Rathfinny come on stream (each plan to make one million bottles), the estimate is that the industry will grow to more than five million bottles by next year. That's an eighth of the volume of Champagne imports.
Volume is nothing without quality and hardly a week goes by without an English fizz winning honours in international competition, as they did at the last Which Christmas tasting. At the fourth 'Judgment of Parsons Green', in March, the 94 English sparkling wines tasted by experts showed continuing progress in quality. Experience is marching in tandem with climate change to contribute to the key factors of flavour ripeness and balanced natural acidity. The best wines are those that successfully overcome England's biggest potential problems: excessive tartness or sweetness.
The wisdom of a maturing industry brings us to the threshhold of differences, not just in quality but in house, vintage and regional styles. So English sparkling wine is now seeing vintage and non-vintage, blanc de blancs (chardonnay) and blancs de noirs (pinot noir and pinot meunier) as well as rosés, demi-secs and oak-fermented sparklers. That's before we even consider a future in which one day Cornwall will be differentiated from Dorset, Hampshire from Kent, and East Sussex from West Sussex, rather like Champagne's sub-districts.
Back at this month's tasting, among the sparklers that most impressed me were a superb 2009 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée and 2009 Rosé, the Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV, the 2010 Ridgeview Knightsbridge Blanc de Noirs, 2009 Gusbourne Brut Reserve, 2009 Wyfold Vineyard and the 2010 Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut. Newer names, too, catch the eye and, I suspect, will soon capture the world's imagination: Digby Fine English, Furleigh, Henners, Jenkyn Place, Hattingley Valley and Langham among them.Reuse content