It took four Nebuchadnezzars of Wiston Estate Brut NV for the Queen to name the new P&O Cruises vessel Britannia at Ocean Terminal in Southampton in March. One of the 15-litre bottles was smashed, as profligately as a Formula One shower, across the good ship's bow, but at least the remaining three bottles were put to good use during the inaugural festivities. Just as well because whereas stocks of Formula One's Mumm Cordon Rouge can be replenished almost limitlesly, Wiston is a family affair making relatively tiny quantities of sparkling wine.
Sitting deep in the heart of the West Sussex countryside, Wiston was one of the stars of this summer's English Wine Producers tasting. This is in part because the Goring family employ the talented Dermot Sugrue, who is fast gaining a reputation as one of England's best winemakers. It's also because of the location, which is planted with the champagne grapes pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. Plus there is the Gorings' considerable investment in the technology to make great bubbles. The fact that its yields are considerably lower than the champagne average speaks volumes about Wiston's explosive flavour.
The 10 best Champagnes
The 10 best Champagnes
1/10 Virginie T
Having worked under her father Claude for 21 years, Virginie Tattinger (known in France as the Princess of Champagne) has branched out on her own with this non-vintage brut. Rich, elegant and full of candied fruit flavours. £25.90, virginie-t.com
2/10 Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noirs Brut
This is what one might call a good all-rounder. You can serve it with leftover turkey or with salmon; drink it on its own or make champagne cocktail from it. The Pinot-noir-rich drink is a good friend to have around on New Year’s Eve. £20.99, sainsburys.co.uk
3/10 Veuve Monsigny Brut by Philizot Aldi
At under a tenner, an absolute steal. Chock-full of tiny bubbles, which spiral up the flute in golden spirals, dispensing flavours of lemon and honey as they go. It is smooth as unction, too, so you can drink it with worrying ease. £9.99, aldi.co.uk
4/10 Domaine Laurens Les Graimenous Cremant de Limoux 2011
So this is not strictly speaking a champagne. What it is, is an exceptionally good sparkling wine. It is made in Limoux, at the base of the Pyrenees, from a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc, mauzac and pinot noir. The result is a forceful, invigorating drink. £13.95, robersonwine.com
5/10 Moët Grand Vintage 2004
The 70th Moët Grand Vintage is silkier than a night dress, which is quite an achievement since it has roughly half the sugar of most other brut champagnes. It is made of a third each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier and is rich in peach, citrus and almond flavours. A classic. £35, tesco.com
6/10 Dom Perignon 2004
When this vintage was released in May, it sold in record-breaking quantities. And little wonder, it is a wonderfully robust wine, rich in brioche and white fruit flavours, made from 53 per cent pinot noir and 47 per cent Chardonnay. Outstandingly good. £109, ocado.com
7/10 Veuve Cliquot Demi-Sec White Label NV
Demi-sec champagnes are, to most British champagne-lovers, anathema. Many of us seem to think “half-dry” is a synonym for “sickly sweet”. Not so with this honeyed wine. It ploughs a pleasing furrow between sour and sugared – which makes it exceptionally versatile. As good with Roquefort as it with dessert. £36.90, tanners-wines.co.uk
8/10 M&S Oudinot Medium Dry
For “medium dry” read demi-sec here. Unlike some of its drier brethren, you can drink this merrily as an aperitif or with dinner. It is a flexible friend and has a £10 discount on its recommended price until the end of the month. £15 (with £10 discount), marksandspencer.com
9/10 Laurent-Perrier Rose
The undisputed king of rose champagne. It’s voluptuous bottle contains a stylish wine which is rich in strawberry and berry flavours. It is eminently drinkable (almost too drinkable) – especially if you prefer the sweeter side. £43.49, ocado.com
10/10 Comte de Brismand Brut
An uncomplicated fizz which is very easy-on-the-palate. It is mild, wholly lacking in bitterness and has some very pleasing lemon flavours to it. Perfect for a NYE house party. £13.99, lidl.co.uk
High productivity costs mean that English sparkling wine will never be cheap but the quality and intensity of flavour coming from the UK's top vineyards makes them at least as good an option as champagne at the same price. With its smidgeon of oak spice, mouthfilling mousse, and tart Cox's apple bite, the power-packed Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs is a divine fizz, as is the 2010 Cuvée Brut. Meanwhile the 2011 Wiston Rosé, with its delicate oak and strawberries and cream fruit, is the finest English rosé bubbly I've yet come across, with the cranberry-filled 2009 Jenkyn Place Sparkling Rosé, the textured, mulberry-rich 2009 Nyetimber Rosé, and the tangy, berry-filled 2010 Ridgeview Rosé de Noirs, all running it close.
In the Blanc de Blancs style, the creamy 2010 Gusbourne is as impressive as ever, while the 2010 Theale Vineyard displays the brioche and biscuity characters of good champagne only with more dry, crisp focus. Among classic blends, the 2010 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée is a fabulous, mouth-filling explosion of English bubbly, while Hambledon's intensely flavoured Classic Cuvée is a fizz to watch, as are the 2011 Hattingley Valley; the distinctively biscuity creamy 2010 Jenkyn Place Brut Cuvée; the orchard fruits richness of the 2010 Wyfold Vineyard; the tangy 2010 Gusbourne Brut Reserve, and the 2009 Digby Fine English.
With two-thirds of England's 6.3 million bottles now in the sparkling camp, our cup of fizz truly runneth over. For prices and stockists, try online resources such as wine-searcher.com