Cry Fizz for England, Harry and St.George

POSTED ON 12/07/2014

When English Wine Producers showed their wines to the press and trade ahead of English Wine Week 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’. If ‘cry fizz for Harry, England and St. George’ is excessively patriotic for you, I overheard an Italian wine merchant saying to a German sommelier. ‘I am surprised they are so good. They can really 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 like Hambledon and Rathfinny come on stream (each plan to make 1 million bottles), the estimate is that the industry will grow to 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 or browbeating champagnes, as they did at the last Which Christmas tasting. The fourth ‘Judgment of Parsons Green’ in which 94 English sparkling wines were tasted by experts in March 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.

Something for The WeekendSomething for The Weekend

Night In

2013 The Exquisite Collection Rias Baixas Albariño

This dry Spanish white from the Galician coast shows a nice fresh peachy nose, close to exquisite juicy ripe mouthwatering apple and peach fruit with a hint of pepperiness, and a tongue-tingling zestiness on the aftertaste. £5.99, Aldi.

Dinner Party

2013 6285 Margaret River Chardonnay

An aromatic note of nutty, lees-stirred complexity and an invitingly peachy fresh fruitiness supported by subtle oaking and an etching of zesty acidity make for a beautifully balanced, full-flavoured Aussie dry white from Larry Cherubino . £12.99, Marks & Spencer.

Splash Out

2010 Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva

Fine chianti classico in which a touch of merlot brings a smooth succulence to the intense, cherry fruit whose refreshing acid backbone, herbal undertow and firm structure make this an inviting Tuscan red. £14, down from £17.99, Sainsbury's.

Furleigh Estate, DorsetFurleigh Estate, Dorset


Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV, Hampshire
Fine sourdough-fresh aromatics, rich, full-bodied, textured blend of 65 per cent chardonnay and 35 per cent pinot noir showing floral notes with touches of vanilla and honeycomb behind a mouthfilling biscuity (and yes, quite champagne-like) mousse of incisively dry, citrus-crisp bubbles.
£26.50 - £27.95, Halifax Wine Co., Berry Bros & Rudd

2009 Gusbourne Brut Reserve, Appledore, Kent
A totally delicious, very English fizz with ripe Cox’s apple fruit flavours and behind the flavoursome blend of 77 per cent chardonnay, 14 per cent pinot noir and 9 per cent pinot meunier, a lively crisp, appley bite of fine bubbles with nutty-rich mousse delineated by a citrus-crisp finish in a fizz of balance and lovely finesse.
£20.79,,, £27.95, Berry Bros. & Rudd

Gusbourne Founder, Andrew Weeber and HamishGusbourne Founder, Andrew Weeber and Hamish

2011 Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée, Hampshire
This is a subtle, refined blend of 71 per cent chardonnay, 20 per cent pinot noir and 9 per cent pinot meunier whose rich mousse is subtly flavoured yet balanced by a seamless quality of fruit and texture and a lively dry flourish on the finish.
£22.46 - £29.99,,uk, Four Walls Wine, Averys

2010 Henners Brut, East Sussex
Behind the lively persistent sparkle lies a crisp appley nose with a hint of toastiness, deliciously bitey ripe Cox’s apple fruitiness with a lipsmackingly tangily-textured mousse and refreshingly crisp dry finish; a really well put together, thoroughly convincing English fizz.
£21.50 - £27, Concept Fine Wines, Wine Pantry


2009 Jenkyn Place Brut, Hampshire
A blend of 65% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir and 10% pinot meunier, this has a delicately yeasty and appley aroma à la champagne, a fine, creamy mousse of crisp, textured bubbles that dance on the tongue to a harmonious English Cox’s apple tune with stylish dryness and crisp bite on the aftertaste. Classy.
£24.99 - £25.95, Berry Bros. & Rudd

2010 Langham Wine Estate Classic Cuvée Brut, Dorset
The surprise winner of this year’s Judgment of Parsons Green, this West Country sparkling blend of mainly pinot noir, with chardonnay and pinot meunier, from Dorchester is intensely aromatic and full-flavoured with undertones of apricot and apple with the typically tangy backbone of mouthwatering acidity that distinguishes English fizz from champagne.

2009 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, West Sussex
Superb aromas combining the freshness of crème fraîche and savoury yeastiness of sourdough, this is intensely flavoured and really refined with biscuity champagne-like flavours supported by a creamy-textured mousse and stylish long finish.
£27.50 - 31.99, The Wine Society,, Berry Bros & Rudd,

2009 Nyetimber Rosé, West Sussex
Rosé is very much an up-and-coming English fizz thing, and this, along with Coates and Seely, Bluebell Hindleap and Hush Heath, is one of my favourites for its berry and crushed digestive biscuit-like character backed up by a beautifully balanced, mouthwateringly dry finish.
£41.50 – 45, Lea & Sandeman,


2010 Ridgeview Knightsbridge Blanc de Noirs, East Sussex
Behind the refreshingly crisp, almost citrus and raspberryish aromas in this 50% pinot meunier and 50% pinot noir blend, there’s a fine persistent and expressive mousse of tiny bubbles that sit like a soft cushion on the tongue and then explode into flavoursome life with stylish overall balance.
£29.25 - £32.95, AG Wines, Exel Wines, Berry Bros. & Rudd

2010 Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut, West Sussex
Wiston’s winemaker Dermot Sugrue likes to use oak in his cuvées, bringing variety and interest to English sparkling wine. It may not always work but I love it in this beautifully balanced, apple and orchard fruits fizz, whose fine rich mousse is supported by touches of tastiness all the while finishing with a tongue-tingling dry tang.

2009 Wyfold Vineyard
This blend of 54 per cent chardonnay, 28 per cent pinot noir and 18 per cent pinot meunier shows a lovely inviting biscuity aroma followed onto the (grateful) tongue by an appetisingly rich and dry textured mousse shot through with delicately apple and toasty flavours with a finish that leaves you refreshed and gasping for more.
£29.99, Laithwaites
Laithwaite Family Vineyards


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