Oh to be in England, yes, but its fizz doesn’t need me to bang the patriotic drum for it given that everyone from Raymond Blanc to Alan Sugar have been in on the act ad nauseam. Nor does this column need to overstate the virtues of English sparkling wine when it’s earned its own bragging rights thanks to an intrinsic quality and a mouthwatering maritime freshness. Hardly a day goes by without a report of English bubbly beating champagne at its own game; yet further evidence that English fizz has come of age in the year of the Diamond Jubilee.
The most significant recent event was a blind tasting, the so-called Judgment of Parsons Green, organised by Master of Wine Stephen Skelton on 1 March, which gathered together 90, yes 90, England and Wales-grown sparkling wines. The three champagnes stealthily inserted, Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs from Duval-Leroy, Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé NV and Lanson Black Label NV, came in 19th, 35th and 88th. Among English names dominating the top places were Camel Valley, Bolney Wine Estate, Breaky Bottom, Chapel Down, Gusbourne, Hush Heath, Meopham, Plumpton College and RidgeView with Coates & Seely the best newcomer.
From small acorns of ¼ million bottles at the millennium, England anticipates production of four million bottles in three years time. That would represent one in 25 of all sparkling wines we drink, including champagne. This critical mass is now being bolstered by the supermarkets, notably Tesco, with its zesty 2008 Chapel Down Classic Cuvée English sparkling Wine, £21.99, Marks & Spencer’s appetizingly tangy berry fruit, Sparkling English Brut NV, £20, with its Cox’s apple bite and Waitrose, whose array of fine fizz from Hush Heath, Nyetimber, Camel Valley and Ridgeview is unrivalled. Laithwaites too have teamed up with Ridgeview to produce their fine South Ridge Brut, £19.99, and a mouthwateringly crisp and appley South Ridge Blanc de Noirs, £19.99, Laithwaites (laithwaites.co.uk).
Two of the most successful styles are blanc de blancs made entirely from the chardonnay grape and rosé, blending chardonnay, blending chardonnay with the red champagne grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier. In the former camp, Coates and Seely Blanc de Blancs, Britagne, £25.85 - £29, www.coatesandseely.com, Bennetts (01386840392), Vin Neuf (01789261747), Sipp (02077457477), StaggeringWines.co.uk, displays a plush vanilla creamy blanket of textured rich bubbles cut by a switchblade of tart lemony acidity. From Andrew Weeber's Appledore vineyards in Kent, the 2007 Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs, £29.99, Armit (£179.94 per 6), www.armit.co.uk, shows creamy rich orchard fruit finesse. In the rosé department, keep an eye out for Wales’ 2008 Ancre Hill Sparkling Rosé, £24.99, cheerswinemerchants.co.uk and Richard Balfour-Lynn’s salmon pink 2009 Hush Heath Rosé, £35.99, Waitrose; the latter, with its vibrant berry fruit complexity and elegant tang, as fitting a tribute as any to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Something for the Weekend 2 June
2011 Tesco’s Finest Falanghina
This is a refreshingly unoaked dry white From Italy’s southern heel of Puglia, made from the Mediterranean falanghina grape by Giorgio Flessati, showing flavoursome apple and pear fruit concentration yet zestily refreshing and dry on the aftertaste. £5.99, Tesco.
2010 Catena Malbec, High Mountain Vines
This deep-hued, powerfully fragrant Argentinian malbec displays a glossy-textured blackberry fruitiness and delicate veneer of spicy oak, bisected by a trenchantly juicy high altitude freshness. £12.49, or buy 6 = £9.37, 25% off all wines until Wednesday, Waitrose.
2009 GD Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo
Perfumed, floral, elegantly crafted Piedmontese red made from nebbiolo steeped in voluptuously ripe red fruits with a typical north Italian nip of acidity and grip. £19.95 - £22.95, Bennetts (01386840392), Lockett Bros (01620 890799), Philglas & Swiggot (02079244494), Roberson (02073712121).