Think Fizz, Think English
4th May 2022
It’s another invitation to an evening dinner in London… You critically admire yourself in the mirror of your hotel bedroom so to add final touches to one’s make-up or the straightening of the bow tie. Lacing up those Italian leather shoes or squeezing uncomfortably into those designer stilettos. The minute hand reaches the hour and it’s another wonderful evening ahead of fine company and dining.
Leaving the hotel room and entering the lift where one final check in the mirror to make sure you are set to impress your fellow guests, maybe a spray of perfume or a pull back of the shirt sleeve to reveal more of that designer watch. You note that you wish you’d adhered slightly more to that diet you last tried to follow, though nonetheless, you are still looking good. The lift door opens and your smile comes alive as it’s now once again show time as you approach the entrance to the restaurant / dining room where others are already gathering and conversations are igniting.
Your nameplate you find on the table and you study those who are sitting beside you, impressed or not you will not dare try and swap places. A voice makes you turn around:
“Welcome, may I offer you a glass of Champagne.” the young waiter greets you and you duly oblige as the tray filled with tempting fizz filled flutes lures you. In a slow and refined sip, you need so to wet the palate and encourage you to initiate conversation with your fellow guests… This is the life, the world of business networking where each guest has a significant CV and thriving portfolio. Each is well used to dress to impress, fine gastronomy, in-depth wine lists, impressive elevator pitches at hand and a wealth of experiences to share and boast about.
So now for me, I’m already slightly late, I need to make a subtle yet positive entrance and as I look around the room and study the competition, a waiter approaches me with a tray of Champagne… “Would you like a glass of Champagne?”
Now here’s my trump card, “Have you got any English sparkling wine instead of Champagne” is what is asked in amongst the vibrant and expanding conversations and a few heads turn in curiosity. It’s not a question that would normally be raised, ‘always take note of something different’ many will be familiar with and the questioning of why anyone would ask for another sparkling wine over Champagne causes your card to be well and truly marked.
“You know your wine?” I get questioned and from there I can take the lead in the conversation and talk about the growing qualities of English Sparkling Wine and boy have I got some stories to share…
Though more a journalist than an author of stories, I thought I would try and share a moment with you that I remember from a couple of years back during an invitation I had to a business networking evening dinner. Yes, I did ask to see if the venue had a glass of English Sparkling Wine over Champagne and fortunately, after consulting with the paying host of the evening, an English Sparkling Wine was being served by the glass on the wine menu, I got my English fizz over Champagne. Did I make a great decision? You bet I did especially as I later found out that the Champagne was Imperial by Moët & Chandon.
English Sparkling Wine in 2022
“Over the last few decades, natural climate change has favoured the English terroir (southern wine regions of England only 200 miles from Champagne) with warmer temperatures. Not only are we now receiving the climate that was once blessing the Champagne region we also have always had the ground that is very much similar with limestone and chalk valleys in Kent, Sussex, Surrey – So what was once in Champagne is transferring its way to England… ”
I work in a few industry sectors and whenever I need to rely upon starting an interesting conversation or a general business question is asked of me, then I always fall back on sparkling wine. A typical question that I hear is how English sparkling wine compares to Champagne and this of course is not such an easy question to answer despite me having a great deal of tasting experience to back up any claim I am willing to make. How does one convert a member of the public into believing that there is a probable better sparkling wine than Champagne?
“How good is English sparkling wine? Why don’t we ask the French“ is what I sometimes reply and this of course raises an eyebrow of confusion and certainly requires me to explain myself. I say this for today we are seeing more and more Champagne houses coming across over to England to both purchase land suitable for growing and harvesting grapes (usually the same type that they grow themselves). Importantly they are creating new English sparkling wine labels themselves and as far as I am concerned they are forward thinking business people and they know where the next big thing is likely to be. Natural climate change is seeing a shift of average temperatures in that what was once blessing the vineyards of Champagne is now slowly making its way up to England and especially the southern counties where already sits countless English wineries.
The added advantages of Champagne include not only the quality of the wine itself, but also the history and what I think is the most important factor, the name. Champagne conjures up all the excitement and expectations in one word rather like Prosecco does and other big names in fizz including Cava, Sekt and Cremant. In England we have relied upon and it seems it will remain unchallenged, the title of English sparkling wine (ESW) which though tells you exactly what the product is, fails somewhat on inspiring.
“Would you like a glass of ESW, darling?’ is not as romantic as you would expect, if I may say…. Now that its premium quality has been recognised and accepted, the ESW industry should think of a distinctive name for its wines before the market decides for them….if it is not already too late.” Corinne Seely, Exton Park vineyard – quote source
If we are lacking in the romance and quality of the name, we are more than making up for things in the romance and quality of what’s inside the bottle. Countless wineries across England are gaining themselves numerous awards, medals, trophies, certificates, positive reviews and much more even when up against the world’s finest sparkling wines including Champagne. More and more we see that ESW is being compared to and even confused with Champagne (Champagne as the world’s finest (traditional method) sparkling wine so it’s always to be the one challenged the most).
We must at first ask if there is a gap for English Sparkling Wines in the UK market? Will consumers embrace our homegrown fizz over other trusted and respected styles from abroad?
“Absolutely, we’re just getting started. So many people haven’t tasted English Sparkling wine, when people try our wine they’re so impressed and become big advocates for our product. More and more people are serving English sparkling wine at dinner parties, weddings, business events.” Donna Barbour, Woodchurch Wine Estate – quote source
The popularity of sparkling wine in England continues to grow and over the last decade, this has been, in my honest opinion, thanks to a great deal of work from the Prosecco DOC as their annual sales have increased from a handful of million bottles per year to running neck and neck in sales with Champagne (over 100 million bottles annually). Us English love our bubbles and this is why as an export country we are usually on top of most lists when it comes to where sparkling wines are sold to, for example around 30% of the total Prosecco (DOC) production is exported to the UK market.
A tiny problem with ESW, though as each day goes by, less so, is the production levels which remain small compared to its rival sparkling wines (traditional method or tank method). An impressive figure on paper, though minor in the grand scheme of things, over 8.7 million bottles were produced in 2020 (Approximately 75% of which is sparkling wine) and only 4% of this stock was exported. The popularity of ESW grows and so does those producing it, hectarage has more than doubled in just eight years (2012 = 1,438ha). There has been a 70% increase in hectarage in the last five years alone. Hectarage now stands (2021) at approximately 3,800ha under vine. Further interesting facts and details on ESW can be obtained via the WineGB website.
Just how good is ESW?
This is surely what it is all about? This will determine, depending on price points, where it sits alongside other globally famed sparkling wines. Its versatility is equally important to many such as pairing with finer gastronomy delights as well as such things as ageing. At the Glass of Bubbly London Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards alone, ESW has picked up countless gold medals and trophies and we mustn’t forget that ESW was voted the best in the world for 2021 thanks to the ‘Paxton & Whitfield 2015‘ blend from Sussex vineyard Fox & Fox.
So let us explore a selection of ESW below and share with you the delights of the aromas and flavours. For each winery I have placed a link directly towards the wine itself in case you wish to order and make up your own mind regarding the quality – I have also added the price per bottle of each. As can be seen, prices of ESW compare to a big brand name NV at a supermarket to decent grower Champagne labels NV or vintage via specialist wine merchants / suppliers.
Biddenden Gribble Ridge 2016 (£24.80) – Tasting notes: “Silver Medal Winner in the category of ‘Spring Fling’ in 2021: Aromas are fresh green fruits, touch of fresh cut grass, sweet spices. Green character flavours with apples, pear, gooseberry, greengage, a saline lime, touch of herbaceous.”
Meophams Premiere 2019 (£29.50) – Tasting notes: “Silver Medal Winner in the category of ‘Zesty & Zingy’ in 2021: White floral, apple blossom, fresh apple flesh, white candy boiled sweet aromas. Crisp and fresh. Grapefruit, minerals, white floral, citrus in flavours. Paired wonderfully well with brie (cheese).”
Bolney Wine Estate Classic Cuvée Brut NV (£32) – Tasting notes: “Silver Medal Winner in the category of ‘Spring Fling’ in 2021: Soft citrus, yellow floral, apples, herbaceous nose. Fruity and refreshing. Citrus, floral, grapefruit, green apple flavours.”
Fox & Fox Expression Saignée Rosé 2014 Brut (£42) – Tasting notes: “Gold Medal Winner in the category of ‘Meditation’ in 2021: Rhubarb, red pears, soft sweet spices, fresh dough, pink rose petals on the nose. Dry flavours, bold. Crisp crushed red berries and garden strawberries, touch of garden nettles, near ripe red apple skins and so much more.”
Camel Valley Rosé Brut Pinot Noir 2019 (£36) – Tasting notes: “Trophy Winner in the category of ‘Forget Me Not’ in 2021: I always state this, with confidence, as being the best English sparkling rosé and it never fails to disappoint. Pink floral, red berries, raspberry, strawberry sherbet on the nose. Fresh, crisp, quality acidity, mouth-watering. Red berries, strawberries, light red skin apples, zesty red apple skin, minerals.”
I would just like to end the article with a question that I posed to Jonica Fox of Fox & Fox winery in Sussex – “Does English Sparkling Wine deserve to be spoken in the same breath as Champagne?”
“Great wine is great wine wherever it is made. We think much of the magic of Champagne lies with its unrivalled reputation for celebration and romance. One should however allow that whilst there are many exceptional Champagne there are also many average and even some disappointing wines from that region. A strong wine-regional brand image is an invaluable introduction to that area but it need not be the only differentiator.
At Fox & Fox we benchmark our wines against all the world’s best sparkling wine producers by entering professionally judged, highly reputable international competitions. We invest annually and track the performance of our wines, vintage after vintage. The results put us up there with the world’s best, including Champagnes and the best sparkling wines from other top producing countries.
We have started to build a library of reserve wines for non vintage and will be rounding out our range of wines in the years ahead. We’ve learned from great producers across the globe and draw our inspiration from other top quality boutique producers wherever they may be.
We think wine lovers should feel free to identify the wines that they enjoy most in a global context, revelling as much in their unique characteristics as much as in their quality, and look for producers that they personally respect and value. A strong wine-regional brand image is an invaluable introduction to that area but it need not be the only differentiator.
Can one compare good wines from different regions? Bien sûr! Santé!”
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.