Everything Else

A Sparkling Choice

You have something to celebrate, but before you open the champagne why not go for a sparkling wine grown nearer to home?

Wine was made in England in Roman times but perhaps fell out of favour when we possessed the vineyards of Bordeaux and claret became all the vogue. But times have changed and British wine is becoming more acceptable and particularly English sparkling wines are outperforming champagne in blind tastings, much to the chagrin of the French winemakers.

So, where to start because the number of homegrown vineyards is increasing yearly? You could go to your nearest Majestic Wine Warehouse where tastings are regularly available and they stock, among others, sparkling wines from Chapel Down. Their vineyards are located in Kent where the soil is the same as that in Champagne. Their quality is evidenced by the fact that they supply 10 Downing Street, the Royal Opera House and the L.S.O. at the Barbican.

Or, if you are celebrating really seriously, consider Nyetimber from West Sussex on the same green sand and chalky soil of the Champagne region but protected from the coastal winds by the South Downs. The wines from this winery consistently come top in international blind tastings.

As the weather has been good why not take an outing to a vineyard? They are well geared up to receiving visitors and it makes an enjoyable day out. Apart from the two I have mentioned (and Nyetimber is already fully booked for this year) there are many you might consider.

In the south which is my region, there is Hambledon in Hampshire; in West Sussex go to Bolney Wine Estate where they have been making wine since 1972; while in neighbouring Surrey you might try High Clandon or Denbies. Further afield in Cornwall, Camel Valley has an exceptional reputation and the sun terrace is open Monday to Saturday for wine by the glass; in Herefordshire the Three Choirs winery should be considered.

All this just scratches the surface and there are many others around the UK who would be happy to welcome you.

If you are wondering which sparkling wine to try, the choice available from English wineries is much the same as that from Champagne and they use the same terminology. So a cuve´e will probably be a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier; a blanc de blancs will be just chardonnay and a blanc de noirs made from pinot noir; and there will be a range of rose´ from the palest “onion skin” to a deep pink probably made from rondo, a German red grape.

And there is one bubbly you are unlikely to find in Champagne, a white made from bacchus, a grape which flourishes here. Although the use of the name champagne itself is denied to the English producers, Sussex sparkling wine now has protected status.

So the future is looking bright for our fizz. It is not without significance that the French champagne house, Tattinger, is buying land in Kent where the terroir is similar to the Champagne region. It is said that the impact of global warming will bring about a decline in the quality of champagne and they are planning ahead.

So if you have something to celebrate, think English. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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