Albion Gets Serious: English Sparkling Wine

“'I imagine hell like this: Italian punctuality, German humor and English wine.’ –Peter Ustinov, actor Though English born and bred, in my formative years as a wine pro, I never bought into the fervor for my homeland’s vinous contribution. A mixture of national pride and underdog spirit encouraged some of my compatriots to extol the virtues of what I tasted as ordinary wines that mainstream media would subsequently use as fodder for promoting England as a viticultural Shangri-la. The same old headlines would be wheeled out: “Look out, Champagne! The Brits are coming!” Whatever. There might have been 38 vineyards mentioned in the Domesday Book (the Norman conquest did have its upside) and Londoner Dr. Christopher Merret might have made Champagne feasible when in 1662 he recommended using thick glass to prevent bottles from exploding into a frothy mess, but the reality is that while our European cousins nurtured their own sophisticated wine cultures to accompany their sophisticated gastronomy, the English had little incentive to create profound wine to marry with turnips and Spam. Instead, the Sceptred Isle guzzled ale and mead and England became a petri dish for decent wine writers: we couldn’t make it, so we might as well write about it. Sure, a small number of amateurs dabbled with German varieties and hybrids, but the results were at best drinkable and at worst made paint stripper seem palatable. This began to change in the early 1990s. Pioneers such as Camel Valley and Nyetimber adopted a more serious attitude toward winemaking, and when their first releases were garlanded with awards, it signaled to others what might be possible. A new breed of winemaker with a professional attitude and ambition began to usurp the old guard of winemaking dilettantes. Albion, God forbid, began producing sparkling wine worth talking and writing about. My negative attitude toward English sparkling wine has changed because incontrovertibly, the wines have improved no end. When the current pandemic rendered my passport temporarily redundant, my instant reaction was to taste close to home, since I can cycle to my nearest vineyard in 20 minutes. So, I commenced gathering samples with the idea of a summer report, to put a stake in the ground in terms of Vinous’s coverage. This is not an all-encompassing article that strives to review every English estate; instead, it focuses upon most of the top producers. In the coming months, as we hopefully open up post-lockdown, I may hop in my bike or car to check out more producers omitted from this article.” --Neal Martin, Albion Gets Serious: English Sparkling Wine , July 2020 To read Neal’s full report and learn the English wine basics and discover what the future holds for English wine, check out the full article on Vinous now. Below is a selection of notes from the report.

Nyetimber

Brut Rosé Champagne Blend

Delectable Wine
9.1

Disgorged in September 2019, the Brut Rosé is a blend of the three classic Champagne varieties from West Sussex and Hampshire with 9g/L dosage. It has a lovely bouquet of strawberry, white flowers and a subtle marine influence, perhaps a touch of shucked oyster shell. It is certainly the best defined of Nyetimber's recent releases. The palate is pretty and open with good acidity, that marine theme continuing on an edgy, saline finish that lingers. This is a slightly more cerebral take on sparkling rosé. (Neal Martin, Vinous, July 2020)
— a month ago

Ridgeview

Limited Release Brut Blanc de Noirs 2014

Delectable Wine
9.3

The 2014 Blanc de Noirs has a burnished pale straw hue with a vibrant mousse. The bouquet is a knockout mixture of hazelnut, smoke and citric fruit, all wonderfully delineated; light leesy aromas emerge with extended aeration. The well-balanced palate features red apples, orange zest and light morello cherry notes, its concentration offset by a beautifully judged line of acidity. This is a very accomplished Blanc de Noirs from Ridgeview. (Neal Martin, Vinous, July 2020)
— a month ago

Hambledon

Première Cuvée Sparkling Blend

Delectable Wine
9.2

The NV Première Cuvée comes from pre-selected grapes, 14% fermented in French oak, the remainder in stainless steel with a minimum 46 months on the lees. It has a dosage of 2g/L. Initially steely and reserved, it only takes a couple of swirls to reveal more leesy aromas, touches of baked bread and yellow flowers; there is fine definition here. The palate is well balanced with a touch of sour lemon on the entry that segues into a leesy midpalate. This is a classy English sparkling wine: taut and focused with saline notes defining the energetic finish. Recommended. (Neal Martin, Vinous, July 2020)
— a month ago