Sacré Bleu! English wine, you say? Yes, imagine the shock after over 20 years in the UK, I tasted my first ‘proper’ English wine only 5 years ago. How surprised I was to drink not a blockbuster but a well balanced Pinot Noir from Chapel Down with fruit and spiciness. Where, you would say? Well, I was as surprised to find out came from sunny Kent, the land of rolling, green hills. Ever since the English winemaking industry has gone form strength to strength so much so that Chapel Down’s white generic wine was served at Kate and Will’s wedding.
In the past English winemakers were a bit more amateurish and followed the German cue, thinking grapes used in Germany should logically work in England. But then the North and South Downs, those chalky hills South of London, are not on the banks of the Rhine or the Mosel, and only shares the Gulf Stream to kick off spring. So in the past decade, Southern England winemakers have had a closer look at European Geological map and made a surprising break through, those chalky hills are from the same seam of chalk as the one in Champagne. Many uprooted the ill matching German varieties and planted anew with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay and took on the the euphemistically called ‘Méthode Traditionelle’ .
The plaudits have since started to roll in: the grand daddy of them all, Nyetimber won the IWSC 2006 Yarden Trophy for best Sparkling Wine in 2006 for its 1998 Classic Cuvée and again in 2009 for its 1992 Blanc de Blancs whilst Ridgeview hit the Jackpot with the Decanter World Wine Awards for best international Sparkling Wine for its Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2006 – the first time a non Champagne brand won this accolade. Camel Valley in sunnier Cornwall seems to be picking up the Sparkling Rosé awards as well.
As a result several other players are starting to jump on the band wagon too, the British Royals have leased a plot of land in Windsor Great Park to Laithwaites, a wine merchant and planted 16,000 vines this spring and the oldest commercial vineyard in the UK, Hambledon Vineyard has decided to stop selling their grapes to third parties such as Ridgeview and decided to launch their own sparkling wines in 2013. So, coming soon to a wine retailer close to you: a real contender against Champagne and Cava, real English Sparkling Wine! Try them, you will be surprised.