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8 of the best English sparkling wines

Published: May 23, 2015
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The rise in the quality of English sparkling wines has been one of the most important developments in the wine world over the last decade. It is English Wine Week, established to highlight this progress, with restaurants, wine bars, wine merchants and supermarkets all joining in across the UK to show off the best of English fizz.
The story of English sparkling wine is now well known. The first fizz was produced back in 1976 by Felsted and Pilton Manor. For two decades after this, Lamberhurst and Carr Taylor vineyards persevered with lacklustre fizz styles, but they really did not catch on – and even the local authorities in southern England in the 1980s were advising newcomers considering planting a vineyard to go for apples instead of grapes – or to stick to hardier German grape varieties.
The turning point came with the establishment of Nyetimber estate in West Chiltington, West Sussex. Established by an American couple in 1988, Sandy and Stuart Moss blindly set about copying champagne using the exactly the same method and grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) – and importantly, with consultants directly from Champagne itself, convinced they could produce something as good. Nyetimber has had changes in ownership, but when wealthy Dutchman Eric Hereema bought the estate in 2006, ploughing in much needed funds, things really took off. Their success is phenonmenal, with Ridgeview, Davenport and Breaky Bottom in Sussex, Camel Valley in Cornwall, Chapel Down, Gusbourne and Herbert Hall in Kent and Coates & Seely in Hampshire following close behind.
The word is now spreading abroad – since Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2003 scooped a trophy at an Italian sparkling wine competition in 2009 and Decanter gave Ridgeview Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2007 the regional trophy for the best sparkler over £10. English winemaker Sam Lindo of Camel Valley has even been nominated as Sparkling Winemaker of the
Year against champagne producers in the International Wine Challenge.
The progress is phenomenal.
What is so heartening is that the awareness of the quality of English  fizz has risen steadily and it is a message getting through to consumers. “There is a real momentum within the English wine industry right now,” says Becky Hull, MW wine buyer for Waitrose. Waitrose has reported an increase in English and Welsh wine sales of 95 per cent from 2013 to 2014, and considering the price of some of the wines, this is some achievement for a supermarket which has 60 per cent of the market share in this category. Waitrose even has its very own English vineyard, The Leckford, from which it will be releasing its
new 2012 cuvée later this year.
The improvement is due to the English sparkling wine producers’ focus on quality. Champagne expert Tom Stevenson says Britain is, “on the wrong side of the champagne’s knife-edge terroir” – however, “it is the colder, more uncertain climate which makes vineyards in Britain much better suited to the production of fine quality fizz than those situated in either California or Australia.”
The price of English fizz is still a concern. This should start to fall as the new vineyards, now planted, come on stream in the future – at the moment demand outstrips supply.

KENT: HERBERT HALL BRUT 2010
(£28, Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; Great Grog, Edinburgh)
Nicolas Hall has crafted a remarkably complex core of citric fruits,
beautifully balanced acidity and long length using the three champagne
grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. This was chosen as
the Best of British to serve in the House of Commons.

SUSSEX: NYETIMBER CLASSIC CUVÉE
(£28-£32, Waitrose; Luvians; St Andrews Wine)
One of the English fizz pioneers now still ahead of the pack with its
lovely creamy citric fruits, racy acid and good length.

SUSSEX: RIDGEVIEW MARKSMAN BRUT 2010
(£21, Marks & Spencer)
This 100 per cent chardonnay fizz is one of the best value English
sparkling wines on the market. Deliciously crunchy red apple and
hedgerow blossom notes provide a citric core.

HAMPSHIRE: COATES & SEELY ROSÉ NV
(£29.95, Berry Bros & Rudd; www.coatesandseely.com)
Well known as the man who runs AXA’s wine estates across Europe,
Christian Seely decided to make his own. The first Coates & Seely fizz
was this stunning rosé, which has incredible balance, fruit
concentration and lively, vibrant, natural acidity.

OXFORDSHIRE: WYFOLD VINEYARD BRUT 2010
(£29.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk)
Barbara Laithwaite and Cherry Thompson planted 4,000 vines in the
Chiltern Hills in south Oxfordshire in 2003. Now with sons Henry and
Ben involved in their tiny two hectare project, they won the Battle of
the Bubbles in New Zealand this year.

SURREY: SAINSBURY’S ENGLISH SPARKLING WINE
(£21, Sainsbury’s)
Made by England’s most visited vineyard, Denbies. This cuvée is
elegant, crisp and refined for the price.

KENT: HUSH HEATH BALFOUR BRUT ROSÉ
(£35.99, Waitrose)
Never the cheapest fizz, this is another excellent rosé made by the
Balfour family. Vibrant, with rich red fruit notes, it is a match for
rosé champagne.

Fèis Ìle 2022: Festival bottlings for Bowmore, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Bunnahabhain and Ardbeg - prices and how to buy

CORNWALL: CAMEL VALLEY PINOT NOIR BRUT 2012
(£26.95, www.camelvalley.com)
The Lindos family have created one of the UK’s most successful
vineyards. This is my favourite fizz in their range – the 2009 vintage
scooped a Decanter Gold award for best rosé.

 

Rose Murray Brown is one of only 323 Masters of Wine worldwide and is the only one to host wine courses and regular wine tastings in Scotland.

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