For the holidays, the English fizz is on the rise
English sparkling wine has gained prestige in recent years, with some experts comparing it to champagne in terms of taste and quality.
Globally, the sector is still relatively small: IWSR’s beverage market analysis reports that sparkling wine produced in the UK accounts for around 0.2% of the total global sparkling wine volume. But sales are increasing: The volume of sparkling wines produced in the UK increased by almost 11% between 2015 and 2020, according to the report.
“Maybe 10 years ago there were only a couple of wines that could have been known outside the UK or certainly recognized by wine critics as well,” said Jonathan White, spokesperson from British wine producer Gusbourne. Today, “there is a collective of maybe 10 to 20 producers who make really excellent wines.
Gusbourne planted his first vines in Appledore, Kent, in 2004. They released their first Brut and Blanc de Blanc sparkling wines in 2010, and say demand has grown steadily since.
“There has been a resurgence of interest from overseas in recent years, as the media and wine critics have started to talk more lovingly and positively about the wines of England,” said White.
Known as the ‘Garden of England’, Kent has long been the birthplace of fruit growing in the UK, so it is only natural that the region has become one of the most prosperous wine regions in the country.
The pandemic gave local producers a boost in 2020, as travelers who couldn’t visit wineries overseas “began to realize that they could in fact visit a winery at home.” says Anne McHale, a certified master of wine in London.
Speaking from the Bloomsbury Hotel, where she curated one of the largest English sparkling wine menus in the UK, McHale says the English sparkling made a name for itself in 1998 when Nyetimber won the best sparkling wine in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
“It was blind judged by a whole slew of champagnes and other sparkling wines by the best judges in the industry, so people started to realize that in this country we can actually make wine. of good quality, ”she says.
Part of the appeal of English sparkling wine, she says, is its close resemblance to champagne. It uses the same three grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier – and the same production method, the “traditional method”.
“This means that the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. The bubbles are trapped, and then the wine has the opportunity to spend some time aging on the yeast, which gives it that lovely brioche and cookie character, ”says McHale.
She adds that the soils where English vines are planted around the South Downs in the South East of England contain a lot of chalk which is almost identical to the Champagne region of France.
Despite all their similarities, there are also factors that give English sparkling wine a unique flavor.
“We are a little further north than Champagne. It’s cooler. And as a result, you get a higher level of acidity in the grapes, which then translates into a sort of mouthwatering crunch and freshness in the wine, ”says McHale.
White agrees. “Champagnes tend to have that kind of nice toasty richness that perhaps comes from a slightly warmer climate, and wines that are perhaps a little more generous in this type of fruit offering. English wines have a much harder sort of citrus backbone. “
Jon Pollard, chief vineyard manager at Gusbourne, says Britain’s longer growing season affects flavor as well.
“We have this ability to have a slow maturing season, in part because of the slightly lower temperatures in this country and the lower levels of sunshine. But it really allows the flavor profiles within the fruit to build up, ”he says.
Pollard adds that Kent is perfectly located off the coast, providing a flowing breeze to keep the crop clean and fresh. “The enemy of fruit is really humidity, humidity and hot temperatures, which breed fungal diseases,” he says.
At the same time, England’s temperamental climate can prove to be a challenge.
Pollard says it took years of trial and error to create the perfect growing conditions.
“You start to know where the problems are going to be,” he says. “So we know where we might start to see a little disease seep in and we know where we’re going to have frost issues and things like that. So with each passing year we are learning more and more about the science and what we can expect from it. “
Some Champagne houses are now investing in English vineyards.
“We’ve always kind of felt like the French think they make the best wine in the world and the English can’t make wine, so it’s quite satisfying to see the French come in and plant some wine. vine, ”said McHale. said.
The temperate British climate attracted the French champagne house Tattinger, who bought farmland in Kent in collaboration with British winemaker Hatch Mansfield to create Domaine Evremond. Having planted their first vines in 2017, their wines will be marketed in the 2020s.
“During the wine growing season, average temperatures in the south of England are approximately the same as they would have been decades ago in Champagne,” says McHale. “So, you know, Champagne producers see the potential of the land in the south of England.”