THE 2012 harvest at English sparkling wine producer Nyetimber may turn out to be one of its most significant – yet not a grape was picked.
Winemaker Cherie Spriggs and her team decided that the quality was not good enough – and left them on the vine rather than compromise their standards and reputation.
That is not the only indication of the seriousness that now surrounds English sparkling wine. Many also triumphed at this spring’s wine awards with three of them winning gold awards from the series of blind tastings that comprise the International Wine Challenge. Climate change has probably helped this hike in quality but the terroir is also important. As the similarity of their names implies, the same chalk seam appears to link Champagne’s Côtes des Blancs and the White Cliffs of Dover. That said, weather-related variables this side of the Channel do make the volume here and the quality of vintages capricious. Significantly, too, many vineyards are situated in desirable London commuting areas, so the price of land (and, hence, the wines produced from it) tends to be high.
Nevertheless, several producers have surmounted those difficulties to create top quality sparkling wine. The highest 2013 accolade – the English Sparkling Wine Trophy – went to 2009 Furleigh Estate Classic Cuvee (£28.50 from www.furleighestate.co.uk) from a fairly new winery in Dorset. The wine is made from all three of the classic champagne varieties – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – to create a rich and creamy style with touches of peach, very gentle yeast and excellent balance.
Another gold medal winner was 2008 Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs (£29.99 at Lockett Bros in North Berwick) from Appledore on the edge of Kent’s Romney Marsh using exclusively chardonnay grapes. The wine has fresh apple touches on the palate and the nose followed by a creamy nuttiness and sustained, but soft, mousse.
The final gold medal winner is the 2008 Nyetimber Rosé (£47.95 at Drinkmonger in Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh) which has some chardonnay along with the pinot noir that provides its colour and those white grapes help with the fresh lemon-centred acidity and balance that underpin the wine’s strawberry and cream flavours.
There are also a number of English sparkling wines available on the high street. Waitrose is offering the appealing 2008 Jenkyn Place Brut (£21.99) from Hampshire which, in fact, is made by a former Nyetimber man, Dermot Sugrue. The blend is around 70 per cent chardonnay but with contributions from both of the other two classic champagne grapes. The flavours centre around green apples but they are supplemented by some lemon freshness to underline the acidity and a toasty mellowness.
From Cornwall comes the even mellower 2010 Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut (£27.99 also at Waitrose). This elegant “blanc de noir” newcomer has touches of orange, apricot and red fruits that are counterbalanced by sherbet lemon vitality and a savoury base from the two years it has spent on the lees.
Made by the folk at the Chapel Down Winery in Kent, English Sparkling Brut Reserve (£22) is a non-vintage version with a biscuity backdrop emanating, no doubt, from the time it has spent on its lees. Those touches add complexity to the delicate apple and herbal flavours within the blend which, incidentally, has a small proportion of pinot blanc – to supplement the 48 per cent pinot noir that probably provides the overall delicacy. It’s widely available in nearly 400 M&S stores.
2012 Vinas Del Vero Gewurztraminer, Somontano, Spain: 13 per cent
This part of Spain’s higher ground not only allows gewurz to flourish but also injects some welcome acidity to balance the perception of sweetness that underlies the customary honeyed peach and fragrant lychee flavours. £7.99 – instead of £9.99 until 22 July – at Majestic
2012 Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon, California, USA: 13 per cent
Nicely balanced (rather than blockbuster) Californian red at a great price. Enjoy, in particular, the smooth softness behind its bright, rich and concentrated bramble and cassis fruit and classic minty finish. £5.25 – instead of £6.99 until 14 July – at Morrisons