Friday, 14 October 2011

Simon Hoggart praises English Wine in the Spectator

Simon Hoggart

It is astonishing how much English sparkling wine has improved over the past few years. Some of the best isn’t just good; it is very good indeed, winning awards in blind tastings around the world.

Wines such as Nyetimber, Camel Valley, Chapel Down, Breaky Bottom, Hush Heath and RidgeView are not merely as good as most Champagnes — they are much better.

There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. The soil in southern England is similar to the terroir in Champagne. And Nyetimber of Sussex, who are making this offer in association with Private Cellar, produce far fewer grapes per acre than Champagne growers are allowed, so they can inspect almost every grape that goes into the vats. All these wines are generously discounted. I would say ‘save them for your daughter’s wedding’, but they are far too good for that. Get stuck in now, if only to console yourself on her choice of fiancé.

There is £2 a bottle off the Classic Cuvée 2006 (1) which is packed with flavour, fresh and lively, with a hint of tropical fruit. At £27.99, it is barely pricier than any standard grande marque, and rather grander.

The Blanc de Blancs 2003 (2) at £29.99 is reduced by £3 a bottle, is all Chardonnay, and has that nice warm peachy feel of a fine wine from this grape.

The Rosé 2007 (3) is new, and looks gorgeous as well as tasting terrific. It’s a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the red Burgundy grape) which gives it the lustrous flavour and colour; £5 off per bottle at £40.00.

I can hardly recommend more highly the Classic Cuvée 1995 (4). This is a magnificent wine. It has immense depth, a finish as long as a Fidel Castro speech, flavours of toast, yeast, hazelnuts, apricots and apple. The £6.50 reduction means it still costs £48.49, but that is half what you would pay for a premium cuvée from one of the great names of Champagne. And it is much, much more delicious.
Finally, a real treat, especially for Spectator readers (5). Magnums of the Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) 1996, at £88.99 per magnum (a saving of £10). This wine wins awards for its sheer beauty. It has been left on its lees for years, giving it extra depth and flavour. Honey, oranges, limes and cream all mingle in the glass. Glorious. Delivery, as ever, is free.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Prince Charles' wine advice from Camilla

27 May 2011

Britain's Prince Charles asked his wife Camilla for advice on wines when the visited a wine estate in Surrey yesterday 

Britain's Prince Charles had to ask his wife for advice when the couple visited a wine estate in the UK yesterday (26.05.11).
The heir to the throne visited the award winning Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, South East England with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall - whose father Major Bruce Chand was a wine merchant who passed on his love of the beverage to his daughter.
After taking a sip of the rose Charles joked to his wife: "What does our resident expert think?" and she replied "It's very good. That's so good it's absolutely delicious."
What does our resident expert think? and she replied It's very good. That's so good it's absolutely delicious.
The prince - whose mother Queen Elizabeth visited the site seven years ago - and the duchess were invited to the vineyard by its owner Adrian White who converted a pig farm into a wine producing site in 1984 by planting more than 300,000 vines.
Charles and Camilla were likely picking up tips on their visit after it was recently revealed the royal family are planning to make their own wine at Windsor Great Park.
Charles'father Prince Philip is reportedly involved in the project which aims to plant 16,700 vines in a section of the park in South England which was a former hunting ground for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The vineyard will be planted with champagne varieties - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - with a view to making an English sparkling wine, with Master of Wine and viticultural consultant Stephen Skelton advising on the project

Friday, 6 May 2011

Royal vineyards planted in Windsor

Royal vineyards are being planted this week in Windsor Great Park, organised and managed by Laithwaites – and overseen by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Windsor Great Park
Windsor Great Park (image:

A team led by Laithwaites chief executive Simon McMurtrie has leased the land from the Crown Estate and will begin planting 16,700 vines on three hectares of land within Windsor Great Park.

The 2,000ha park, 20 miles to the west of London, is owned by the Royal family and managed by Royal Farms, which has given Laithwaites its ‘full support’ for the project.

Royal Farms is a private business run by the Duke of Edinburgh, who is taking a personal interest in the project. ‘The Duke is the Ranger of the Estate and he has the ultimate say over what happens on the estate,’ McMurtrie told

The vines planted will all be Champagne varieties: the majority Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The first vintage is expected in 2013, and the wine produced will be exclusively sparkling.

Stephen Skelton MW, a veteran of English wine and one of the first to plant vines in England, at Chapel Down in 1976, is part of the Laithwaites team organising the project.

The news that such a high-profile vineyard is being planted has given a massive boost to English sparkling wine, which is already riding a wave of popularity.

Some 4m bottles of English wine were produced last year, around half of it sparkling. The trade body English Wine Producers reckons there is 75% more land under vine than there was in 2004.

Other high-profile vineyards include Waitrose’s experimental plantings at Leckford Estate in Hampshire, and Decanter consultant editor Steven Spurrier planted just over 4ha at his farm in Dorset in 2009.
Both vineyards are Champagne varieties only, with the first vintages expected to be ready in two or three years.

Prince Philip to create royal wine

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Britain's Prince Philip is reportedly planning to create a vineyard at Windsor Great Park to make wine for the royal family.

Britain's Royal Family are planning to make their own wine at Windsor Great Park.

Prince Philip - husband to Queen Elizabeth - is reportedly involved in the endeavour which aims to plant 16,700 vines in a section of the park in South England which was a former hunting ground for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The vineyard will be planted with champagne varieties - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - with a view to making an English sparkling wine, with Master of Wine and viticultural consultant Stephen Skelton advising on the project, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Royal family to produce its own wine from Windsor Great Park grapes

Royal family to produce its own wine from Windsor Great Park grapes

But now the Royal Family is going one step further with plans to make an English wine of its very own, the Telegraph has learned.
This Sunday, or early next week, depending on the weather, 16,700 vines will be planted in a section of Windsor Great Park, the former hunting park to which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were so devoted.
The fledgling vineyard will be planted with champagne varieties – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, too – with a view to making an English sparkling wine from grapes grown on this corner of Crown Estate.
The Duke of Edinburgh is said to be closely involved and it’s understood that Master of Wine and viticultural consultant Stephen Skelton – who planted the first vines at Chapel Down, now Britain’s biggest producer, back in 1976 – has been advising on the project, which has been greeted with great excitement by the English wine trade.
“It is quite simply the biggest boost the English wine industry has ever had,” says Bob Lindo of Camel Valley vineyards who had a royal visit in 2008. “It’s fantastic".

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Royal family to plant vineyard at Windsor

 Fizz from Sussex is often seen on the banqueting tables of Buckingham Palace; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had wine from Chapel Down in Kent at their wedding and now the Royal family is going one step further with plans to make an English wine of its own.
Next week 16,700 vines will be planted in a section of Windsor Great Park, the former hunting park in Berkshire to which Victoria and Prince Albert were so devoted. The vineyard will be planted with champagne varieties - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - with a view to making an English sparkling wine.
The Duke of Edinburgh is said to be closely involved and it is understood that Stephen Skelton, a Master of Wine and viticultural consultant who in 1976 planted the first vines at Chapel Down, now Britain's biggest producer, has been advising on the project.

The scheme has been welcomed by the English wine trade. "It is quite simply the biggest boost the English wine industry has ever had," says Bob Lindo of Camel Valley vineyards who had a royal visit in 2008. "It's fantastic."
English wine is having quite a moment. As recently as 1984 just 325 hectares of land were producing grapes that were being made into wine but over the past few years there has been a significant increase in planting.
"It's not all in production yet but we've now got 75 per cent more land under vine than we had in 2004," says Julia Trustram Eve of English Wine Producers. "The official figure stands at 1,323 though we estimate that the actual figure is even higher than that.

"There's been a lot of investment in sparkling wine particularly," according to Trustram Eve. "People have really embraced it - and they've been planting a lot of chardonnay and pinot noir to make that. "In 2009 roughly half of the total grape production was intended for sparking wine of one kind or another. "
Figures released yesterday also show that last year English wine had its biggest year, producing the equivalent of just over 4 million bottles, breaking the previous record of 3.5 million.

The Windsor Great Park wine will be just a small drop in this English wine ocean. As vineyards take three years to produce grapes that can be made into wine, it will be quite a wait before anyone can try it.
But perhaps by the time Prince Harry gets around to getting married there will be a royal wine to toast the royal wedding.

ENGLISH WINE: Growing pains

English wine is undergoing a planting boom, especially in the sparkling segment. But will demand keep pace with supply? Graham Holter reports. 
emglish_wine.jpg Mark Driver surveys the East Sussex hillside he has bought, with its uninterrupted view of the Cuckmere estuary and the English Channel beyond. Soon, this quiet patch of chalk downland will be the site of the biggest single vineyard in Britain. The £1m winery, currently just a drawing, will be producing 1m bottles a year of Rathfinny Estate sparkling wine.

The former hedge fund manager paid a reported £3.5m for the 600-acre farm and will plant the first vines there next spring. Most of the vines will be Champagne varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

“We’re going in relatively slowly,” Driver says. “We’re planting up 50 acres, which gives us immediately the right sort of scale, and then we’ll build that up to 150 acres over the following two years, so by 2014 we’ll have 150 acres under vine. By 2015 we’ll be harvesting 150 acres and that’ll satisfy the first part of the winery.

"The following year we’ll see what’s working so that we can then adapt our plantings to make sure we’re planting the right clones for the following three years.

“It’s quite interesting: a lot of people say there’s a big oversupply of English wine, and yet we’ve already had one of the major supermarkets come and knock on the door and say: ‘Can we come and have a look at what you’re doing? We’re really interested – we cannot get enough English sparkling wine at the moment’.”
For the English wine industry, there’s something of a boom going on. Julia Trustram Eve, marketing manager of English Wine Producers, says the total area under vine has increased by more than 40% in five years.

Steady increase
“During that time we’ve seen a steady increase in planting of over 100ha per year,” she adds. “The kinds of people investing come from all walks of life. From landowners to businessmen; backgrounds ranging from law to banking and others. They are coming into this business with their eyes open – they realise that they have to make the business work.

“I would say that vineyard sites are getting larger now. The official data shows that the average size of a vineyard is bigger, although really there’s no such thing as an average-sized English vineyard. Individual vineyard sites are now starting more from 4ha upwards.”

Data compiled by wine consultant Stephen Skelton MW shows that, by and large, viticulture in the UK still happens on a small scale.

There are 180 vineyards less than 1ha in size, and the vast majority – 386 – are smaller than 5ha. Thirty-seven are between 5ha and 10ha, and just 18 are bigger than this. But there is clear evidence that English wine producers are thinking bigger.

“There are already several quite large concerns,” Skelton says, “and for the overall size of the industry, which is around 1,500ha, I think we have more than our fair share. Something like 70% of the production is controlled by 17% of vineyards.”

Bacchus and Seyval Blanc are still widely planted, but in recent times the “vast majority” of new planting has involved Champagne varieties, according to Trustram Eve. These now account for something between 45% and 50% of the total, EWP estimates.

Is English wine a profitable venture – do producers get a return on their investments? “Ask an Australian or Californian the same question,” shrugs Skelton. “Some do, some don’t, some don’t have to, some don’t care – it’s the same the world over. You can make money out of making and selling English wine, but you need to build up a good fan base and sell a lot direct. Chapel Down is a plc and they make money after a fashion. I am sure that Camel Valley makes money. I have several clients that think grape growing is better than many other crops.”

Anthony Rendall, who is currently planning a new vineyard and winery near Glyndebourne in East Sussex (see box), argues that English wine production is cheaper than in Champagne: “The sales price of English sparkling wine varies between 60% and 100% of the price of benchmark Champagne. Production costs, on the other hand, are significantly lower. For instance, the cost of grapes in Sussex during the October 2010 harvest was £1.20 per kilo, which is 20% of the price of comparable grapes in Champagne.

“In these conditions, it is now feasible to develop a highly profitable business by creating a prestigious brand and making an early claim on this relatively new and extremely promising market. Rather than compete on price and volume, we will concentrate on limited volumes of the highest quality product.”
His future near neighbour, Mark Driver at Rathfinny, argues that economies of scale are a key factor. “In order to make something a commercial venture as a vineyard you need a minimum of 50 acres; really it’s 150 acres and then it becomes a proper commercial venture,” he says. “Below that the economies just aren’t there.

“If you’re going to make your own wine, the investment in the winery itself is just so expensive and the cost of expanding that to accommodate extra acreage is so minimal, because it’s just tanks.”
Few, if any, now doubt that English wine can compete on quality, because producers like Nyetimber, RidgeView and Camel Valley have proved it can be world-class. But the longer-term question is whether supply will ever outstrip demand.

Stephen Spurrier, whose Bride Valley Vineyard is preparing to enter the fray (see box), says: “I don’t see supply getting too big for the moment, as the local demand is very strong. However, people like Nyetimber are looking at a million bottles in a few years, and that means exporting at least 50%. Not a business I would like to be in.”

Skelton adds: “My estimate is that the 500,000 bottles available now will rise to possibly 5m bottles by 2020. This is based upon current planted areas and if this continues to rise then so, eventually, will the production.”
This estimate would potentially give English producers 40% of the sparkling wine market in the UK, compared to the 4% they enjoy now. “A big ask,” he admits, “although in my view not an impossible one.” More wines priced below £20 would certainly stimulate sales, he argues, but simply making products more visible – a natural by-product of increased supply – would also play a big role.

“The demand is unknown,” he says. “What was the demand for Baileys, Red Bull, flavoured vodkas etc before they were invented? The demand will come when the supply arrives – until people see it on shelves, they cannot buy it."

Graham Holter, April 2011

English wine enjoys bumper 2010

A record amount of English wine, 4 million bottles, was produced last year as an increasing number of farmers turn to the popular crop.

English wine: Nyetimber vineyard
Nyetimber vineyard 
Though last year's harvest was marred by the cold and wet late summer, it proved to be good conditions for sparkling wine, which thrives in cool weather.
Figures from English Wine Producers, the trade body, said that 30,346 hectolitres was produced, equating to just over 4 million bottles in 2010. This is the highest volume ever produced, breaking a previous record of 3.5 million bottles and up from 3.14 million in 2009.
The substantial increase suggests farmers are starting to take the crop seriously, having increased the amount of land turned over to wine grapes by nearly 75 per cent over the last five years to 3,270 acres.
The extra vines have been mostly planted by, or by suppliers of, two of the biggest producers, Chapel Down and Nyetimber, both of whom specialise in sparkling wine. The figures suggested that over half of all the wine produced in England is now sparkling.
Another major new entrant is the supermarket Waitrose, which in 2009 started planting chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes – classic varieties used by Champagne producers – at its Leckford Estate in Hampshire. These vines will not start producing grapes for another year or two.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Sales of English wines soar as Brits celebrate the royal wedding

A surge in patriotism was visible at supermarkets as well as street parties, with sales of homegrown goods rocketing.

The royal wedding created a £480million boost for shops with Waitrose reporting that its sales of English wines were up 82 per cent compared with last year. 

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 12:34 PM on 2nd May 2011
Read more:

Friday, 29 April 2011


The ENGLISH WINE PRODUCERS TRADE & PRESS TASTING takes place next week on Thursday, 5th May at One Great George Street, London SW1, between 10.30am and 4.30pm.

An impressive number of recently released and currently available wines from the leading commercial producers in the industry will be on show, set out in style order on a central table and also available to taste on producers’ stands.

Another popular feature is the selection of wines represented by the industry’s regional vineyard associations. These are wines produced by smaller commercial vineyards, showing the quality and diversity of styles from around the UK.

This year there will be an additional attraction for trade and press visitors. At 2pm, Wine trade marketer MIKE PAUL will be giving a short presentation on his own insight in to the industry; its current position and future direction. The informal discussion will take place in the same hall as the tasting and last approximately 30 minutes, with time allowed for questions and further discussion from the floor.

Mike was appointed last year as Business & Marketing Mentor to the UK wine industry by an EU/Defra funded training initiative – Wineskills – set up and run by Plumpton College. Over the last year he has visited and advised a large number of producers around the country, of varying sizes and with different market positions. As a result Mike has developed an in-depth knowledge of the UK wine industry. No one could be better qualified to talk incisively about the state of the industry and its future prospects. With so much viticultural development taking place in the UK, and increasing media and trade interest in its wines, Mike’s talk will deliver a truly informative insight in to this exciting wine region.

Many people from the wine trade will know Mike and be aware of his extensive wine trade career of over 35 years, during which time he has held prominent posts with major international companies. He has also played a leading role in such organisations as Wines of Australia and the South African Wine Importers Committee.

English wines have featured prominently in the press surrounding the interest over the Royal Wedding and of course the trade is preparing for next year’s packed programme of British celebration. The EWP Trade Tasting provides the opportunity to taste the wines from prominent producers to regional gems all under one roof.

The EWP tasting is open to trade and press only. To attend, or for further information, please contact English Wine Producers on Tel: 01536 772264 or email:

Mike Paul’s talk at the EWP trade tasting will take place at 2pm in The Great Hall. Visitors are welcome to register beforehand by contacting EWP on the above contacts, or participate on the day.

A list of exhibiting producers is available on

Trade information on this year’s English Wine Week along with point of sale material will be available at the tasting.
(Drinks Media Wire).

New York Times critic praises English wine

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Influential US wine critic Eric Asimov has predicted a bright future for English sparkling wines in America, even though virtually none are sold there at the moment.

The New York Times critic recently visited a number of English producers and has written about his experiences in the newspaper and on his blog.

Optimism that England can make world-class sparkling wine "is not at all unfounded", Asimov says.

"English sparkling wines may not yet rival very good Champagnes, but the best versions are already surprisingly good. I was especially taken with the elegant blanc de blancs from Ridgeview Estate in East Sussex and Gusbourne Estate in Kent. Hush Heath Estate's Balfour Brut Rosé is quite good."

In his blog he added: "So far, English sparkling wines are hard to come by in the United States. Nobody imports them yet, although Ridgeview plans to begin sending wines to New York and Washington after the 2011 harvest. My guess is that we'll begin to see English sparkling wines show up over the next five years or so, especially after some well-known figures in the wine world begin production of their own wines."

But Asimov was not impressed by the still wines he sampled. "I did try a few and I can't say I was encouraged," he said. "Of course, conclusions can come only after a far more comprehensive investigation, but those who've tasted more than I have are not much more positive about it."

Written by Graham Holter
Harpers Wine and Spirit Trades Review
29 April 2011

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Toasting William and Kate's big day? It's a great excuse to open some British fizz

All eyes are on London this week. I imagine if there are aliens up in space, even they will be turning their telescopes on Westminster to examine the extraordinary human antics that unfold in this country around a royal wedding.

Across the world, we’ll be scrutinising her dress, his shoes, the unfortunate moment the Queen wrinkles her nose that makes her look as though her blue blood’s hit boiling point at the thought of a prince marrying a pleb.
But the most important question about the wedding of Wills and Kate is, of course, what should we be drinking on the big day?

If I were picking the wines for the Royal Wedding, I’d have no hesitation in bellowing orders to royal footmen that nothing but English fizz is to be sipped from dawn till dusk by every guest, straggler, gate-crasher and dignitary at the bash. And I’ve just found a belter of a newcomer: Gusbourne Estate.

Have a crack at its Brut Reserve 2006, £21.99, or Blanc de Blancs, from Applegate in Kent. It’s not even hit the shops yet but you can call the vineyard on 01233 758666 to order the Blanc de Blancs for £24.99 a bottle. With wines like this of zinging royal exuberance and classy delicate bubbles, Gusbourne is a name that you’ll be hearing a whole lot more of.

English bubbly is fast making a name for itself – there’s word of a big new planting planned near to me in Sussex, success on the international awards stage for Camel Valley and Ridgeview, and the establishment of reliable  producers, such as Nyetimber and  Hush Heath, as well as smaller producers, such as the splendidly named Breaky Bottom.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

English sparkling wines to showcase at Vinitaly

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Tuesday, 05 April 2011
For the first time English Sparkling wines are to be showcased at Vinitaly

It comes on the back of Camel Valley Vineyard recently winning best International Sparking Rosé at Bollicine del Mondo.

The trade visit was encouraged and implemented by Italian wine magazine Euposia, who are organisers of an international sparkling wine competition, Bollicine del Mondo, which is open only to traditional method, traditional varietal sparkling wines.

The delegation will head out to Verona on April 7-10, to present their wines to an assembled audience of trade visitors and journalists as part of the tasting events taking place alongside the wine fair itself.

They are: Bob Lindo of Camel Valley Vineyard, Samantha Linter of Bolney Wine Estate, Andrew Weeber, owner of Gusbourne Estate and Vicky Ash, assistant winemaker at Hush Heath Estate.

Also represented will be Ridgeview Wine Estate and Denbies Wine Estate, whose sparkling wines have earned them top medals and awards nationally and internationally.

Julia Trustram Eve from English Wine Producers, said: "This is a first for English sparkling wine - to have an opportunity to showcase some of our top wines to a truly international audience. This is a start to seeking a higher profile abroad for our wines."

The tasting will take place on April 9.

Friday, 25 March 2011

2006 Balfour Hush Heath Brut Rosé

In a celebration of all things British, Britain’s favourite cruise line, P&O Cruises, has chosen the Balfour Brut Rosé from Hush Heath Estate for the naming ceremony of its newest ship, Adonia, in May.

When the ship’s godmother, Dame Shirley Bassey, releases the bottle against the ship’s hull to name the ship officially, it will be the first time that a British sparkling wine has been used in this ancient maritime tradition.
TV wine expert Olly Smith said, “Balfour Brut Rosé is a celebration in a bottle. Gloriously refreshing with invigorating zing and plenty of finely crafted tiny bubbles, this pink fizz is a glimpse of the first rate quality on our shores. Cheers!”

P&O Cruises managing director, Carol Marlow said “It is a fabulous and fitting choice for such a celebration. With a party atmosphere onboard, it is only right that as we toast our newest ship we appreciate the fine quality of sparkling wine we now produce in this country.”

Described as “England’s most exclusive Pink Fizz”, Balfour Brut Rosé is grown on Hush Heath Estate from three classic Champagne varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Hidden from the world by a giant cordon sanitaire of ancient woodland, the flavour and philosophy of Balfour Brut Rosé owes much to its historic setting. The fine soils, mild climate and long history of fruit growing, has made the Weald of Kent home to the finest vineyards planted in the UK in the last 50 years.

“My aim is to make the finest rosé sparkling wine, comparable with the great rosé Champagnes. The passion and enthusiasm by everyone involved with Balfour Brut Rosé has led to us winning a number of prestigious international awards”, said Richard Balfour-Lynn, producer.

In May 2009 Balfour Brut Rosé was awarded a Gold Medal and the first Trophy ever awarded to an English Wine in the Decanter World Wine Awards, the biggest wine competition in the world that year.

Adonia’s naming celebrations will take place in Southampton on Saturday May 21, 2011, with the maiden voyage the following day.

For details of itineraries see
To contact Hush Heath Estate visit or

Saturday, 12 March 2011

English Sparkling Wine v Champagne – who will win?

“Judgment of Parson’s Green”

English Sparkling Wine v Champagne – who will win?

The Tasters
A stellar line up of tasters (in alphabetical order): Suzie Barrie MW (Winchester Wine School proprietor who wrote her MW dissertation on Champagne), Dee Blackstock MW (Champagne and sparkling wine buyer for Waitrose), Sue Daniels (MW student and wine technologist for Marks and Spencer) Michael Edwards (journalist and author of several books on Champagne), Victoria Moore (journalist, wine columnist for the Daily Telegraph), Jancis Robinson MW, OBE (journalist and wine-polymath), Julia Trustram Eve (English Wine Producers), plus myself.

The Wines
52 English Sparkling Wines – all from award winning producers – against six non-UK sparkling wines (four Champagnes and two others). The wines were arranged in three flights: 11 Blanc de Blancs inc. Sainsbury’s excellent BdB Champagne (£18.49), 15 Rosés inc. Sainsbury’s Etienne Dumont NV £18.99) and 32 blends inc. 2 Champagnes – Moët & Chandon NV (£30.99), Sainsbury’s Defontaine Premier Cru Champagne (£19.99), Pelorus 2006, Cloudy Bay’s New Zealand vintage sparkler (£17.99) and Codorniu’s top Cava (£12.99).

All wines were served blind, the RidgeView magnum was decanted into a standard bottle and tasters were free to (and did) taste the wines in any order they wished. The Champagnes were carefully chosen; the Moët because it is the world’s largest Champagne brand, the UK’s favourite and considered by most to be the benchmark for NV Champagnes, and the Sainsbury’s Champagnes because the Blanc de Blancs is a truly excellent wine and unbeatable at the price, and the two others because they are recognised as offering superb quality and value for money. The fact that there was a 25% discount for 6 bottles or more also helped! The Pelorus vintage is one of New Zealand’s best and as it is owned by LVMH they ought to know something about making the stuff. Likewise the Cava – Codorniu – Spain’s top producer with over 150 years of experience in sparkling wine. The wines were also chosen because they were in the same price range as UK-sparklers are selling - £12.90 to £36.99.

The Results

Average scores
Varietal blend
 Retail price
Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs
Chardonnay 100%
Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs in Magnum
Chardonnay 100%
Etienne Dumont Rosé (Maison Burtin)
Gusbourne Estate
Brut Reserve
Chardonnay 46% Pinot noir 41% Meunier 13%
Nyetimber Rosé
Chardonnay, Pinot noir
Chardonnay 54% Pinot Noir 26% Pinot Meunier 20%
Plumpton Estate
The Dean
Pinot noir 90%, Chardonnay 10%
JS Blanc de Blanc (Duval Leroy)
Chardonnay 100%
Moet & Chandon
Brut Imperial
Pinot noir 50%, Chardonnay 10%, Meunier 40%
Defontaine Premier Cru (Maison Burtin)
Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Meunier
Plumpton Estate  
The Dean Blush
Pinot noir 94%, Chardonnay 6%
Chapel Down
Pinot Reserve
Pinot Noir 70%, Pinot Blanc 30%
Classic Cuvée
Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier
South Ridge Cuvée Merret (RidgeView)
Chardonnay 60%, Pinot noir 28%, Meunier 12%
Jenkyn Place
Jenkyn Place Brut
Chardonnay 61%, Pinot noir 23%, Pinot Meunier 16%
Hush Heath Estate
Balfour Brut Rosé
Pinot noir 55%, Chardonnay 40%, Pinot Meunier 5%
Limney Estate Blanc de blancs
Reichensteiner 100%
Camel Valley
Pinot Noir Brut
Pinot noir 100%
Blanc de Blancs
Chardonnay 100%
Breaky Bottom
Cuvée John Inglis Hall
Seyval blanc 100%

One thing is certain: the best UK sparkling wines can more than hold their own with Champagne. Although Champagne occupied four of the top ten places, that still meant that six were English and with only one point separating the top twelve wines, it was all very close. RidgeView undoubtedly were the stars of the tasting and with their wines (I include wines they made for both themselves and their clients) occupying ten out of the top thirty wines, there is no doubt that the team is on a roll. Their win at the Decanter World Wine Awards last year (Best World Wide Sparkling Wine over £10) with the Grosvenor 2006 was no fluke. I rated their 2001 Grosvenor in magnum as my personal favourite when I tasted it at the EWP St. George’s Day tasting last year (and promptly ordered six bottles to be kept for me for a future occasion) but now having tasted the 2000 Grosvenor in magnum, I am not so sure! I need to do a comparative tasting.

The other Top Twenty winners were the other serious players – Breaky Bottom (with the only Seyval blanc-based wine in the top 20), Camel Valley, Davenport (with a great 100% Reichensteiner), Gusbourne, Hush Heath, Nyetimber, Plumpton, Chapel Down, Jenkyn Place – all regular medal and award winners and capable of making good sparkling wines in a range of styles and over different vintages.

Of course no tasting is without its losers and this one was no exception. Whilst not wanting to single out any vineyard in particular, there is no doubt that on the basis of this tasting, wines made from non-Champagne varieties fared poorly. Apart from the Reichensteiner and Seyval blanc already mentioned, ALL the non-Champagne variety wines were placed at position 26 or below and whilst there were plenty of Champagne-variety blends in the bottom half of the tasting, these tended to be the younger wines suggesting that wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Meunier often (although certainly not always) require longer in bottle to come around. Older bottle-aged wines also tend to have a better nose – scoring points even before they have been tasted – whereas a short-aged bottle-fermented wine often lacks this attribute. All of the non-Champagne multi-variety blends scored badly (all in the bottom ten) and were probably best forgotten

The Conclusions
The best producers, those using the right varieties and clones, making their wine with care, ageing them for an appropriate length of time, and putting them on the market with a dosage that both respects the wine and the sector of the market they are aiming at, can produce wines that are truly world-class and at prices that are in no way out of line with the competition. With the UK sparkling wine industry barely out of nappies, what can we achieve over the next 25 years? When you consider that Dom Pérignon was perfecting the blending and assemblage of Champagne over three hundred years ago (he died in 1715) I think we can be pleased at the progress so far. As my teachers often wrote in school reports: “good work this term, but could do better” (usually with “--- if he paid attention/stopped larking about/applied himself” added on!). So it is with English Sparkling wine. In my opinion this is only the start. As both vineyards and growers mature, as winemakers learn from their past results, the quality of English Sparkling Wines can only improve. Many, many thanks to all those growers and winemakers who supplied wines and to the tasters who crowded into my flat. I hope to make this an annual event, so watch this space.

Stephen Skelton MW