Johnny Hallyday or the Beatles? Zidane or Beckham? Roast beef or Chateaubriand? Throw in a pinch of Waterloo and a soupçon of Agincourt and we have England Vs France, ye olde rivalry that is showing the green shoots of renaissance within the world of wine.
There is a gathering storm of whispers within the wine trade declaring English sparkling wine as comparable to any non-vintage champagne.
In the fine dining restaurants of New York, English fizz is literally the toast of the town. Do not scoff quite so loudly you quaffers of France’s finest, there are reasons for this outpouring of love and affection, and here are my top 5...
The wines are made in exactly the same way.
Well so they should be, we did after all invent the Méthode Champenoise! This is the adding of yeast and sugar to already fermented still wine to produce secondary fermentation and bubbles! Though commonly attributed to Dom Perignon, this method of getting bubbles into bottles was presented to London's Royal Society by Englishman, Christopher Merret some 30 years before the famous monk supposedly declared "Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!"
The soil is the same.
Sooner or later any conversation about why one such wine is better than another turns to soil! Basically the Paris Basin, the geological region that gives Champagne its chalky soil extends under the channel and into the South East of England. Think the White Cliffs of Dover or the Seven Sisters, it’s this type of soil that is not only found in the South Downs (the hub of the English wine industry) but also Kent, Hampshire and Surrey.
The weather’s just as miserable in Champagne!
Champagne’s climate is less than ideal for growing grapes ripe enough for still, table wine. However, the lack of sun is actually a blessing as the tart, acidic wines make ideal base wines with which to make quality fizz.
The grapes are the same.
Until recently our climate restricted the English wine industry to bland early ripening grapes. However, global warming has made it possible to produce Champagne’s holy trinity of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier to levels of ripeness comparable with Champagne.
English and proud!
As the English wine industry matures, so does its identity. The core character is a zesty, bracing acidity awash with vibrant apple characters ranging from lean Granny Smith to lush baked apple. The style is overwhelmingly dry and elegant with English producers seemingly wary of adding too high a dosage. Dosage is a liquid that consists of a mixture of reserve wine and very pure cane sugar, which is added at the end of the production process and determines the sweetness of the fizz.
Shop for English Sparkling Wine or Champagne with Whitmore & White
The future is undoubtedly bright for English fizz. As vines mature, the wine is just going to get better and better. And as their businesses get more established, producers will be able to afford to leave their wines on lees for longer during secondary fermentation. Then we might well attain the complexity to truly rival the top champagne houses.
Terroir is that hallowed French term to describe how Mother Nature interacts with grapes to produce wines of an identity unique to that particular place. What I’ve hopefully got across is that there are definite parallels between the terroir of Champagne and the important English wine producing counties and though they're not cheap, English sparkling is something to be excited and proud of.
Until next time,
Manager, W&W Frodsham