Taste the difference: English sparkling wine


Warehouse shop

English wines are enjoying a wonderful summer – not just out in the vineyards, but also when it comes to their increasingly celebrated reputation for quality. Stephanie Barlow, a Wine Advisor who recently hosted a sell-out tasting of Southern Belles in our Warehouse Shop, explores their many and varied charms.

The profusion of fantastic farmers’ markets means it’s easy to support local produce – but shouldn’t we also be looking closer to home when it comes to our wine? With many English vineyards now producing some truly impressive sparkling, journeying across the channel to source something for a special occasion is less of a necessity: we have terrific treats right here in our beautiful southern counties.

Last Thursday, in our recently refurbished Warehouse Shop in Basingstoke, we took the opportunity to showcase a range of English sparkling wines at our Southern Belles tasting. Alongside these crisp, fine wines, we also invited some excellent local food producers to concoct interesting food pairings to demonstrate the wines’ versatility.

What the evening really highlighted was the range of styles which are to be found along the chalk downlands of the south. For fresh, green-apple crispness, the Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV (from its south-facing vineyards in Hampshire) perfectly exhibited the fresh acidity so characteristic of English sparkling wine; for elegance and wild strawberry notes, the Pinot Noir-dominant Jenkyn Place 2009 Rosé, which was so wonderfully explained to us by Simon Bladon himself, fitted the bill.

The 2009 Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve demonstrates how well Chardonnay performs on the clay- and chalk-rich soils of Kent and West Sussex, displaying zesty citrus notes perfectly balanced with warming baked brioche. Also found in West Sussex, former home of Anne of Cleaves, is Nyetimber – a true pioneer in English winemaking and the first English vineyard to exclusively focus on the three Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The 2009 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée has perfect balance and structure with attractive lemon and freshly baked bread characters, an ideal match for the tasty charcuterie courtesy of Parsonage Farm at the tasting.

If the zestiness of Chardonnay isn’t for you, take a trip from Padstow to Wadebridge along the Camel River in Cornwall and the sample the wonderful Camel Valley 2009 Pinot Noir. Displaying elegant red berries and a hint of sherbet, it’s crisp and refreshing with an intense, long finish. Another fine example of the merits of the red grape varieties is the 2009 Ridgeview Victoria. This Pinot Meunier-dominant Saignee-method rose with complex citrus notes and subtle red berries was a perfect match for the hot oak smoked salmon blinis from British Fine Foods.

Over recent years, afternoon teas have increased in popularity: this indulgent trend gives us the ideal opportunity to be patriotic as English sparkling wines are a wonderful match with freshly baked scones (as demonstrated by those we tried from The Bakehouse in Old Basing on Thursday evening, which were served with Dart Valley Foods’ strawberry jam). Another favourite pairing, which may come as a surprise, was chocolate with sparkling wine: the unanimous winner on Thursday evening was the Pink Himalayan Salt and Toasted Almond from Kokoh Chocolate. The salt makes a perfect partner for the crisp acidity of the English fizzes.

We also conducted a  blind tasting of our Berrys’ Own Champagne alongside the Hambledon Classic Cuvée: many customers thought that the Hambledon was the Champagne, which shows just shows how well these English wines stand up to their French counterparts.

By supporting our local wine-makers we can help to build a stronger domestic market for English sparkling – not to mention showing the French that we can do it just as well (or better!) than they can. If it’s been a while since you last tasted English sparkling, you may be pleasantly surprised at just what a sophisticated product it now is. Come and visit us in the Warehouse Shop in Hampshire: with 10 different English sparkling wines on offer, we’re confident we can find one that’ll hit the spot.

For more information on how to find the Warehouse Shop, its events or opening times, please go to bbr.com