Local heroes: tasting & matching English sparkling wines

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Drinks: Sparkling
Location: England

You don’t need to look far to find a hot wine category – there’s one right on your doorstep. Clinton Cawood puts a selection of England’s best sparklers in front of a keen panel of sommeliers


It’s all happening in the English wine category right now. There are more and more wineries appearing every year, and still more on the way. And if the pace of the last few years continues, we could soon find ourselves with a category that has far more than niche appeal.

HOW IT WORKS

We asked English producers of sparkling wine to submit a maximum of two wines each, provided they were available to the UK on-trade. Tasters were aware of each wine’s price, region and vintage, if applicable. Each wine was scored out of 20, taking value for money into account. Even though wines were tasted blind, in cases where tasters had an affiliation with a particular wine or winery, their scores for those wines were disregarded. Scores were then collated to obtain a percentage score. All prices listed are ex-VAT trade.

At English wine’s heart is sparkling wine, the style that, for all the advances in still styles, remains justified in receiving the most plaudits and attention. To get a feel for how the category’s doing, we called in sparkling wines from wineries around England – all able to submit two wines each. We received an array of wines, both vintage and non-vintage, brut and rosé, not to mention some blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs.

The results were eye-opening. There’s definitely quality here, increasingly so, and tasters rewarded this with high scores. But pricing remains an issue, with English sparklers hovering dangerously close to champagne territory when it comes to restaurant wine lists.

Having said that, in spite of the challenges ahead, judging by these results we’re in for an interesting next few years as England’s sparkling wine producers continue to find their feet. And there’ll be more than a few good glasses of bubbly to toast in celebration.


PANEL

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Donald Edwards, consultant; Michael Harrison, michaelharrisonwines.com; André Luis Martins, Seven Park Place, St James’s Hotel and Club; Diego Muntoni, Oxo Tower Restaurant; Angelika Oparczyk, Heddon Street Kitchen; Devon Pryor, Home House; Edouard Souchal, The Richmond; William Wilson, The Chesterfield Mayfair


RESULTS

BRUT NON-VINTAGE

83 Hambledon Première Cuvée, Hampshire
‘A heavy bottle with a punchy price, but bright, fresh, ripe apple notes on the nose, with a hint of pear and a touch of white flower. Elegant fruit, with very good body,’ DE. ‘Definitely a sparkling wine for food matching, with ripe apples and a bit of smokiness. Good with fish, or even with pork fillets,’ AO.
£30.50, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

79 Hambledon Classic Cuvée, Hampshire
‘A good nose, combining biscuit and lemon notes, leading to more biscuit on the palate, supported by lovely bright apple and nectarine fruit. An excellent wine,’ CC. ‘Round and mature on the nose, with ripe apple on the palate, good citrus notes too, and good length,’ MH.
£22, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

76 Wiston Estate Brut NV, West Sussex
‘Clean and crisp floral aromas with fresh pear and some biscuit notes. The palate is herbal, with green apple and sweet pear notes too, along with fresh grass. Complex but with a clean finish,’ AM. ‘Fresh citrus notes alongside some subtle richer cream and honey characters,’ WW.
£20.79, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2400

74 Exton Park Brut NV, Hampshire
‘Delicate green and floral aromas. Some clean stone fruit flavours, with green apple on the back palate, and a lovely Granny Smith finish,’ DE. ‘Bright and fresh, with good acidity. Citrus fruit notes, with a clean finish – very refreshing.’ ES.
£13, Exton Park Wines, 01489 878788

73 Denbies Whitedowns Cuvée, Dorking, Surrey
‘A tight nose, with some candied notes. Balanced acidity on the palate, with an almost herbaceous character. Good value too,’ MH. ‘Elderflower and lemongrass aromas, leading to a palate with a fine fizz and a peachy finish,’ AO.
£14.66, Denbies Wine Estate, 01306 876616

English sparkling wine tasting 72 Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV, Hampshire
‘Yeasty, with lemon aromas, leading to a nervy palate, wanting to explode, with lots of lime and mineral notes. This needs some time to develop,’ DM. ‘Autolytic, bready notes at first, along with green apple skin, leading to an elegant, precise palate, with green apple, lemon and lime notes,’ CC.
£21.13, Coates & Seely, 01256 892220

71 Harvey Nichols English Sparkling Brut, West Sussex
Just about to join the list at Oxo Tower (as part of the Harvey Nichols group), this Digby-produced sparkler was a surprise entry on the day. ‘Sweet floral notes, with ripe peach, lychee and a biscuity note. Peach, wild strawberry and nuts follow, with a creamy mousse and balanced body,’ AM. ‘A slight caramel note, alongside some Starburst-style raspberry and strawberry notes. The palate is very fruity, with peach and cherry notes,’ CC.
£26.50 RRP, Harvey Nichols, 020 7235 5000

BRUT VINTAGE

81 Henners Reserve 2010, East Sussex
‘Pink grapefruit and floral, rose notes, and some complex, bready aromas, leading to peach and orange zest on the palate, with an elegant finish,’ AM. ‘Bready, complex and rounded, with a long finish. A good match for seafood, such as Dover sole meunière,’ WW.
£21, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

81 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009, West Sussex
‘Rich on the nose, with toasty, buttery notes coming through, along with ripe fruit – a very pleasant wine, with an elegant finish,’ ES. ‘Baked apple and biscuit, bread notes, with a long finish. An excellent wine that would go well with chicken liver and foie gras parfait,’ WW.
£26.02, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

80 Chapel Down Three Graces 2009, Kent
‘Peach and golden apple, as well as some apricot and dried stone fruit aromas, leading to rich winter fruit flavours, with nice freshness and minerality,’ DP. ‘Confit stone fruit on the nose, leading to lots of apple, with a marmalade flavour – almost mandarin. A very nice style,’ DM.
£14.95, Chapel Down, 01580 763033

79 Digby Fine English 2009 Reserve Brut, West Sussex
‘Apple and pear on the nose, with some white flowers too. A creamy biscuit note follows on the rounded palate, with a nice bite,’ DE. ‘Fine, light bubbles, with good acidity and fresh Granny Smith apple notes throughout,’ AO.
£26.07, Coe Vintners, 020 8551 4966

77 Bride Valley Cuvée Réserve 2011, Dorset
‘Lightly spiced apple compote on the nose, along with dried apricot. A nice richness to the palate,’ DE. ‘Golden colour, with ripe apple notes, as well as some cinnamon and other sweet spices, lifted by medium acidity,’ AO.
£24.02, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

75 Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2010, Hampshire
‘Red berries and mince pie, with spices and brandied orange notes. More red berry on the palate, with some white pepper mid-palate, and minerality on the finish,’ DP. ‘A hedgerow and confected apple note – nice complexity, with a lovely green apple note on the palate, and a hint of anise or clove,’ DE.
£24.02, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

73 Denbies Cubitt Reserve 2009, Dorking, Surrey
‘Some apple and apricot notes, with warm spices hiding behind. Considerable fruit on the palate, and quite vinous in style, with some clementine acidity to finish,’ DP. ‘Lime cordial and stone fruit compote, leading to a persistent, fresh palate, with limey acidity. This has the potential to age and develop,’ DM.
£18.33, Denbies Wine Estate, 01306 876616

72 Jenkyn Place Brut Cuvée 2010, Hampshire
‘Fresh peach notes, floral aromas and some biscuit notes, as well as light minerality. Citrus and sweet peach notes follow on the palate,’ AM. ‘Quite steely at first, with citrus pith on both nose and palate. Lean, light and refreshing, with a slight bready note too,’ CC.
£15.50, Jenkyn Place, 020 7736 3102

68 Ridgeview Cavendish 2013, East Sussex
‘Green fruit, elderflower and gooseberry – a very refreshing and enjoyable wine. Fragrant and loveable!’ ES. ‘Sweet peach and lightly floral, leading to a citrus and light camomile palate. Complex and sweet, with some bread character,’ AM.
£19.42, Enotria World Wine, 020 8961 4411

ROSÉ NON-VINTAGE

86 Wiston Estate Rosé Brut, West Sussex
‘A lovely nose, with complex nectarine fruit, along with floral and spice notes, all of them very elegant. Pleasant and fresh on the palate, with red fruit and citrus. Long, with lots of genuine fruit – this is very good!’ DP. ‘Love it – lovely ripe fruit followed by complexity and richness – good weight and texture,’ ES.
£29.96, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2400

75 Hush Heath Estate, Balfour 1503 Rosé NV, Kent
‘Pale, almost Provence-rosé pink, with flavours like a watercolour wash of blackcurrant and apple, plus a delicate floral note,’ DE. ‘Delicate fizz. This is a slightly off-dry wine, with fruity, ripe strawberry notes,’ AO.
£22.32, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924

70 Coates & Seely Rosé NV, Hampshire
‘Wild berry and herbal notes, along with some complex citrus aromas. The palate follows with more citrus, peach and berry flavours, as well as a herbal character,’ AM. ‘Light and delicate, with subtle flavours of strawberry and orange blossom – a match for red mullet,’ WW.
£22.60, Coates & Seely, 01256 892220

English sparkling wine tasting69 Chapel Down Rosé Brut, Kent
‘Persistent cherry and raspberry on the nose, with quite a candied palate, and strawberry notes,’ MH. ‘Concentrated red fruit on this crisp, fresh and fruity wine. A good match for smoked salmon, or Parma ham,’ WW.
£14.95, Chapel Down, 01580 763033

ROSÉ VINTAGE

81 Hush Heath Estate, Balfour Brut Rosé 2010, Kent
‘Super-pale, with subtle orange notes on the nose, leading to a fresh palate with lively acidity, and just enough flavour and length,’ DP. ‘A very distinct wine – elegant and quite shy, but with strawberries and cream. Very pleasant, with balanced fruit and acidity,’ ES.
£28.72, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924

81 Nyetimber Rosé 2009, West Sussex
‘Pure fruit notes, with yeasty, bready elements too. Strawberry and raspberry flavours on the palate, with good body and a long finish. Very good, and versatile for food matches – but expensive!’ WW. ‘Creamy red fruits, leading to a nicely balanced palate, with slightly high acidity,’ DE.
£35.20, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

75 Henners Brut Rosé 2011, East Sussex
‘Lifted red fruit on the nose, followed by crisp, fresh red fruit on the palate – a great wine,’ MH. ‘Clean and approachable, with a strawberries and cream note. There’s some sweetness here, but it’s balanced by some good acidity,’ CC.
£21, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

71 Jenkyn Place Sparkling Rosé 2009, Hampshire
‘Fresh wild berry fruit on the nose, leading to sweet raspberry and floral, rose notes on the palate, with a clean finish,’ AM. ‘Pink candied cherry fruit, leading to something rather savoury on the palate, and with good minerality too,’ DP.
£15.50, Jenkyn Place, 020 7736 3102

BLANC DE NOIRS NON-VINTAGE

76 Ambriel Blanc de Noirs, West Sussex
‘Intense apple fruit, with some yeasty notes in the background. A lovely non-aggressive mousse, with some development on the palate and a pleasing savoury complexity,’ DM. ‘Ripe red fruit on the nose, with a powerful and persistent palate. Lovely, with a great price, and will improve,’ MH.
£23.35, A&B Vintners, 01892 724977

69 Exton Park Blanc de Noirs NV, Hampshire
‘Subtle fennel bulb and white flower characters, with lovely acidity on the palate – a very clean style of sparkling wine,’ DP. ‘A good, savoury nose, with floral and citrus notes. This is balanced and soft on the palate, with a long, pleasing finish,’ WW.
£15, Exton Park Wines, 01489 878788

BLANC DE BLANCS VINTAGE

70 Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs 2011, East Sussex
‘This is classic Chardonnay, with some autolytic notes, and soft, gentle acids. It’s still young – and will only improve,’ MH. ‘A heady, floral, summer morning scent, with some sweet pear notes. There’s nice balance in here, plus a dried flowers, potpourri-like note on the finish,’ DE.
£22.19, Enotria, 020 8961 4411

69 Hattingley Valley Blanc de Blancs 2010, Hampshire
‘Fresh and aromatic, with citrus zest on the nose, leading to fruity sweet pear notes, along with light, sweet orange flavours, and a touch of spiciness as well,’ AM. ‘A restrained nose, leading onto an unusual palate, with some unripe pineapple and nectarine characters, as well as an interesting floral element,’ CC.
£27.82, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

DEMI-SEC NON-VINTAGE

79 Ambriel English Reserve, West Sussex
‘Peach compote, as well as a yeasty note. The palate is full, with well-balanced acidity, along with apple and pear notes. Very well made,’ DM. ‘Almond and sweet peach aromas, leading to a palate with citrus and Cox’s apple notes, as well as some spice,’ AM.
£16, A&B Vintners, 01892 724977

Many thanks to the team at Oxo Tower Restaurant for hosting the tasting and for all of their help on the day. Images: Justine Trickett.


PANEL COMMENTS

Clinton CawoodClinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘There were some excellent wines on show today, in an impressive variety of styles, and without too many missteps. But this definitely looks like a category that is just beginning to blossom, and will continue to. However, on the evidence of this tasting, price is going to be English sparkling’s greatest challenge.’

Donald EdwardsDonald Edwards, consultant
‘I thought the non-vintage wines showed better, maybe because those who have enough stock to make NV have had enough practice. I was really impressed overall though – it was only the rosés that were all over the place for me.’

Mike HarrisonMichael Harrison, michaelharrisonwines.com
‘Normally an Englishman’s first route to market is rosé, but there was a real mixture here. And we don’t have enough non-vintage wines yet. But I was pleased with what I saw here, overall. It’s a niche market though.’

André Luis MartinsAndré Luis Martins, Seven Park Place, St James’s Hotel and Club
‘This is an interesting category, with lots of different regions. And the rosés are getting the job done – there were some outstanding examples here. You can see the development in the category in the last few years. There’s more character to the fruit. In 10 years’ time there will be some outstanding stuff.’

Diego MuntoniDiego Muntoni, Oxo Tower Restaurant
‘These wines were of a good level, especially the vintage and non-vintage bruts. It was only the rosés that were a bit up and down. The others were very refreshing and well made. Some were on the fruitier side of the spectrum, while others were more autolytic.’

Angelika OparczykAngelika Oparczyk, Heddon Street Kitchen
‘There’s definitely a future for English sparkling in restaurants. Guests are keen to try it, and there’s been more investment in the category. But I do think the prices could better reflect quality – in some cases the lower priced wines were showing better than the more expensive ones. But the prices need to be lower in general. If I put the correct prices on these, I wouldn’t sell any.’

Devon PryorDevon Pryor, Home House
‘These fell into three groups. First, the very elegant, complex, fennel and cardamom wines. Then there was the standard, drinkable, golden apple wines, with nothing wrong with them. And then finally the overly sweet, simple examples. Overall, English sparkling is definitely of interest. It seems to me that people are pleased to see that you have it on the list, but then they don’t order it.’

Edouard SouchalEdouard Souchal, The Richmond
‘Some of my favourite wines were the lower-priced ones. I liked it when I found wines that were fresh and fragrant. In general, I think the range of price and complexity in English sparkling is good, and it’s value for money overall.’

William WilsonWilliam Wilson,The Chesterfield Mayfair
‘In general, the wines I liked here were showing some developed honey, toasty notes. I was also looking for freshness and balance. To get the market presence, the English wine industry needs to come together with regards to pricing. It’s a growing market, and it needs some work to find itself.’


CONCLUSIONS

  • Tasters may have had their criticisms about certain styles, or about price, but the scores in this tasting speak for themselves, with nothing below 68%, and a huge average score of 75% overall.
  • The rosés proved controversial – a highlight for some panellists, and a source of disappointment for others.
  • West Sussex was the clear winner when it came to regions, with an average score of 78.6%, and the region with the second-most wines in the tasting. Hampshire was best represented, with 10 wines here, and an average score of 73.4%.
  • Price was a major factor for our panellists. This isn’t a cheap category, and the most expensive wines didn’t always have the quality to go with their price tags. There’s also a lot of competition on a restaurant wine list in the sparkling category at these price points.

About Author

Clinton Cawood

Clinton has been writing about drinks since landing in the UK in 2006 from his native South Africa. He's partial to all things agave, and is dependent on good coffee. He's still not a morning person. Follow him on @clintc.

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