THE GRAPE BASE IS VIRTUALLY the same as Champagne — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They are made by the same two-fermentation Champagne method. And, like Champagne, the finished result is a sparkling wine. One difference, though: This bubbly is made not in France’s Champagne region but in the southern part of England. So much is English sparkling wine a growing industry, the majority of wine currently produced in England’s 450 wineries is now sparkling.
To test the quality of English sparklers, I held a small tasting of six. The result was fascinating.
Chapel Down Classic Brut NV — an elegant, pale-shaded sparkler with tiny, tight bubbles — proved a well-made, well-structured, clean wine. It left a pleasant, refreshing finish.
The flavors of Ridgeview Bloomsbury NV were a bit deeper with small, lively bubbles and an elegant aroma: a classic, delicate sparkler.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Brut, NV, expressed still deeper flavors and a fuller body, more complexity and more weight. A sturdy, well-balanced wine with well-balanced acidity, it’s a classic sparkler very similar to Champagne.
As befits a wine made totally of white grapes, Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2014 was pale, almost colorless, with bright, especially active bubbles: a vivacious wine with a positive mouth feel.
Delicious and powerful, Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2014 inspired one of the tasters to ask if I snuck a Champagne into the tasting to fool them. No, it was simply a bigger, more forward English sparkler.
Chapel Down Three Graces 2014 displayed the largest bubbles of the group, and they were aggressive as well. This complex wine boasts a body of medium weight and exceptional structure although with a rather short finish.
Overall, England’s sparkling wines, all new to the tasters, both surprised and pleased them. As for prices, they range about $40–65.
Is France’s Champagne region concerned about English competition? Perhaps more in action than in words. In 2015 the 276-year-old, highly respected Champagne house of Taittinger bought vineyard land in England and in 2017 planted its first English vineyards. When they mature, it will make its first English sparkler.
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