After a very long break in Baden-Baden resting my liver, I am primed to pop corks for economic science. Because I love both sparkling wine and getting hysterical, I was brimming with glee to talk about English Sparkling on Monocle 24’s ‘The Menu’ food and drink programme with a show devoted to the topic. Host Markus Hippi (hear his name pronounced and walk around the house all day saying it) also spoke to Nyetimber CEO Eric Heerema in a very informative interview, so it’s not all about me.
Despite so much drinking, vineyard-visiting, studying and spitting, it was talking with Hippi that made me consider English Sparkling as it is evolving, from being “like champagne” to something distinct and quite its own. It is becoming a distinctive style of sparkling wine, higher quality, local and full of variety.
My hand went to the wrong neck. The foil off, it was like breaking into an ISA for shits and giggles
Unlike most people I suppose, I treat bottles as if they were sacred. Each, especially from the smaller vineyards, is an individual. Like consuming a plant or animal – yes, I know – opening a bottle is devouring a little soul. Of course, that is its design, but it takes years to grow things, raise things, make things. Respect is in order. So, what influences my experience of the wine? Who am I drinking this with? What am I eating with it? Have I gargled with that horrible stuff from Boots? Am I wearing a ton of perfume? How distracted am I? Who’s writing this?
That reverence is sliding into celebration. Recently a bottle I was saving, one of my favourites The Grange Classic NV, was opened by “accident”. My hand went to the wrong neck. The foil off, it was like breaking into an ISA for shits and giggles. I opened a lovely Exton Park Rosé because it was cold and I was thirsty, and also it was a heady bonus, having been won in a horsey-type raffle. I’d experienced Exton at tastings but really wanted to give a bit more focus to this Hampshire vineyard beauty. This rosé is subtle pinky-coral, tantalising in a clear bottle, a fine balance of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, tasting of floral and peach. The next day, it still tasted of the English summer, delicate soft red fruits, determined fine bead and lilting light acidity – all this despite the bottle going missing in a hot horsebox for a week.
The wide appeal of ESW is going global in a good way. Denbies’ Broadwood’s Folly has, according to one of the trade’s favourite masters of wine Richard Bampfield, “a fine flavour purity and a crisp, dry, mouth-watering finish. Aromatic, with notes of citrus, apple and honey, this balanced and refreshing sparkling wine would be an excellent match for savoury canapés and smoked salmon.” I keep referring to it as Broadmoor’s Folly, which is quite wrong. Wildly popular, it’s often out of stock so I buy as many bottles as I can when it’s there. My excuse has been, “I only went into Lidl for Manchego and look what happened.”
Popularity doesn’t stop English sparkling from nudging its Reims cousin aside at cultural events. Attending the English National Ballet on the very first evening possible in real life with fellow critic Graham Watts, I was so happy to see Sadler’s Wells serving two really lovely English sparklers by the bottle, Digby’s Leander Pink and Digby Brut. A French bartender was telling me how good this English Sparkling is, and that’s on the same menu as a nice Champagne Gimonnet 1er Cru by the glass. It’s a long way from a tasting I had a year or so ago where a French sommelier asked, “English sparkling, but who will buy it?” Everyone, mate.
Champagne still means something quite precise after so many hundreds of years of quality. The very word itself, protected and promoted for such a long time, has kept its cachet of excellence. So, the charity champagnes created for the benefit of the Royal British Legion made me curious. Three Limited Edition Champagnes, produced by Champagne Jacober and available at Eminent Wines, celebrates the charity’s centenary, giving 10% of their profits to support the Armed Forces Community, which helps military families and folks in need. The Royal British Legion was founded in 1921 as a campaigning organisation for those who fought in WWI. I rather like the way it says it is “providing small interventions to life-changing and sometimes lifesaving support.” I tasted the brut named Reveillie, hence suitable for breakfast. Nutty with a dark shade of sweet chocolate, it had wafts of brioche and pine nuts. The official tasting notes suggest “light tobacco” in there somewhere but I as an ex-smoker (never much of a smoker at all) may have suppressed those tastebuds. A champagne that helps families, so whether it’s the Brut, Rosé or their Centurion (Blanc de Blanc), it’s a worthy bottle. Also suitable for discussions or arguments, depending on who sees the bottle first.
Next time, a return to vintage Billecart-Salmon, one helluva English Sparkling Wine from West Sussex and a new aperitivo from Germany that you can’t get here yet. C