It’s midsummer and I’ve been tasting and drinking – in that order – so many champagnes and sparkling wines that I’ve had to self-edit down from the length of Luhrmann’s Elvis. I managed to cram in a fest of ESW in Hampshire, curation of grower champagnes in London, Slovenian sparkling made in the dark and a message from Uncle Aldi. First though, Taste Champagne London 2022 was genuinely exciting, with discoveries like Besserat de Bellefon (small bubbles and a big big taste), Chanoine Frères, Boizel, Wilmart & Co, Vincent d’Astrée plus masterclasses on sustainability, vertical tastings and general hubbub. There was so much to try, my mouth got tired. It’s the Burning Man of global champagne tasting only without fire, sand, weirdness and destruction.
I don’t want to read about a wine I can’t actually get
“Is English sparkling really getting better?” Simply – yes. To this end, mark July 24th on your calendar for the 8th annual Vineyards of Hampshire Fizz Fest. Before then, force yourself to check out any farm shop’s wine. Local vineyards like Oxfordshire’s Brightwell make small vintages – or in this instance one – of sparkling wine which can be real discoveries. Brightwell’s 100% Chardonnay 2009 is a bright apple-y keeper, and the only one this vineyard makes, and yet promises to age very well. I also really like Cottonworth’s Classic Cuvée NV with a memorable crisp and summery blend of Pinot Noir 35%, Chardonnay 53%, Pinot Meunier 12%. Get to know Black Chalk, Exton, Danebury, The Grange (a personal favourite now with a brand new fabulous blending barn), Hambledon (getting much the wider distribution it deserves) Hattingley Valley (their Blanc de Blancs 2014 especially nice) and of course the lovely folks at Raimes with that rich, cosy Blanc de Noirs 2018.
As I said, July 24th marks 8th annual Fizz Fest in Hampshire, which means a trip out to Black Chalk Vineyard SP11 7JX for over 20 Hampshire sparklers, masterclasses (always do them) plus food and live music. ESW is fast becoming a wine on its own, no longer needing to be compared to anything French. For example, among many vineyards with French investment, Pinglestone is associated with Louis Pommery. Buy a bottle of their Blanc de Blancs to find out why.
Champagne curators Sip Champagnes have opened my world to really discernible flavours of terroir in grower champagnes. Because personally I don’t want to read about a wine I can’t actually get, here are a few great ones still available from that mind-bending tasting earlier this summer. Having tasted Didier Herbert’s spectacular limited editions DH1 or DH2 (if you see them, just buy them) Didier Herbert Verzenay Grand Cru Pinot Noir Brut is a 100% Pinot Noir succulent beauty – complex and dry dark fruits. (It’s also really nicely priced.) The Domaine Vincey Oger 2017 has an unusual slightly green-gilt colour, the aroma is lightly toffee with (I kid you not) tropical fruit, coconut, oak, pine nut and apple from your grandma’s apple tree. Let it develop for about 40 minutes, if you can wait that long. Rémi Leroy Blanc de Noirs 2017 is 100% Pinot Noir with an oaky dimension that brings layers of rich fruit that leaves a lasting zing. The Bonnaire Cramant Vintage 2013 is chalk, lemon and plum, with a delicate sweetness that has a toffee and stone fruit kick. Try the trio of Bonnaire Terroirs Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, all from the 2008 vintage, disgorged in 2017 and featuring 2.5g/l sweetness. Each bottle was crafted differently for a subtle character shift.
Assuming we can find the bottles, what would happen if sparkling wine were made in total darkness? Slovenian winemaker Radgonske Gorice has introduced Untouched By Light, a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grapes that are reportedly harvested at night. Crafted in total darkness and delivered in a sealed light-proof bag to ensure it reaches your glass without seeing the light of day, it all sounds very gimmicky. At a recent Glass of Bubbly tasting, when compared with an identical wine made in the normal way, this dark-produced bottle’s character was completely different. Untouched By Light had a fresh, fruity, almost citrus-minty flavour with a lot of small beads – and has turned out to be quite popular. Order this to trick your local wine snob. Take bets. You’ll win.
Champagne prices are on the rise, so we’re braced to go into “Help me I’m poor” mode. So, give me an A: Aldi’s entire range of sparkling cava, prosecco, ESW are pretty good plus they have stand out champagnes. Aldi’s Veuve Monsingy Champagne Brut is 100% Chardonnay – all lime flower, with a touch of oak. It’s not razor sharp, so pairs with seafood, cheese or anything vegan – the ace affordable champagne for when you really shouldn’t. C