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Our favourite English Sparkling Wine

By 3rd December 2019 No Comments

Pictured: Winemaker Dermot Sugrue

Our favourite English Sparkling Wine

The spectacular rise in the popularity of English sparkling wine is something to celebrate. During the Roman occupation, Britain was considered to produce some of the best wines in the empire, but the climate was up to two degrees warmer at that time. Since then, there have been several attempts to revive English wine-making – most notably in the 1970s – when a combination of an increased interest in wine and a farming crisis led to many farmers attempting to diversify by planting vineyards. Most of these were in inappropriate locations with heavy, wet soil or North East facing fields and only a small number of vineyards survived…today it is a different story altogether.

Brits have a real affinity for fizz (there are up to 15 million bubbles in each bottle!) and it was plucky British scientist, Christopher Merret, who helped to perfect the process of keeping the bubbles in wine in the 1660s. The first producer to sell English sparkling wine was Carr Taylor in 1984 and this was produced using non-Champagne grapes such as Richtensteiner and Ortega. Several years’ later in 1988, Stuart and Sandy Moss planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the grapes used in Champagne, at a vineyard near Pullborough in West Sussex. Their iconic Nyetimber English Sparkling wine was first released by iconic winemaker Dermot Sugrue in 1997 and caused a great stir at the time. Investing in this type of business is certainly not for the faint-hearted; it takes around 8-10 years from planting a vineyard to selling the first bottle.

Pictured: Wiston Estate & Goring Blanc de Blancs NV

Many of the UK’s award-winning wineries are based along the coastal areas stretching from Dorset to Kent (the South Downs) as they have a limestone subsoil and a relatively dry and warm ripening season.

Winemaker Dermot Sugrue now produces English sparkling wine for The Goring family’s Wiston Estate in West Sussex and from his own one-hectare vineyard in nearby Washington, West Sussex. The Wiston Estate produce three styles under the Goring name: Brut, Blanc de Blancs NV and Rosé and Dermot’s own vineyard Sugrue produces ‘The Trouble with Dreams’ Brut. Despite both vineyards being relatively new, they are garnering recognition from around the world and have outperformed some Grande Marque Champagnes in blind tastings. This is surprising because the art of making consistent non-vintage Champagne style wines requires building up a library of older wines. This allows the ‘chef de cave’ or chief winemaker to assemble a blend that is recognisably the same style. One way to tell the difference between English Sparkling Wine or Champagne is to note the relative use of Liqueur de Tirage – the sweetened wine that is used to top the bottles up after the wine is disgorged. Grand Marque houses tend to use the maximum amount allowed, whereas many English Sparking Wine producers tend to use as little as possible and often top up with an unsweetened wine (Ultra Brut).

The English Sparkling Wine business is currently in an enviable position with demand often outstripping supply, but this will change as more vineyards are planted. There are now two ‘Charmat’ fermenters in the UK which enable sparkling wine to be produced in less than 60 days, similar to Prosecco production.

To date, the English sparkling wine industry has concentrated on making top-end wines at prices comparable with those of Champagne. The next 6-10 years will determine which direction the industry will go in; currently it has made a very exciting (if small) start.

Copy supplied by Daniel O’Keefe, Hallgarten & Novum Wines. Hallgarten is a family-owned company which was founded in 1933.

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