Tired of champagne long ago, and rapidly reaching peak prosecco? You might enjoy dabbling in English fizz, which has graduated from ‘surprisingly great’ to just ‘great’. Thirty years ago there were no champagne grapes growing in Britain, but they’ve flourished to the extent that even venerable champagne houses are now joining the party. Pommery is the first to release its English sparking wine this spring, to be followed by Tattinger.
Of the home-grown producers, Nyetimber was the first to experiment. Instead of the German grapes usually used in England, it planted champagne varieties (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot menuier) after realising that the climate and chalky soil are similar to that of the Champagne region. Plenty of other wonderful growers have set up shop since, offering a variety of flavours and prices.
Uncork one of these beauties…
So this is an expensive one, but is it worth it? Well, it’s an effervescent gem, and it will only get more interesting over the years – if you can overcome the temptation to crack it open immediately. Made from Chardonnay grapes, it has an unusual mineral freshness with hints of apple and nuttiness, and a complex finish. If your French is a little rusty, it’s made from the heart of the first pressing, hence the expense. This Coeur de Cuvee is one to watch for the whole market as the first ‘super premium’ English wine. There are just 1,600 bottles, so it would make a winning present for an aficionado.
Nyetimber’s West Chillington estate may be in Sussex, but it could easily be mistaken for a quaint French vineyard with its sunny, south-facing vines and grand manor house. In 25 years of pioneering English wine, their non-vintage sparkling rosé is the most recent. A tempting shade of pink, it offers distinctive redcurrant and cherry notes with intriguing hints of anise. The overall tutti- frutti flavour is vibrant, but still well-balanced.
The other fizzy rosé in our selection is also from Sussex, the Bolney Estate in the South Downs. Their well-priced Eighteen-Acre Rosé’s smooth cherry flavour is thanks to its 18 months of ‘lees ageing’. The ‘lees’ are yeast particles in the wine that add a little creaminess and flavour. As the yeast breaks down, it releases tiny amounts of sugar, giving the rosé its extra floral, sweet notes.
Pommery has pipped Tattinger to the post as the first champagne house to add an English sparkling wine to its repertoire. Its British bubbly is ‘England Brut’, made at the Hattingly Valley Winery in Hampshire. The brut uses red champagne grapes to add a ripe smoothness to its fruitiness. Pleasingly golden in colour, it both looks and smells irresistible, with tangy citrus aromas and hints of spiciness to add plenty of interest. Ideal for an unusual wedding toast.
Blanc de blancs sparkling wines are made entirely from chardonnay for a fresher, more delicate style – as opposed to blanc de noirs, made from pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes for fullness of body. This bouncy one from East Sussex is produced by Ridgeview. It’s zesty and refreshing with an intense biscuity flavour underneath and a crisp, long finish.
All of Harvey Nichols’ own brand booze is well-chosen and good value, and the fizz is no exception. Digby Fine English make this crowd-pleasing corker from chardonnay and pinot noir after they have aged the grapes for two years. The ageing rounds off its natural acidity, giving it a satisfying toasty depth with plenty of pep.