LONDON (AP) – English sparkling wine has grown in renown in recent years, with some experts comparing it to champagne in taste and quality.
Globally, the sector is still relatively small: IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reports that sparkling wine produced in the UK accounts for around 0.2% of total global sparkling wine volume. But sales are rising: the amount of sparkling wine produced in the UK rose nearly 11% from 2015 to 2020, the report said.
“Ten years ago there were maybe only two or three wines that were known outside the UK or were certainly recognized by wine critics,” says Jonathan White, spokesman for British wine producer Gusbourne. Today “there is a collective of maybe 10 to 20 producers who produce really excellent wines”.
Gusbourne planted her first vines in Appledore, Kent in 2004. They launched their debut sparkling wines Brut and Blanc de Blanc in 2010 and say that demand has been growing ever since.
“There has been a surge in interest from overseas in recent years as the wine media and critics began to speak more affectionately and positively about wines from England,” says White.
Known as the Garden of England, Kent has long been home to fruit growing in the United Kingdom, so it goes without saying that the area has become one of the most successful wine growing regions in the country.
The pandemic gave local producers a boost in 2020 as travelers who couldn’t visit wineries overseas “began to realize that they could actually visit a winery at home,” says Anne McHale, certified winemaker in London.
Speaking to The Bloomsbury Hotel, where she curated one of the largest English sparkling wine menus in the UK, McHale says the English sparkling wine made a name for itself in 1998 when Nyetimber won the world’s best sparkling wine in the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
“It was judged blindly against loads of champagne and other sparkling wines by top industry judges, so people became aware that we can actually make good quality wine in this country,” she says.
Part of the appeal of English sparkling wine is its great resemblance to champagne. The same three grapes – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier – and the same production method, the “traditional method”, are used.
“This means that the wine goes through a second fermentation in the bottle. The bubbles are trapped and then the wine has the opportunity to age on the lees for some time, which gives it its lovely brioche character, ”says McHale.
She adds that the soils that English vines are planted around the South Downs in south east England contain a lot of chalk that is almost identical to the French Champagne region.
Despite all of their similarities, there are also factors that give English sparkling wine a unique taste.
“We’re quite a bit further north than Champagne. It’s cooler. And as a result, you get higher acidity in the grapes, which then translates into some kind of delicious crispness and freshness in the wine, ”says McHale.
White agrees. “Champagnes tend to have that lovely, roasted fullness that may come from a slightly warmer climate, and wines that may be a bit more generous in this fruit type. English wines have a much more steely, citrus-like backbone. “
Jon Pollard, chief vineyard manager at Gusbourne, says the longer growing season in the UK is also affecting the taste.
“We have the ability to have a slow ripening period, partly because of the slightly lower temperatures in this country and less sunlight. But this allows the flavor profiles to really build up within the fruit, ”he says.
Pollard adds that Kent is perfectly high offshore with free flowing breezes to keep the harvest clean and fresh. “The enemy of fruit is really moisture and moisture and warm temperatures, which increase fungal diseases,” he says.
At the same time, England’s temperamental climate can prove challenging.
Pollard says it took years of trial and error to create the perfect growing conditions.
“You start to know where the problems are occurring,” he says. “So we know where a little sickness might creep in, and we know where we’ll have problems with frost and the like. Every year we learn more about science and what we can expect from it. “
Some champagne houses are now investing in English vineyards.
“We always got the impression that the French think they make the best wine in the world and that the English say they can’t make wine.
The temperate British climate attracted French champagne house Tattinger, who, in collaboration with British winemaker Hatch Mansfield, bought farmland in Kent to create Domaine Evremond. After planting the first vines in 2017, their wines will hit the market in the 2020s.
“During the wine growing season, the average temperatures in the south of England are roughly the same as they were in Champagne a few decades ago,” says McHale. “So the champagne producers see the potential of the country in the south of England.”