Posted: Jun 25, 2019
Not too long ago, English wine was seen as obscure at best. Quality was patchy and English wine was largely unknown internationally, rarely consumed beyond the inner circles of home producers. In the past 10 years, however, vineyards across England have more than doubled and English sparkling wine has been recognised with highly regarded international awards.
England is a beautiful place to grow grapes for top-quality sparkling wine
“When I first came to Nyetimber in 2007, English wine felt like a cottage industry and the wines were hit and miss, lacking consistency,” says Cherie Spriggs, head winemaker at Nyetimber estate in West Sussex.
In 2018, she became the first winemaker outside Champagne to win the prestigious International Wine Challenge trophy for Sparkling Winemaker of the Year. “Then there was a lack of knowledge about what was happening in the country – but this has changed enormously. Today it is very rare to find consumers or trade who haven’t heard about English sparkling wine.”
Becoming synonymous with quality
For more than a century, the bar for top-quality sparkling wine was set by champagne. It is no coincidence that English sparkling wine is often compared to champagne, and unsurprising that there are so many French champagne houses investing in vineyards in England. The reason is that the southern counties of England share many geological and climate characteristics with nearby Champagne.
Rolling hillsides with chalky soils and a long, mild summer make an ideal combination for producing high-quality sparkling wines. “England is a beautiful place to grow grapes for top-quality sparkling wine,” says the Canadian-born Ms Spriggs, who has also made wine in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
“England has this cool and gentle climate, which allows for long, slow ripening of grapes to develop all these delicate and complex flavours in wine. The combination of chalk and greensand soils, which are very similar to Champagne, are free-draining, which is also really important in our rainy climate.”
As England’s climate changes, drier and hotter summers have offered some stellar vintages for English sparkling wine recently – including most notably 2018, a record-breaking year for English sparkling wine.
Increased expertise in English viticulture and winemaking has also led to a great improvement year on year. “We’ve worked extremely hard on achieving consistency,” says Ms Spriggs, reflecting on the past decade at Nyetimber. “And now we are proud to say we can stand side by side with the best in the world.”
A bubble boom in Britain
The warmer British summers do not only mean that sparkling wine production is increasing, but also that sparkling wine consumption is on the rise. The prosecco boom over the past couple of years has had a positive knock-on effect for sparkling wine consumption in general.
Last year, sparkling wine consumption in the UK hit a record 164 million bottles as the UK embraced sparkling wine for all occasions – whether drinking it at home, in the pub or enjoying it over dinner.
Group of friends drinking English sparkling wine
Perfect conditions: sparkling wine consumption in Britain is on the rise CREDIT: NYETIMBER
“The prosecco trend has been great for getting people comfortable with drinking sparkling wine not just at Christmas and new year but throughout the year,” says Ms Spriggs. “And once you have explored the world of sparkling, you naturally start looking for something with more complexity and a more sophisticated style that English sparkling wine can offer. Moving on to English sparkling wines is a natural next step.”
The combination of vineyard and winemaking factors in English sparkling wine result in a sophisticated yet delicate drink.
“Consumers often tell us that they find Nyetimber and the English style to have a wonderful freshness of flavours, not too heavy in character and more delicate than some other sparkling wines,” says Ms Spriggs. “It’s this combination of elegance and delicacy which really stands out.”
June 25, 2019
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