As summer is just around the corner, along with sunshine it will bring back a season of social buzz, lazy afternoons in a good company, and inevitably sounds of popping corks. But alas, Dear Reader, as modern trends are changing rapidly, instead of traditional French champagne, your forward-thinking hosts might choose to treat you, quite unawares, to a new drink “du jour” – English Sparkling Wine!
That is precisely what happened to the Humble Author of this article at an exquisite VIP event hosted by iconic British designer Elizabeth Emanuel last autumn, where my guest (another sophisticated lady, wife of British ambassador in Switzerland) and I enjoyed enormously our ‘champagne’ glasses being toped up regularly by attentive waiters with a surprisingly crispy and fine sparking elixir!
And only at the very end of the evening our eyes popped out from bewilderment, as thanks were been said to the event sponsors and it transpired that so called ‘champagne’ was actually British sparkling wine!
Embarrassingly I must admit…I should have known better…as somewhat 5 years ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) encouraging people to invest into a small local business. We chose a fun, lifestyle option and bought some shares of Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire. Back then next to nothing was know about English sparkling wine, but Oh My, did we learned a lot since then, as it’s popularity is not just increasing but skyrocketing rapidly. If that intrigued you enough, then keep an eye on our publication, as I promise to come back with more insightful and thorough narration soon (especially as last year was unprecedentedly good vintage in many decades, more so even for our British-grown grapes then the snooty ones growing across the channel, making the vintage of 2014 not only very palatable to drink but also quite a sound investment.
But about that – another time, for now I would just like to finish with a few practical suggestions. As demand is increasing year-to-year, all major wine retailers are tying to do their best to meet it. Therefore you should not have any problems finding some at your local wine shop or supermarket drinks department. As to any particular make, obviously it is a matter of personal taste and a fun process of discovery! Let me just mention here a few to get you started.
Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs, Ridgeview Estate, Sussex (approx. £26.95). This is as fresh as well as round, and as lively as well as profound, in other words the ideal sparkling wine. It is now a self-evident truth that the best English wines are better than the majority of Champagnes, and this one is probably the best English sparkling wine of all. (Look out for 2009 vintage.)
Gusbourne Estate, Blanc de Blancs, Kent (approx. £25.95). Grab a vintage of 2007 and you will be pleasantly surprised how sleek it is on the palate, with satisfyingly bright fruit and a touch of toastiness and acidity that wraps things up nicely. The finish is long and persistent, making this a top notch example of English sparkling wine.
Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée, Sussex (approx. £29.95) A blend from the three classic Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, makes it more than worthy match for all but the very best Champagnes (again would recomend 2007 vintage).
Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rosé Brut, Cornwall (approx. £31.95). This suggestion is for Rosé lovers. Another superb example (vintage of 2010) which also came top in a selection of 90 of England’s best tasted in 2012.
Hambledon Classic Cuvée, Hampshire (approx. £29.95). This would be our suggestion for those wanting to impress someone with an exclusive and yet a very fine example of English sparkling wine, as it can only be bought either directly from the makers themselves or from Berry Bross & Rudd, the legendary wine merchants of St James Street. Seek the latest vintage available as they are improving significantly with each year.
However if you are not ready to commit to an entire bottle yet, then head to The Capital Hotel in Basil Street (our personal favourite) as they always are proudly featuring one or another of the best English sparkles on their menu and start your journey of discovery there!
To your health!
by Aisté Anusaité-Daubaras
Our Contributor, Socialite turned Writer