THE RISE OF ENGLISH SPARKLING WINE
Even though the Champenois have long asserted that it is the unique coupling of cool climate, chalky soil and centuries of expertise that allows them to make the best sparkling wines in the world, Great Britain has a lot of similarities with Champagne and we will cover a few of these points below.
First things first, let’s talk about the history and the first trace of English sparkling wine production dates back to 1662 (four years before Dom Perignon arrives in Hautvilliers monastery) and the first sparkling made from local grapes was in the 1950s.
As a proud Frenchman, it pains me to say England is also home to many winemaking innovations, the most important one was discovered by Christopher Merret in 1662. The doctor, created the first-ever recipe made with sugar and molasses to intentionally initiate the second fermentation and make the wine fizzy.
The second innovation has resolved the problem of bottle explosion happening during the second fermentation and transportation, by the usage of coal-fired bottle glass. The majority of Champagne bottles were made from wood-fired glass and it was difficult to hold up the pressure from the carbon dioxide, thanks to stronger glass this problem was solved.
Why England is suitable for premium sparkling wine?
Representing more than 60% of all wine made in the country, UK sparkling wines using the traditional method are capturing people’s attention due to the constant rise of quality.
To produced premium wine, the vineyards need to be carefully selected. The key regions such as Sussex, Kent, Hampshire or even Surrey are located in the southern part of the country, where (with a little help from global warming) the climate is warmer, dryer and the subsoil is similar to Champagne. This cool climate, allow the early ripening grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier to thrive successfully.
Why buying English sparkling wine?
Becoming a serious competitor to any other sparkling wine region, such as Champagne, Sekt, Cremant, Cava or even Cap Classic, the country is starting to sit among the key player to find outstanding products.
Champagne estates such as Taittinger or even Vranken-Pommery have been among the first seeing the potential of this country, Clément Pierlot cellar master of Pommery mentioned “We can have wines which are delicate, expressive but with a good structure and freshness”.
England offers a great diversity of soils, composed of sea sediment, chalk in the southern part of the country such as Kent or Sussex to more clay in the area of East Anglia. This spectrum of terroir helped to produce wine with different expressions of aromas and richness of flavours.
With an annual production of 7.56 million bottles produced in 2019 (297 million were produced in Champagne the same year), the quantity made per winery is tiny and usually sold directly at the cellar, which is the most authentic way to buy wine to my opinion.
The rise of Boutique winery.
Unlike Champagne, where the majority of the grapes are bought, vinified and marketed by the Grandes Marques such as Moet & Chandon, Great Britain is doing the opposite where the main production is usually 100% estate produced.
Mountfield Estate. A gem of a boutique winery in East Sussex
Located in East Sussex, near Robertsbridge, the Mountfield Estate is owned by Simon and Lucinda Fraser, and has been in Lucinda’s family since 1850.
The 3.5-hectare vineyard, located 300 meters away from the winery, is planted on alluvial and limestone chalk soils. Alongside a constant cool temperature, which helps to preserve the acidity level and primary aromas of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier, the sustainable viticulture approach contributes to producing, in tiny quantity, terroir-driven quality grapes.
The harvest is carried by hand and transported to the on-site winery, where the grape must is fermented in stainless steel, to preserve the fruit characteristic, and held in barrel to allow a subtle micro-oxygenation softening the freshness giving a creaminess mouthfeel to the wine.
Mountfield is a rare example of a boutique fully-integrated winemaking operation in England, focussing on quality over quantity and producing beautifully balanced sparkling wines that Top Selection is now proud to work with.