English sparkling wine - surprising opinions

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Tom Cannavan, Oct 31, 2018.

  1. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    At a winemaker lunch yesterday in Edinburgh, all other guests apart from me were sommeliers from the capital's top restaurants - all the Michelin-starred and most trendy places. The winemaker (Andrew Gunn from Iona Estate in South Africa) brought up the topic of English sparkling wine and I was really taken aback by the lack of enthusiasm from the sommeliers. Before anyone says it, only two were Scottish from the 14 or so present, so there was no nationalistic bias :).

    The common opinion seemed to be a) that its emporer's new clothes to an extent and many of the wines are nowhere near as good as Champagne, yet the constant message is that they are, and b) that they are a very hard sell in the restaurant trade. Sitting next to me was the head somm from one of the city's top 1* restaurants, and whilst I'd better not name any names, he told me that while he sells a bucketload of expensive Champagne day in day out, customers requesting his English sparkling wine are almost non-existent. Two bottles in the last six months was his guess.

    I have to say I was by far the most positive person in the room though, to be fair, when the chap above asked about my favourites and I reeled off a list, names like Wiston Estate, Coates & Seely, Exton Park, all drew a blank, so maybe it's a relative lack of exposure to the best wines that lies behind it.
  2. Maybe not them but perhaps their clientele? ;)

    Would be interested in similar views from sommeliers in England. There is a cachet with Champagne that when going out to eat (and eat posh) will always draw an "oh s0d it, it has to be Champagne".

    None of which addresses the merits or otherwise of the wines. On that one a little surprised by the emperor's new clothes line!
    johnny Shek likes this.
  3. I heard that In New York, English Sparkling is all the rage. Maybe a marketing thing. Maybe they just aren't pushed in their own country as well.
  4. I think it would not be unreasonable for the Scots to show little interest in wines mainly produced in the south of England. I will say that they seem very popular down here, even surprisingly so. I know a few independents on the south coast and Home Counties who do a cracking trade in them, although I think I see more in the shops than in the majority of restaurants I visit, but that may be more down to the restaurants...though you can't go to any hip place these days that doesn't sell Ben Walgate's Tillingham wines, and his Qvevri Ortega ("Artego") seems highly sought after. Come to think of it, most of the New Forest restaurants I go to seem to have some, Nyetimber and Hambledon springing most to mind.

    There is an issue though. I think the wines are superb on the whole, but there has been too much hype, and too soon, which I think has harmed the "brand" in the eyes of many "aficionados" of sparkling wine. For me, it's as if some sections of "English Sparkling Wine" want to emulate Mumm or Moet more than the Growers and smaller Houses...not in volume but in image. There's a fine line between appearing, er, aristocratic on the one hand but having mass appeal on the other.

    I also think there are a (albeit decent sized) handful of producers who are way ahead of the pack, and some labels are clinging at their coat tails. I have to say that there are two or three winemakers here (you know who you are) who are clearly of international quality, but there are also some fairly rough and ready, and commercial, wines.

    The future will be bright if quality wins out. I'd just like us to tone down that English habit of shouting to one and all that we are the best. We clearly cannot match the finest wines of champagne yet, maybe in a century or two. Such OTT marketing hype gets up my nose, so it really must annoy the Scots.
    johnny Shek likes this.
  5. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Neil, welll nobody actually said Emporer's New Clothes - that was jut me trying to sum up the general feeling that the wines are over-hyped and over-priced from several around the room.

    I would agree with your suggestion that it's "Champagne or nothing" for some people when they dine out on a special occasion, so that should be nore or less consistent in England, possibly if you exclude restaurants in vineyard areas where local bias might play a part. I would honestly imagine (and hope) that very few Scots with the social wherewithal to dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant would reject English wine through nationalistic prejudice.
  6. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Many good points there David but...

    I honestly haven't heard that from a single wine lover up here. If anything people are slightly more intrigued because the wines are less familiar, and of course come from a place that's almost as foreign as France :)
  7. Which English sparkling wines would you recommend? The last time I ate at a 1* in London I had an English sparkling wine Gusbourne IIRC.
  8. I'd hope so too!

    I suspect that the update from restaurants of similar standard elsewhere in the UK will show something similar...

    The OTT hype about English sparklers being better than Champagne has also passed me by, BTW. Must be a Sussex thing... ;)
    David Crossley likes this.
  9. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Bill, not sure if you are you talking to me or David? If it's me, the three I mentioned above for sure, plus Nyetimber of course, Goring, Sugurue Pierre, Hoffman & Rathbone, Hambledon, Henners, Rathfinny, Squerryes.... actually, too many to mention making at least some convincing cuvees, including bigger players like Camel Valley, Gusborne and Hush Heath, and so many new, small producers seemingly doing interesting things, though I don't get to taste as widely as some I suspect.
  10. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Ah Neil, you are now part of the hype machine sadly. I said "as good as Champagne" not "better than", but if you really must hyperbolise.... :);)
  11. I've to say that I was pleasantly surprised or even impressed by the quality of a recent bottle of Nyetimbers Rose 2010, it had a freshness and acidity which I often miss in rose Champagne, a beautiful colour, good fruit and body and a quite long aftertaste. 3 out of 4 at the table thought it was a real alternative, perhaps a little bit expensive after being told the price
    Btw. when visiting the Wolseley in London last time they offered British sparklers by the glass and I thought it was drunk a few times in our vicinity.
    Neil Holland likes this.
  12. Of course some English fizz is better than some Champagne but wouldn't want to be one eyed about this... One will never win an argument with the nation that invented the steak... ;)
    Tom Cannavan likes this.
  13. I remind our team often that first impressions are being formed of ESW every day and we can’t take anything for granted.

    As an interesting exercise, for this fictitious ‘better than champagne’ tasting, what would one choose as a specific bottle of Champagne to represent the whole category? And which would be the ESW that represents the mean?
    Bill Marks and Tom Cannavan like this.
  14. Ahem. Nothing from Dorset, I see. :eek:;)
    Tom Cannavan likes this.
  15. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Not intended to be comprehensive by any means Mark! Nothing from Yorkshire either :confused:
  16. Some English fizz is overpriced crap, but then so is some champagne - Armand de Brignac Ace of spades rose anyone? No, thought not. Some of the established UK names would be a great deal better if they were to be allowed to be what they should be, instead of engineered to suit the market, but sadly for anywhere that is solely reliant on their standard cuvee for their revenue (instead of having a wealthy owner who couldn't really care less if it is a loss leader), then they have to pander to their market. Wines like denbies greenfields would be significantly better with an extra year in the cellars (uneconomical) and less dosage (the amount of wine sold on-site is huge and lots of pensioners go there who tend to have a sweeter tooth). English fizz should be compared directly with champagne given the production, soils, grapes and so on, but the factors in play around perception, production and presentation all serve to give people the impression that it is simply overpriced.

    Of course as we know the price reflects the cost and the risk of trying to make a business from making wine in the uk.

    In terms of how to compare like with like there is no 'mean' for either champagne or English fizz I don't think, but one could certainly look at house style and position in the market. I find the Wiston Estate wines very acidic in style and this apparently (correct me here people) non-malo approach would pit them against Lanson. Nyetimber have a much bigger, richer style so the likes of Roederer would seem like a good comparison, especially as they are also closely aligned in price.
    Neil Holland likes this.
  17. Nyetimber’s top cuvée is interesting because in terms of price it is pitched just a tad lower than some very fine prestige cuvée Champagnes.

    Having only tried it once, and not with any Champagne to compare it to, I don’t feel qualified to judge. It was good, but I found the price a little shocking.
  18. HRH wrote up a recent blind tasting featuring Nyetimber’s top wine against some impressive champagnes. It did well and came in 3rd, the rankings are below.

    From my limited experience I think English fizz is generally pretty good. Gusbourne is a favourite. We tried it against Charles Heidsieck’s 2010 base nv and were surprised to find we preferred the Gusbourne. Prices are similar so perhaps the English wine is better value.

    1. Billecart-Salmon, Nicolas François Billecart 2002 – 18.4
    2. Krug Grande Cuvée 166ème Édition – 18.3
    3. Nyetimber 1086 2009 – 18.1
    4. Clos Lanson 2006 – 18
    5. Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires 2004 – 18
    6. Dom Pérignon 2009 – 17.8
    7. Billecart-Salmon, Elisabeth Salmon Rosé 2006 – 17.7
    8. Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2006 – 17.7
    9. Louis Roederer, Cristal 2009 – 17.6
    10. Nyetimber 1086 Rosé 2010 – 17.2
    11. Philipponnat, Clos des Goisses 2009 – 16.8
  19. The problem with Gusbourne is the Ashcroft connection. I think the wines are good but I wouldn't put any money his way.

    The best English fizzes I've had have been Nyetimber (various) and Coates & Seeley. Many others have been excellent but those were the best.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2018
    Jonathan Hesford likes this.
  20. Probably not a fair comparison, the '10 bases are noted for their bitter characteristics (sometimes a positive in Champagne if it is bitter, dry, extract, but 2010 has a more disturbing bitterness), the 2010 based Heidsieck will develop nicely (no concerns here), but it IS recently disgorged (a mistake Charles Heidsieck continue to make with their Brut Reserve, they should hold it for 12-18 months before shipping).
    Chris Davies likes this.
  21. Many sommeliers have an agenda to sell high-margin items to the customer, top-end Champagne being a big part of that agenda, so perhaps they are not looking to English sparkling wine!

    There are also age-old perceptions with regards to Champagnes superiority (I have been prone to this in the past), and you just don't bother looking at anything else. But I'm honest enough to say I was wrong. There ARE some great non-Champagne sparklers being made out there, and the occasional top non-Champagne sparkler can compete with the best Champagne. But generally, the average quality of most Champagne is still higher than the average quality of other regions.

    I am planning something to write something on UK sparklers in the near future, I've already tried some interesting examples, including a maceration rose' from the base of the black mountains on the welsh border!
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2018
    David Crossley and Tom Cannavan like this.
  22. Talking of great non-champagne, tasted one (OK, if not great then very good indeed) last weekend: Barone Pizzini Franciacorta "Animante" Brut NV. And all for the price of a decent English sparkler
  23. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    I'm a fan of this organic estate's wines (A profile of Franciacorta's sparkling wines) and if you ever come across their 'Bagnadore' cuvee it is well worth trying.
  24. English, please (or Welsh/Scottish/Irish if appropriate). 'British wine' refers to the cheap and nasty stuff concocted from imported grape concentrate.
  25. I think in specific reference to the fact that so few English sparklers are sold in restaurant settings:

    You have 4 main types of restaurant customer -

    1. Flush and has knowledge of wine
    2. Budget conscious and has knowledge of wine
    3. Flush and no wine knowledge.
    4. Budget conscious and no wine knowledge
    If customers from group 3 are going to buy a sparkling wine, then its highly likely to be Champagne - that's the default. Folk in group 4 may buy Champagne, but probably are going to go for cava or prosecco as budget options. I guess the only folk who are going to buy English fizz are from groups 1 & 2 - they represent a small (5-10% of total customers? It would be interesting if sommeliers gave an idea of how many folk in a restaurant know wine). English fizz is often around the same price as house champagne in my experience, but I do buy it - its not the same as champagne, but can give equal pleasure, so if I see an interesting name on a list I will go for it, but until folk in general have a higher recognition for English fizz, the vast majority of restaurant customers wont go for it.
    Graeme Broom likes this.

Share This Page