"Step right up and don't be shy, because you will not believe your eyes…"

by Katie Pizzuto on September 12, 2009

in Sparkling Wine

If I were to mention “great actors” in conversation, you’d more likely think of someone like Robert Duvall than you would Steven Segal (or at least I’d hope so if you read this blog). If I say the words “cartoon character” you might immediately imagine Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson or Bugs Bunny, but I can’t imagine that Grape Ape would be anywhere near the top of the list…stay with me here, I promise I’m going somewhere with this. Countries like England are, in my never-remotely-humble opinion, the Grape Apes of the winemaking world—sparkling wine in particular. When I say “sparkling wine” you conjure up images of Champagne in your head, or even Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco. You might even drift over to the many bubble makers in California and Australia. But, England? Sure they make great gin, but sparkling wine?

sparkling_brutWhen my brother-in-law told me a while back that he was headed to England to visit his then girlfriend (now fiancé), I handed him a short list of English sparkling wine producers I had been wanting to try, and begged him to weigh his suitcase down just for me. I figured it had to be cheaper there, and the selection would be wider. Apparently (take note because you’ll never hear this again) I was wrong…about the selection, anyway. Finding British bubbles in a British wine shop was, according to his pleading emails, harder than it sounded. Nonetheless, one of the bottles that made its way back to me was Chapel Down’s Brut NV (approx. $28). Granted, Chapel Down is the largest wine producer in the UK (it accounts for over 50% of all commercially available English wine), and I tend to gravitate toward the small-house bubble makers, but I was at the mercy of a tired, grumpy brother-in-law, and honestly, I was thankful for whatever he brought back.

I was actually pleasantly surprised…it was much more balanced than I expected. Was I blown away? No. But I’ve certainly spent 28 bones on lesser sparkling wines, including a couple of NV Champagnes that shall remain nameless…for now. The wine is made from a blend of Rivaner, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir grapes, in the traditional Champenoise method. It’s very pale in color and had a lot of “biscuity” notes with racy acidity. I’d like to say it was delicate and had finesse, but truly it just lacked some depth, structure, body—it was a little flaccid. Nonetheless, it was a nice bottle of wine that I think I subconsciously gave extra credit to, simply for not tasting like the overly sweet mess I expected it to be.

A couple of decades ago, the English wines had nowhere to go but up. “Good English wine” was, at that point, an oxymoron. But sparkling wines in particular, have stepped up their game over the last 10 years or so and continue to improve. Because of their climate, British vineyards will always produce relatively low yields compared to the rest of Europe. That can actually be an unintended advantage in growing quality grapes, but it does also mean that production costs will be higher compared to its competition. If they can beef up their QPR (quality/price ratio) a bit, I think it’ll be cool to see what these guys do in the next ten years.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey September 12, 2009

ty for the review – they were a bugger to find Katie – Waitrose seems to be the only major supermarket that has any real selection for easy access – namely about 4 lmfao couple of whites, 1 red and 1 sparkling!

with global warming supposedly sending us into a more Mediterranean style of weather conditions, English wine will improve and improve. This particular one apparently won a gold medal for sparkling wine at the International Wine Challenge.

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2 castello September 12, 2009

Wow, I didn’t even know they grew grapes in th UK. I figured if they made any wine, the grapes would be from France. Good to hear they don’t have to import everything.

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3 Linsey September 12, 2009

castello – you might like this link – primarily about the wine above but some history about English wine

http://www.thirtyfifty.co.uk/shop_winedetails.asp?wineid=375

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4 castello September 12, 2009

Thanks Linsey, that was very informative. Now all I need is some tickets for Wimbledon.

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5 Mark September 13, 2009

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen an English produced wine. Outside of the UK, do you have any idea where the rest of it is being sold?

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6 Linsey September 13, 2009

http://www.english-wine.com/vineyards.html

maybe this might help

but i would be suprised if they are for sale outside the uk without serious cost to the buyer

castello – sorry cant help you on the tickets – they are like golddust – but i did take Katie’s brother in law there for a tour last year – which he loved – unfortunately just like the stereotype of Brit weather it poured down with rain

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7 castello September 13, 2009

Wow! Lots of info on British wine. Tx again.

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8 Katie Pizzuto September 14, 2009

Glad Linsey’s been of some help in my short absence! I haven’t been able to find British wines locally here in the US. And given the difficult time that was had trying to locate a couple of bottles in England, one has to wonder where winemakers are selling their inventory to, LOL! But I’d definitely love to try a couple more bottles.

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9 Linsey September 14, 2009

wish there was some wineries near me – but there arent – sorry – Anthony and I sent over all the ones in the shops we could find … apart from a rose I think

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10 castello September 14, 2009

So Linsey is part of the family, or just good long distance friends? Or am I diggin too deep?

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11 Katie Pizzuto September 14, 2009

Linsey is the soon-to-be sister-in-law mentioned in the post 🙂 She just needs to get herself stateside!

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12 Linsey September 14, 2009

tell me about it … until then hurry up christmas so i can at least get over there for a couple of weeks

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13 Wine Rambler January 6, 2010

While it is not as easy as one might think to get English wine in the UK, there are definitely signs of more interest, especially in English sparkling – see for instance this article http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/english-wines-grape-expectations-1806037.html

Overall, I find at least the non-sparkling wines (as far as I have tried them so far) to be a little too expensive.

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