England’s answer to Champagne

Dec 13, 2016 - 8:45 PM

At the end of last year, English sparkling wines came of age when they beat some of champagne’s best-known names—including Pol Roger, Taittinger, and Veuve Clicquot—in a blind tasting.

With the climate warming and a chalky terroir similar to that of France’s Champagne region, the U.K.’s southeastern counties of Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent have seen a rise in the number of vineyards opening over the past five to 10 years, and some champagne producers have even begun to invest in English plots for themselves. Sparkling wines are England’s forte, and the holidays are the perfect time to acquaint yourself with some of these emerging world beaters. Three recommendations:

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010. One of the two English wines that won out in the 2015 tasting organized by Noble Rot Magazine, Nyetimber Classic Cuvée is intense and elegant, with flavors of brioche, apple, and biscuit. A vine-growing estate since 1986, the well-respected Nyetimber ranks among England’s leading producers of sparkling wine with 420 acres (planted with Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes) arrayed across West Sussex and Hampshire.

Hambledon Classic Cuvée. England’s oldest commercial vineyard supplied the other wine that knocked the French off their sparkling perch in 2015. (Its non-vintage Classic Cuvée also won a points victory over Nyetimber by a whisker.) Hambledon’s blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot noir grapes produces aromas of red plums and dessert apple ahead of a vivid palate. Hambledon Winery produces around 120,000 bottles per annum on the South Downs National Park in the county of Hampshire. (The nearby village, from which the winery takes its name, is also famous as the “cradle of cricket.”)

Gusbourne Rosé 2011. Producing sparkling wines since 2010, Gusbourne owns around 250 acres spread across Kent and Sussex. A winner from a follow-up blind tasting against the French this year, Gusbourne Rosé—a blend of Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier—offers sour cherry, toasted brioche, and spice on the palate, with a dry, rounded finish.