I drink a lot of sparkling wines. Whether celebrating some good news, matched with some super fresh ceviche, or sat alone at home and in need of some cheering up.
I need no excuse for opening a bottle of fancy Champagne, a super funky Pet Nat, or perhaps a sparkling Riesling.
But how about English sparkling wine? Although price wise it's a little steep (it's up there with some of the well known Champagne brands), it's a fantastic alternative, and there's a reason that it's come out top at many blind sparkling wine tastings.
With over 500 vineyards in the UK and 133 wineries at the last count, there's no excuse for any wine drinker to not try what England has to offer. And it's not just the English who have seen the potential in what our land has to offer, both Taittinger and Pommery have planted vineyards here too.
As with Champagne the focus for sparkling wines is the traditional grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier here in the England, and you'll find most of the vineyards centred around the South East (although you'll find production in Wales, York and Cornwall too!).
Similarities with Champagne and England
That golden word in winemaking, terroir. It's hard to define, but it's the magical impact of a particular regions climate, soil, aspect and terrain and their impact on the taste of the wine. And yes, the south east of England does share plenty in common with Champagne in this respect. The mean annual temperature for both regions hover around 11°C with experience low levels of sunshine. Champagne is in at 1,650 average annual hours of sunshine and the south of England comes in at 1600. The mean annual rainfall is just over 600mm in Champagne and over here it varies from anything from 650mm to 950mm thanks to our localised weather patterns.
Ok it may look like I'm clutching at straws up until now but here's the most significant similarity - the soil. This is where England really is connected to Champagne. The famous seam of chalk which is so characteristic of Champagne, in fact runs under the Channel and reappears right on our doorstop, primarily Kent, East Sussex and a few bits of Hampshire. Yep, I'm definitely having that one.
Back to wine. And in particular Nyetimber as this blog post is rightly titled. Why Nyetimber? Well it's probably the best known and most famous of English sparkling wines and the first to turn peoples heads, and truly believe that wine made here did have potential.
Located in West Sussex, so prime South East real estate, the winery has a history dating back to 1988, when the first plantings of classic varieties were established.
I of course have to include a little bit of history, so a quick mention that the estate was named in the Domesday Book in 1086, in context of the valley of Nitimbreha, probably referring to a newly timbered house in the area, or perhaps a small timber plantation. In terms of the vineyard, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier were planted here in 1988, with the first wine being released in 1992 which was their Blanc de Blancs, followed shortly after by their 1993 Classic Cuvée, both of which were a great success.
So what am I drinking as I write this? It's a glass of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, coming in at just under £35 (keep an eye out for pre-Christmas discounts mind you!).
You could easily mistake this for Champagne, and Nyetimber's wines continue to go from strength to strength. The fine bubbles take me back to holidays in Epernay, it has some toast and pastry complexities from over 3 years spent on the lees. It's beautifully clean, with lots of citrus fruit, but there's also sweet honey, almond croissants, apple tarte tatin, and super elegant.
Today Nyetimber have a huge repertoire, including their newist arrival Nyetimber 1086, aptly named as part of their anniversary of when the estate was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It's a pretty special wine only produced in exceptional years from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, from over 90 separate parcels of hand selected grapes, matured on their lees for 5 years.
So what are you waiting for? It's almost the weekend so time to raise a glass to English sparkling wine!