'The Harlot' - English Charmat 'Fizz'

My wife (long time admirer of pink fizz of almost any sort) unbeknownst to me tacked a couple of bottles a fizz she’d seen favourably reviewed in The Times on to a Waitrose order. Last night she served me (and by coincidence, separately a visiting wine merchant) the wine double blind.

A lovely pale salmon pink colour, initially a slightly raw red fruit component which did settle down and integrate into a light strawberry element, a faint hint of amylic pear drop and a further hint of something chalky completed the picture. Very fine, fast rising, but persistent mousse. The palate reflected the nose almost exactly, with a touch of slightly sweet strawberry on opening, almost featherweight body, with just about enough acidity to balance and finishing slightly drier than the opening with just a hint of the bitterness of perhaps undeveloped fruit and alcohol combined.

”OK, so it’s not champagne as there isn’t the weight through the mid palate, not enough acidity and there’s nothing obviously autolytic here.”
“No it’s not champagne”
”Can’t see this as English, nowhere near the acidity and not attempting to be serious either”.
”How about pink Prosecco? Is that a thing?”

Half an hour later my delivery arrived.

Me - “Is this champagne?”
Wine merchant - “No”
Me - “Why?”
Wine merchant - “It just isn’t”. “I think I might know what this is. Is it a wine I won’t have tasted? Is it pink Prosecco?”

Blushes saved all round. It was a pink Prosecco.

Now the all important discussion around the level of quality. “How much would you expect to pay for this?”

Me - “For the quality I’d reckon about £12” I think it’s very decent quality Prosecco, very pretty, sophisticated by Prosecco standards and beautifully packaged.

Wine Merchant - “£10 to £12 I would think”

HRH - £8.99 accompanied by massive “I’ve won” smile!

Both - “Wow! Really? Holy! Now let me show both of you this thread on Wine Pages about a new English pink Charmat method fizz designed to take on Prosecco and the like.”

”What do you think of the packaging?”
Both fall about laughing.

Wine Merchant - “How much are they asking for it?”
”£16 a bottle”
Both fall about laughing.
 
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Tom Cannavan

Administrator
the wine columnist for a newspaper must have stumbled across this thread in their research for an article they are writing about the 'backlash' there has been about this wine and asked me for my comments, which I think she is going to juxtapose against comments from the company behind it. City A.M.

I am not sure how much of my text will be used, but as the discussion was started here by me, I thought the forum might be interested in the full text of my reply:

What do you think about the Charmat method being used for an English Sparkling wine?

It’s rather dangerous I think. The English wine industry is still maturing and going through a period of rapid development with new players and new wines. It is also a time when some of the established producers are striving to move the market ‘up’ with luxury cuvees at £100 a bottle, single vineyard wines, special aged releases, etc. All of that is predicated on English sparkling wine’s story of using the same method as Champagne, same grapes as Champagne, the similar climate and, in some cases, similar chalk soils.

It’s a complex picture as some producers are also trying to get away from this simple analogy with Champagne, to stress the difference in English wine regions – particularly soils with some pushing their non-chalk soils, like flint, greensand, etc. as one point of difference with Champagne. But the past 50 years has all been about preserving the prestige of English sparkling wine because it uses the expensive grapes and methods of Champagne, so to have these new wines which do not go through that labour-intensive and time-consuming process, and which inevitably will sell for half the price, has got to present a slightly confusing message to the consumer. Champagne would never allow it, and the launch of the ‘Hallmark’ system by WineGB exclusively for traditional method wines is clearly an attempt to head off the confusion at the pass and give consumers a clear indication. But I am not certain it is enough, or will work.

Big Brands like Nyetimber and Gusbourne probably don’t need to worry, as they have established a brand identity that is probably more important to their consumers than any method or hallmark, but for smaller and newer producers of traditional method wines there must be a risk of them entering the market at £35 a bottle while a new Charmat enters at £12.

What do you think about the bottle's arguably controversial branding and name choice?

Well, I don’t like it personally, but then that’s me: I’ve never liked gimmicky labels, or intentionally confrontational or ‘disruptive’ brands really – it’s 20 years since ‘Old Git’ and ‘Old Tart’ where offered to the public, and it’s the same tactic here. Those wines were nothing special.

Who do you think this wine is meant to appeal to?

Well, you need to ask the people behind it, but it is not difficult to imagine who would NOT buy it. That includes a lot of people I have discussed it with, admittedly more serious wine lovers and predominantly male, so I guess that’s NOT their target market….
 
Big Brands like Nyetimber and Gusbourne probably don’t need to worry, as they have established a brand identity that is probably more important to their consumers than any method or hallmark, but for smaller and newer producers of traditional method wines there must be a risk of them entering the market at £35 a bottle while a new Charmat enters at £12.
That's a very good point, Tom.

I think there will have to be a differentiation between production methods of English (and Welsh) sparkling wines featured on the label, before too long.;
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
That's a very good point, Tom.

I think there will have to be a differentiation between production methods of English (and Welsh) sparkling wines featured on the label, before too long.;

Nayan, I note that the three Charmat wines I have tasted or been sent info on so far have all specifically mentioned charmat on their labels, and of course WineGB's new 'Hallmark' is exclusively for traditional method wines, and is being used quite widely on labels. I doubt whether either of these are legal requirements or compulsory however. As WineGB says about its 'hallmark': "WineGB has created a key strategy to champion the national brand with traditional method sparkling wine as the hero style. The aim of this focussed project has been to confidently and proactively establish Traditional Method as the authentic expression of sparkling wine from Great Britain, and the greatest expression of its Terroir."
 
Nayan, I note that the three Charmat wines I have tasted or been sent info on so far have all specifically mentioned charmat on their labels,

I suppose it's laudable that they are specifically mentioning charmat, but only the most geekiest of wine geeks (like us here) will know what that is. If anything, I'd guess many would think it was something to do with it being "charming."
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
I suppose it's laudable that they are specifically mentioning charmat, but only the most geekiest of wine geeks (like us here) will know what that is. If anything, I'd guess many would think it was something to do with it being "charming."

I reckon that's true. It will mean absolutely nothing to 95% of shoppers I guess, but a price of £12 as opposed to £35 certainly will.
 
There will likely be a rush of them, but I've been offered samples of a new one today. I have to say the press release doesn't inspire, but as I am the one that's always banging on about there being a place for all sorts of wines other than the fine and artisan, I guess I cannot complain:

"distinctive brand identity, refined and vibrant flavour and relative affordability"

"sure to become a hit with venues and consumers alike as it launches into the bar and restaurant trade"

"an exciting partnership with model and influencer Portia Freeman"

"available in 75cl and 20-litre keg"

Retail price is £15 for the Brut and £16 for the rose from the one stockist listed (for a bottle, not a keg), but it is mainly aimed at bars I think.

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This is the latest wine from Mark Dixon (of Chateau de Berne fame) who is set on the domination of the English wine scene. He bought both Sedlescombe and Kingscote vineyards (but is now trying to off-load them) and has planted almsot 300-ha of vines in various locations and Lord Rogers is designing a f*ck-off winery near Gravesend. See Wine Spectator and various other press mentions for more details. He beleives that a cheap(ish) Charmat wine will be a winner and doesn't appear to worry about the cost of selling it at a loss-leader price. There is some talk of the wine going organic which will make it even more of a loss-leader as yields will be lower. I dont actually think it will have any effect on other producers selling sparkling wine at higher prices, as it appeals to a different market.
 
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Tom Cannavan

Administrator
This is the latest wine from Mark Dixon (of Chateau de Berne fame) who is set on the domination of the English wine scene. He bought both Sedlescombe and Kingscote vineyards (but is now trying to off-load them) and has planted almsot 300-ha of vines in various locations and Lord Rogers is designing a f*ck-off winery near Gravesend. See Wine Spectator and various other press mentions for more details. He beleives that a cheap(sih) Charmat wine will be a winner and doesn't appear to worry about the cost of selling it at a loss-leader price. There is some talk of the wine going organic which will make it even more of a loss-leader as yields will be lower. I dont actually think it will have any effect on other producers selling sparkling wine at higher prices, as it appeals to a different market.

Thanks Stephen. Are you talking specifically about 'The Harlot'? I'm even more mystified on the branding if he plans to transition to organics - I'd have thought the brand presentation for this didn't really square with an organic philosophy.

I guess we wait and see if the less flamboyantly presented Charmat wines cause confusion in the market. I'm sure people will be able to tell the Harlot from the Nyetimber Tillington :)
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Thanks Peter, my interview was with City AM, which has a much more extensive article on which this from Drinks Business is based but which did not quote from this forum or Stephen. I wonder if they asked his permission to quote him - they certainly didn't ask me.
 
They never contacted me, but I take the view that if you put something onto the www then its gone for ever, and anyone who wants to copy it can do so. As long as they don‘t call me Steven (there was only one of those in the wine world) and add the MW bit, I‘m happy.
 
The Drinks Business is basically the Daily Mail of the British wine trade press.
Thanks Peter, my interview was with City AM, which has a much more extensive article on which this from Drinks Business is based but which did not quote from this forum or Stephen. I wonder if they asked his permission to quote him - they certainly didn't ask me.
From a quick scan of Twitter, it looks like Patrick Schmitt plagiarised the article in CityAM. I've always said that The Drinks Business is the Daily Mail of the wine trade press, this adds to the evidence for that belief.
 
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Tom Cannavan

Administrator
The Drinks Business is basically the Daily Mail of the British wine trade press.

From a quick scan of Twitter, it looks like Patrick Schmitt plagiarised the article in CityAM. I've always said that The Drinks Business is the Daily Mail of the wine trade press, this adds to the evidence for that belief.

There's so much second-hand journalism, including some outright plagerism about in the media. Every time the BBC radio calls me to talk about a wine-related 'issue', the feature they are broadcasting is based on a story from that morning's Independent or Telegraph, researched and written by someone else. But yes, there are several online publications that just rip off others for most of their content.
 
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