Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) is the body that represents British vineyards and wine producers. They have recently launched campaign that centres around classic method sparkling wines, the traditional method as used in Champagne, and used in England and Wales to prroduce the finest wines. The ‘Great British Classic Method’ hallmark and branding has been introduced as some English producers begin to make wines by the cheaper and less time-consuming ‘tank’ of charmat method, as used in Prosecco for example. The long-term aim is to ensure that all of Great Britain’s sparkling wines must include method of production on the label.
Classic method wines represent an estimated two thirds of total English wine sales by volume on the domestic market, and are increasingly popular in some export markets too. WineGB’s Chairman, Simon Robinson, says: “We have long recognised the need to positively differentiate and protect our flagship category. This is the hero style that has put Great Britain on the wine map. This campaign has set us on the path to ensure that our classic method wines are more positively recognized among the finest wine regions of the world.” To that end, the new ‘hallmark’ shown can adorn bottles that comply with the method, though as I understand it, its use is not compulsory.
There have previously been attempts to establish an over-arching ‘brand’ for English traditional method sparkling wines, suggestions including ‘Merret’ and ‘Britagne’, but none has gained wide acceptance or traction in the industry. This tasting of eight wines celebrated the new hallmark, and attempted to tease out the differences in England’s soils while dispelling the accepted, but not particularly nuanced message, that all of England’s sparkling wines come from chalk soils à la Champagne.
Simon Roberts of Ridgeview estate says now is the time to promote and understand these as serious fine wines: “There’s still a hangover where people thought these were ‘farmers market wines’, and not global market wines,” he says. Collette O’Leary of Henners adds: “English wine won’t survive if it is a novelty purchase.”
(2021) An estate that started in the 1990s, one of the very earliest producers, but burst into the limelight by winning a sparkling wine award from Decanter in 2010 when ranged blind agains the world's best traditional method wines. A really pleasing bottle this, blending Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, bright on the nose with citrus-flecked floral aromatics, but underpinned by a nice autolysis, nutty and lightly toasty, before the sweet-fruited palate which is balanced and approachable, some confit lemon intensity and pithy acid structure into the reasonably long finish.
(2021) One of the newer entrants into the market, a family producer with 10 hectares planted on their family estate in 2010 and first vintage 2014. Planning permission has just been granted to build a winery, but for now the wines are made at Hattingly Valley. Soils are chalk and flint, on south-facing gravelly clay. In crop rotation for 150 years, so soil in top condition. It's a lovely blend of 65% Chardonnay with the two Pinots, quite powerful aromatically, yeasty and biscuity, with a preserved lemon intensity. Mouthfilling mousse, rich again, but fine souring acidity of pink grapefruit and lemon, the peachiness of the mid-palate swept along into the finish.
(2021) Charles and Ruth Simpson of Domaine de Saint Rose in the South of France planted this vineyard, the first harvest of which was in 2016, and also producing a range of still wines. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, it has a relatively deep colour and nutty, Cox's pippin, earthy and lightly-oxidative quality. On the palate there's a nice sour orange and cooked apple depth to the flavour, a lick of salinity to the acid structure, and the dosage adds some balancing sweetness into the finish.
(2020) Henners was founded in East Sussex in 2007, but has since been bought by its distributor, Boutinot. The young winemaker here has worked in California and South Africa, and makes this wine with a proportion of the base wine (10%) fermented in aged oak barrels. The dosage is a moderate 7g/l. Lovely yeastiness and sweet, ripe fruit in combination. There's a lot of finesse here, the colour pale and straw-gold with aromas the blend light biscuity qualities with succulent orchard fruit.
(2021) The very first vintage from this small grower-producer, a boutique operation with vineyards planted in 2015 and working to be sustainable and herbicide-free, the wine currently made at Ridgeview. The blend is 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot noir, 20% Pinot Meunier, with a dosage of 6.8g/l. Very foamy mousse and a fairly deep golden tinge to the colour. In a way, a particularly Champagne-like nose, slightly lactic, oxidative, and initially for me not absolutely convincing. A little butter and toast, and nuttiness. In the mouth a great initial impression of sweetness despite the modest dosage, good rosy apple fruit comes through, much nicer on the palate for me, a zippy lime acid line adds a bit of sherbetty spark and the balance is good in the finish.
(2021) From the clay and sandy loam soils of Appledore in Kent, this all-Chardonnay cuvée comes from a very good year, the harvest completed by 7th October. A small percentage of the blend was fermented in older oak barrels, and it spent a full 42 months on the lees prior to disgorgement. The colour is an attractive pale gold, with a foamy mousse and plenty of very small bubbles rising steadily in the glass. There is a touch of buttery pastry, a fine biscuity and oatmeal sheen, and fruit that has a touch of rich figgy quality, but is mostly about fresh citrus and summer pears. In the mouth, despite a modest dosage of 7g/l, there is an abundant sense of sweetness from the ripe fruit. It's a lovely style this, not at all austere, yet precise and super-fresh.
(2021) Marching to a different beat, this is a wild-fermented and biodynamic wine, and is also 100% Chardonnay. Founded in 2008 by a successful IT businessman with an interest in organics and sustainability. This comes from a very small, five-hectare estate and spends 48 months on the lees and is also made with a Pied de Cuve, the winemaking equivalent of a sourdough starter. Fascinating, creamy and custardy character on the nose, interesting high-toned herbal notes with a deliciously sweet attack to the fruit on the palate, a real lick of salinity and juiciness, making this mouth-watering and gastronomic, mouth-filling but with lovely balance and precision towards the finish.
(2021) Digby was founded by two business partners with a vision of setting up a very high-end négociant business: they do not own vineyards, but work with vineyards in different English areas. They have based their model partly on Californian sparkling wine producers who sell a "whole lifestyle experience," so really trying to engage with consumers with their brand, web site and their story, including a high street store in Arundel. Planted predominantly on greensand, this is 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier with 20% of the Pinot component fermented in oak. The colour is a peachy pink, and aromas of orange and peach are underpinned by a little toast and spice. In the mouth sweet and ripe, but really nicely balanced, the crispness of the rosy apple acidity and fine mousse, a mellow undertow of vanilla, it is long and styish.