Over the past decade the UK has been developing a reputation for its sparkling wines. Over here in the US, people tend to snort at the thought of British wine, at first, but then after considering the relative latitudes and the weather to that of Champagne start to see its potential. Throw global warming into the mix and suddenly the UK seems a sure bet for the next great region.
In reality the terroir is not the same, the soils tend to be different and the weather is too. What I learned was that the UK does best when embracing its own style, and not merely emulating that of its more famous neighbors.
For all the noise over British sparkling wines a few things were apparent:
- Firstly, wine in the UK is still a niche industry. With a nationwide annual production of around 2.5 million bottles, it would take decades to for each British citizen to enjoy just a single bottle.
- Secondly, and this follows from the above, retail and restaurant support/presence is meager. With such low production I can understand why the large supermarket chains are unable to sell local wines, but I struggled endlessly to find a single store that sold British wine (final thanks went to Sainsbury's, but the experience was hardly pleasant, as we found the bottle after 30 minutes of searching the shelves), and the only restaurant I went to that had British wines had a French Sommelier who tried to advise me against buying local!
- Thirdly, if you're fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try British sparkling wine, you may be very impressed. Try a white, they are interesting, pair well with food and some are very good. However, skip the reds. A major generalization, of course, but the ones I tried were disjointed, green, very woody and not to my liking. The UK simply does not have the weather for the grapes o achieve sufficient ripeness to produce good reds.
Some of my favorites:
Camel Valley Ltd Brut Cornwall 2006, £19 ($30)
“Camel's flagship sparkler. Made with Seyval, this sparkling wine exhibits firm acidity and a fine bead, which swells into an excellent mousse of bubbles in the mouth. There's a slight almond character which plays well with the peach and biscuit notes. Smooth mid-palate with a light summery strawberry finish. Light hay on the nose. Very nice.”
Chapel Down Sainsbury's English Sparkling Wine Rose NV, £30 ($47)
“British sparkling wine - almost as rare as a 4 leafed clover. Obviously i had to try it…Pale salmon color, large bubbles, light berry and yeasty nose, low acid but not flabby. Nice fruits with a medium finish. Also, an interesting selection of grapes.”