English sparkling wine goes up against Champagne and leaves Paris a hero

English sparkling wine goes up against Champagne and leaves Paris a hero

English sparkling wine went up against Champagne, confounding the French and slaying the myth that English wine doesn't compete with the best in the world.

To toast St George’s Day (Saturday, April 23rd) the Wine and Spirit Trade Association put our home-grown fizz to the ultimate test in a blind tasting against some world class Champagnes in Paris.

Some of the biggest names in the Gallic restaurant and wine trade sampled three Champagnes pitted against three rival English sparkling wines.

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The results were incredible. In two of the categories, the English sparkling came out on top as the preferred fizz and in the other category, opinion was split straight down the middle.

And it’s good news for bubbles all round. Champagne alone saw a 5% increase in the money made from sales in shops and a 13% increase in bars and restaurants in the latest available figures.

In the blends category  

  • 2009 Ridgeview, Bloomsbury, Sussex, England £28 went up against NV Jacquesson, Cuvée No. 738, Champagne, France  £38
  • Asked which they thought was the Champagne, half the tasters thought the English sparkling was the Champagne.

Two Chardonnay based fizzes were selected 

  • 2009 Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs, England £40 pitched against NV Billecart-Salmon, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France £65
  • 13 tasters thought the Nyetimber was the Champagne and only one got it right.

And finally a couple of Rosés –

  • 2011 GusbourneRosé, England £37.99 going up against NV Ayala, Rosé Majeur, Champagne, France £35
  • Half the tasters thought the English was Champagne and the other half got it right.

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The event held on Tuesday (April 19th) was hosted by Tim Johnston owner of the Juvenilles restaurant in Paris and his daughter Margaux.

Tim said: “It was a fantastic event that threw up some real surprises.”

England’s increasingly temperate climate and chalk soils are ideal for producing outstanding sparkling wines which have attracted the attention of Champagne houses.

This tasting only served to heighten that interest.

The growing popularity of English wine has fuelled a rush to develop UK vineyards, with applications rising by more than 40% last year.

Taittinger were the first to take the plunge and invest in the potential of premium English sparkling wine when they bought 170 acres at a former apple farm near Canterbury in Kent last year. 

UK wines received a total of 365 awards last year, compared with 265 in 2014 and won 46 gold medals in 2015, almost double the 25 won the year before. 

Similarly the amount of silver medals won almost doubled, shooting up from 73 in 2014 to 128 in 2015.

The production of English wine has seen record vintages in the last two years, with an average of around 5 million bottles per year. This is expected to grow to 10 million bottles by 2020. 

WSTA Chief Executive Miles Beale said:

"English wine is a fast growing industry with bold ambitions to boost production and open up new export opportunities. It is on the way to emulating the global and long standing success of Champagne.

“In March this year the WSTA brought together producers and leading wine industry experts for the first ever English Wine roundtable hosted by Environment Secretary Liz Truss at Defra HQ.

“The UK wine producers are so confident in the quality and demand for their wines that they have set targets of a 10-fold increase in wine exports, from 250,000 bottles to 2.5 million bottles by 2020.

“In terms of value, this would be an export increase from £3.2 million to over £30 million by 2020.

“Their ambition is to grow the area of planted vineyards from 2000 hectares to 3000 hectares by 2020. 

"This is a ground breaking time for English sparkling wine. We should all raise a glass on St George’s Day to celebrate that we have successfully slayed the myth that English wine cannot compete with the best in the world."

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Matthew Jukes, the British wine expert and author, organised the event at Juveniles restaurant in central Paris, in time for St George’s Day. He said:

“We couldn’t have expected the tasting to go so well. I purposefully picked out some of the world’s finest wines to ensure a level playing field for all. They were all spectacular wines but when it came to the voting we were collectively delighted that English sparkling wines fared so well. 

“In all my years writing about wine, I never would have believed that top French palates would take English sparkling wine for Champagne – it really is immensely exciting.”

British land is now under demand and other French companies are expected to follow in the footsteps of Taittinger and look for opportunities to expand.

This is very difficult in Champagne’s home town of Reims, where land for new vineyards is very hard to find and would cost upwards of £1.5m per hectare to plant compared around £30,000 upwards in the South East.

Ben Walgate CEO of the Gusbourne Estate said:

“I am thrilled that our Rosé was so well received. I believe that English Wine has a very bright future, not just in the UK but overseas, the demand for top class sparkling wine is growing globally and we are proud to be at the vanguard of this exciting category." 

Tamara Roberts, CEO of Ridgeview, said: 

“I am delighted but certainly not surprised that our Ridgeview Bloomsbury was so well received by the French.  Our wines, like many other English sparkling wines, are of the highest quality and reflect the unique climate and geology in and around the South Downs National Park where most of our vineyards are situated. We now export Ridgeview to nine countries and are focused on significantly increasing export volumes over the next five years.  I am happy to confirm we have had a warm (verging on hot!) reception in all markets so far."


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