GUSBOURNE BLANC DE BLANCS 2016
Grapes: Chardonnay Taste: Based in Appledore, Kent, the historic estate craft only vintage wines with 100% Estate grown grapes. Lively ripe citrus fruit, nectarines, and white summer flowers. The palate brings forth the lemon, stone fruit, a hint of toast and hazelnuts, and the acidity rounds off with the low dosage. Aged for 42 months, the finish is long and juicy. $114
RIDGEVIEW BLANC DE BLANCS 2015
Grapes: Chardonnay Taste: Ridgeview is led by the second generation of the Roberts family. Tropical notes of pineapple and lychee waft through on the nose. An elegant and delicate mousse fills the palate with bright lemon zest notes. It lingers with bright acidity and saline minerality. $140
NYETIMBER CLASSIC CUVEE MULTI-VINTAGE
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay Taste: The first Estate to ever produce sparkling wine in England. Pale gold with fine bubbles, with apples, brioche, and spice, this is the flagship cuvée with 20-35% reserve wines. Aged over three years on lees, the mousse is elegant, and the finish carries the freshness through. $98
It took a fair bit of convincing and the “best of British luck” for Vinodhan Veloo, ex-sommelier at Odette, to place an English sparkling wine on the hallowed Champagne trolley of the three-Michelin-starred French restaurant.
As Vinodhan (now of Cloudstreet) remembers, “Being a French restaurant, there was a little bit of a pushback.” But his belief in the quality and potential of Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2010 won some sceptics over, with his British boss helping him tip the scales. It was the only non-Champagne wine to have ever made it to the trolley.
HILLS OF CHALK
Long a nation of wine drinkers, England turned to sparkling winemaking 30 years ago. A climate change-enabled warmer growing season, running from April through October, made English viticulture possible. Viticulture is a fast-growing sector with 3500 hectares of vineyards stretching mainly over the South East counties of Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex and more cropping up at a steady pace. Chalk is the preferred soil, though not all vineyards are planted on it; limestone, greensand, and clay soil also abound. The grapes of Champagne – pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay – thrive on south-facing British slopes of low elevation sites, which maximise exposure to the sun and optimise ripening. Emulating the best practices from across the channel, English winemakers use the traditional method (used in Champagne) to craft their wines.
The nascent viticultural region is at roughly the same latitude and boasts chalk fields like those found in Champagne, but there are vital differences. The first is the length of the growing season. “Even though the growing season is slightly cooler than Champagne, it’s longer, about two to two and a half weeks longer. It allows us to develop a little bit more complexity in the flavour profile,” Simon Roberts, director of winemaking at Ridgeview winery, explains. Ridgeview owns 5.8ha of vines in East Sussex and sources fruit from about a dozen long-term contracts with growers.
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