English fizz is truly world class; we have the cool-climate and chalk soils to make a sparkling wine that can stand up against anything the rest of the world can offer.
Yet Champagne remains the benchmark for sparkling wine, even if only for historic and marketing reasons.
You will pay about the same for an English wine vs an equivalent Champagne; English wines are inherently more expensive to make (smaller scale, cooler climate), whereas the French wines carry more of a price premium.
Here I put two sparkling wines to the test - appropriately, at the start of English Wine Week.
The Young Turk
Hambledon Vineyards Classic Cuvee Brut NV (£30, Virgin Wines)
From one of the oldest commercial vineyards in the UK, established in 1952 in Hampshire; the wines have been served on the QE2, in British Embassies, the Houses of Parliament and around the world.
Yeasty brioche with complex, musky toastiness; apple-and-pear fruits with creamy brazil nut and oatmeal, florality and biscuity richness; fresh, precise and linear. Rich, expressive and adept.
Serve as an aperitif or match with seafood, such as prawn vol-au-vent starters or a salmon main.
The Old Master
De St Gall Blanc de Blanc Premier Cru N/V
Blessed with an exceptional terroir, De St Gall takes a collective approach to winemaking with expertise passed down from generation to generation. Thanks to the unrelenting passion of its winegrowers and winemakers, the winery has honed its methods to produce highly singular Grand Cru and Premier Cru Champagne wines of a pure, elegant style, united by a common passion for winemaking, a sense of duty and a desire to share this precious knowledge: they are the guardians of an invaluable legacy that must be carefully preserved as it is brought to fruition.
Pale yellow, expressive with florality, fresh hazelnut, apple flesh, yellow stone fruit, citrus, biscuity brioche and creamy leesiness; full and generous with fine bubbles and freshness; persistent, full and precise.
Serve as an aperitif or match with sophisticated hors d'oevres.
The judgement of Paris?
So, which of these two wines is the better?
That's almost impossible to answer as, within their style, they are both quite different.
Both being traditional method sparklers, they are citrussy and fresh with bubbles in. So far, so similar. They also sit broadly in the same price bracket (if you are fussing over a few £s, you are missing the point at this level).
The English fizz is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, giving more richness, weight and expressiveness to the wine, despite it being from much further north.
The Champagne is a Blanc de Blancs, meaning 100% Chardonnay; this means more florality and elegance. Everything is just that little bit finer and, I suspect, it will improve with age in a more interesting way than the English fizz.
So, an honourable draw, then.
Jamie Goode calls the Hambledon "quite brilliant. 93/100 " - full review here: