English sparklers or French Champagnes?

With shades of the film ‘Judgement of Paris’ - and to toast St George’s Day recently - the UK Wine and Spirit Trade Association put its best foot forward and its home-grown fizz to the ultimate test - 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 which were pitted against three rival English sparkling wines.

The results? The English sparkling wines came out on top as the preferred fizz in two of the categories and opinion was split straight down the middle in the third, reports the UK’s WSTA.


In the blends category  

England’s 2009 Ridgeview from Bloomsbury in Sussex (£28/€36) went up against French NV Jacquesson, Cuvée No 738 Champagne (£38/€49). Asked which they thought was the Champagne, half the tasters chose the English sparkler.

Two Chardonnay-based fizzes were also selected 


An English 2009 Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs (£40/€52) pitched against a French NV Billecart-Salmon, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs from Champagne (€84/£65). Thirteen tasters thought the Nyetimber was the Champagne. Only one got it right.


And finally a couple of Rosés:

A 2011 English GusbourneRosé (£37.99/€49) went up against A French NV Ayala, Rosé Majeur from Champagne (€45/£35) where only half got it right.

The event was hosted by Tim Johnston, owner of the Juveniles restaurant in Paris and his daughter Margaux.


England’s increasingly temperate climate and chalk soils are ideal for producing outstanding sparkling wines, believes the WSTA and these have attracted the attention of Champagne houses while the growing popularity of English wine has fuelled a rush to develop UK vineyards with applications rising by more than 40% last year according to the WSTA.

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

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

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

Similarly the amount of silver medals won almost doubled 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 five million bottles per year. This is expected to grow to 10 million bottles by 2020.

“The UK wine producers are so confident in the quality and demand for their wines that they’ve set targets of a 10-fold increase in wine exports from 250,000 bottles to 2.5 million bottles by 2020,” commented WSTA Chief Executive Miles Beale, “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 2,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares by 2020.”

Matthew Jukes, the British wine expert and author, who organised the event at Juveniles, added, “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.”

In Champagne’s home town of Reims land for new vineyards is very hard to find and would cost upwards of €1.9 million (£1.5 m) per hectare to plant compared around €39,000 (£30,000) upwards in the South East of England.

Could the south coast of Ireland be next?




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