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When Wine Garden of England, a network of eight producers, held a paid-for tasting this summer, organisers were astonished at the turn-out. Some 1,300 enthusiasts made their way to the Balfour winery deep in the Kentish countryside, and masterclasses were reportedly ‘packed to the rafters’.
Perhaps these fans had read wine critic Susy Atkins’ comment in Decanter: “A tasting of fine English fizz in 2022 reveals complexity, balance and finesse to rival sparklers from any other corner of the globe.’”
By ‘fine English fizz’ do you mean English bubbly produced in the Traditional Method or the prosecco-style wine known as Charmat?
Well done for knowing the difference. Charmat is a prosecco-style wine where the bubbles are created in a tank. It is not the same as premium, Traditional Method, bottle fermented and aged sparkling wine, made with French grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meurnier. Only a tiny handful of the hundreds of British vineyards – shown on a map at winecellardoor.co.uk – produce wine for Charmats.
So premium British fizz then. What’s behind the trend?
• Quality has soared in the last 20 years
• Amid the cost-of-living crisis, we are treating ourselves to luxuries
• The Coronation boosted awareness as Highgrove, Fortnum & Mason and established producers like Nyetimber and Gusbourne launched celebratory bottles
• Global warming
Did you say global warming contributed to the trend?
Yes. The South East has the climate Champagne had 10-20 years ago. French producers are having to harvest earlier to achieve the right balance of ripeness and acidity.
Is that why French Champagne houses bought up UK land for vines?
You’ve got it. The chalky Kimmeridgian soil of several Southeastern counties is almost identical to the terroir of Champagne. By 2017, Taittinger and Louis Pommery had planted vines here. Pommery was the first Champagne house to release an English fizz; Taittinger’s is due in September 2024. Last year, German/Spanish-owned Henkell Freixenet bought the Sussex producer, Bolney.
What should you expect to pay for a bottle of vintage English fizz?
English wine marketing expert Fran Bridgewater says £30-£35 will get you a good bottle, £45 an exceptional one.
What’s the greatest barrier to sales?
“Price point,” says wine trends expert, Katherine Purse. “Those unfamiliar with English fizz, looking for a celebratory fizz, often select a well-known Champagne (such as Veuve Clicquot) thinking ‘It might be expensive but it’s reliable, a name I know and a good brand. Plus my friends and family have heard of it’. Others opt for a more pocket-friendly prosecco.” It is for these shoppers that fresh, fruity and aromatic English Charmats such as Silver Reign and Fitz were created. They are about £10 a bottle cheaper than Traditional Method wines.
Why is Traditional Method English fizz so pricey?
Economies of scale. British estates have tiny yields compared with their Continental counterparts. Compare Nyetimber’s one million bottles in 2022 with Moet’s yearly output of 28m (Jane MacQuitty).
Whose premium wines do you recommend?
While a wine like Chapel Down Brut NV is a safe option, adventurous connoisseurs will appreciate the first sparkler produced by the Langham Wine Estate in Dorset from 100% Pinot Meunier, or the UK’s only Crémant from Bride Valley.
Any recommendations for non-drinking customers?
The co-founder of Cornish Sea Salt, Ellie Bradshaw, has been busy and we were excited to discover her Wild Life Botanicals ultra-low alcohol sparkling wine as sold at Harvey Nichols, and also Trevaskis Farm Shop, Hayle. This clever functional product has the nose, taste and appearance of white or rosé bubbles but 60% fewer calories than Champagne. Containing vitamins and minerals, it is a beautifully packaged gift for mums-to-be and wellness fans.
What food goes with English fizz?
Oysters, smoked mackerel and lobster were on the menu when Rathfinny, Britain’s southernmost estate, showcased their wines at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park this year.
How do we make the most of the trend?
• Educate staff about the different styles. Younger customers may prefer fruity Charmats to Traditional Method
• Make friends with your local vineyard, whether it’s White Castle in Monmouthshire or Busi-Jacobsohn in East Sussex, and host paid-for wine-and-food pairing events
• Stock souvenirs for staycationers. Lobbs Farm Shop in Heligan, Cornwall offers fizz by Trevibban Mill, Bosue, Knightor, Looe Valley and Polgoon, as well as the better-known Camel Valley
• Invest in wine preservation equipment – Coravin, Bermar or Savr – and offer British bubbly by the glass. This promotes trial and upselling to bottles
• Carry cans for picnics and parties – Balfour Hush Heath Pink Fizz and The Uncommon Bubbly Rosé
• Offer gift wrapping
Will English fizz continue to pop?
What’s needed now is investment in marketing. First to establish the quality of home-grown fizz, then to help drinkers differentiate between brands. Many more restaurants need to offer English bubbly by the glass.
Consumers, confused by the different prices of Charmat and Traditional Method, need to be able to splash out with confidence. Fine food and fine wine elevate each other so indies have a big role to play in their education. It won’t happen overnight but the future’s cracking.