An English alternative to champagne
Having spent years developing its sparkling wines, West Sussex wine producer Nyetimber is making the most of a spectacular summer, as wine writer Jane Hyde discovers…
Ideal is not a word often associated with the British weather, but when it comes to making sparkling wine, conditions in southern England come pretty close. Over the past decade or so, English vineyards have established a reputation for producing sparkling wine to rival champagne, winning numerous plaudits in international wine competitions.
How do they do it?
One company leading the charge is award-winning West Sussex producer Nyetimber. Established 20 years ago, it spreads over 400 acres of the South Downs and focuses exclusively on making quality sparkling wine.
Funnily enough, the same seam of chalky subsoil found in the Champagne region – and often credited with giving champagne finesse – runs under the Channel and up into this corner of England. A relatively mild climate also allows the grapes to ripen slowly, while retaining enough acidity to give the finished wine a refreshing lift.
It is no surprise then that Nyetimber has chosen to plant the three classic grape varieties used to make champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Not only that, but it follows the “traditional” method used in Champagne for adding that all-important sparkle – the base wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.
With the focus to date having been on ensuring a consistently high quality (no mean feat given the vagaries of British weather), the company is now keen for its wines to be recognised as a luxury English product. It has recently rebranded with smart, new livery; certainly, the wine inside does not disappoint.
The Classic Cuvée is a blend of all three varieties. I found the 2007 vintage bright and refreshing, with grapefruit zestiness and toasty undertones. But, with three extra years under its belt, the 2004 is more mellow, its almond and piecrust flavours supported by its signature, lemony freshness.
For the growing band of rosé lovers, there is a salmon-tinted addition to the range. Nyetimber’s first ever rosé is the 2007 vintage, which is made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. This would make a fantastic aperitif, with a creamy mousse and a refreshing red currant and cranberry finish. I was lucky enough to taste the as yet unreleased 2008, which has a greater percentage of pinot noir, making it lusher, with a more pronounced nose of ripe red berries and brioche.
Completing the range is the Blanc de Blancs, made solely from chardonnay and only in the best years. I found the 2003 to be a classy wine that could easily stand its ground against many top champagne. Elegant and balanced, it has aromas of elderflower and white peach, with pear and sweet pastry notes on the palate and a lovely clean finish.
If you are looking for an alternative to champagne, Nyetimber’s range is worth seeking out. What better way to celebrate the arrival of summer, the Jubilee and the Olympics than raising a glass of English bubbles?
The Nyetimber Terrace opens at Plateau restaurant in Canary Wharf on Thursday 14 June - set on the outdoor terrace, it is a space to try Nyetimber's range of sparkling English wines alongside food from the Plateau Grill. A Nyetimber wine tasting will also take place at Plateau on Monday 9 July from 6.30pm (£20pp).
Butler's Wharf Chop House is holding a Nyetimber wine tasting on the 19 July. To find out more contact TaraS@danddlondon.com or telephone 020 7403 3403.
Jane Hyde won the Hors Concours Scholarship in 2011 for the highest placed non-trade graduate to complete the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma and was awarded the IWSC Waitrose Scholarship.
Main picture: A glimpse of the medieval manor house at the Nyetimber estate.