The British are coming, I repeat the British are coming. In the land marked most notably by its consumption of world class tea and port wine, England in recent years has been the subject of something else among wine communities; production of its very own sparkling wines.
I first visited England when I traveled for a week back in 2011. I still remember on the cold January days as people hurried up and down the streets, quaint buildings intertwined with grand displays of modern metropolis. While this is far from the representative of all areas in the country, walking among years of historical British aristocracy does come with a certain air of refinement. As you will guess, the majority of English wine regions lie outside of its major city borders and span the southern tip of the island adjacent to the English Channel. While wine is being produced across the southern border of the island the major regions to note are broken into the three major regions of Sussex, Kent and Surrey. The majority of England’s wine production is in producing white and sparkling wines (84%) and is home to around 120 vineyards.
I find the English wine regions are a fascinating subject within wine culture and very much represent an area undiscovered as they have been mainly unheard of before 10 years ago. What’s more is the climatic shift creating warmer temperatures on our planet allowing for grapes to thrive where they once could not.
With soils primarily made up limestone chalk, the region’s geology lends itself to a very similar soil composition to those found in France’s Champagne and Burgundy regions to the south so it’s no wonder that wine makers have recently settled upon these areas to begin production. The British Islands’ proximity to the Atlantic mean frequent days of rain and cool cloudy weather, but in the southernmost areas of the island regions tend to be drier (yet cool) with a little more access to sun — the perfect combination for white grape production.
Leading the way is Nyetimber who has been producing incredible, world-renowned sparkling wines and helping English wines to make a name for themselves in modern wine culture. With its history dating back over 1,000 years when its Anglo-Saxon origins came into being in 1086, the secluded area of Nyetimber passed through countless generations that called it home. From Benedictine monks to Henry VIII who gave it to first Thomas Cromwell, lawyer and statesman, and then to his ex-wife Ann of Cleaves as part of their annulment, the lands that surround Nyetimber contain no shortage of their share of historical importance.
In 1988 the first grapes were planted, (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), and in 2006 Eric Hereema became the owner later to be joined by winemakers Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix. The three represent a symbolic trilogy to the grapes cultivated on its lands that produce such spectacular sparkling wines.
The traditional method or “méthode traditionelle”, is the process used in the wines of Champagne; while duplicated only wines from Champagne can be deemed “Champagne”. Hereema and the team source only the finest grapes across its vineyard sites and ferment to create the still base wine to be used throughout the process. From there, the winemakers create a blend, establishing the increments of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier desired in the final product. Yeast and sugar are added to the wine with what is known as Liqueur de Tirage, and the wines are corked for secondary fermentation and aging to begin. After which time, the bottles undergo disgorgement to remove the yeast, and topped up with additional base wine and sugar before final bottling.
As you pour the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée ($55 retail), rich straw colors and golden hues flit around your glass.
Smelling the wine, aromas of tart granny smith apple, ripe strawberries, and tarragon dance on the nostrils, while with each sip flavors of apple, garden fresh rhubarb and honey blend to create a beautiful symphony of flavor. Secondary flavors of yeasty bread dough and ever so slight minerality complement wonderfully for a perfectly balanced taste with every sip. High in acidity, this wine is vibrant in all meanings of the word, and leaves your mouth watering and gently tickled with its gentle bubbles and expressive flavors
With each sip of Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée, the refinement and elegance you associate with British culture is no doubt showcased, and as you savor the flavors on the palate it is no doubt a promise of great things to come from this vineyard and the other wine regions of Sussex. Next time you hop the pond, I would encourage you to seek out this wine (if you haven’t already ordered it online) and visit its quaint English grounds to experience this “pop” heard round the world.
Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.
Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or email@example.com.