Posted: Apr 18, 2017
English sparkling wine was on April 20, 2016 toasting a spectacular victory over the French version – as an elite group of Parisian experts said it was better than champagne.
A team from Britain’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association travelled across the Channel and invited some of the biggest names in the Gallic restaurant and bar trade to a blind tasting.
Many were convinced that some of the UK-produced fizz was from their own country, and in most cases they preferred it to champagne.
In the first tasting of its kind in Paris, those taking part said the English sparkling wine was better in two out of three categories, and it drew with the champagne in the other.
Among the successes was a £40 bottle of 2009 Nyetimber sparkling wine produced in West Sussex. Nine members of the 14 member panel thought it was better than a £65 bottle of Billecart-Salmon Grand Cru champagne.
When a £37.99 bottle of 2011 Gusborne Rosé went up against a NV Ayala, Rosé Majeur from Champagne, nine preferred the Gusborne and five picked the champagne. Half the tasters thought the English wine was champagne.
"We couldn’t have expected the tasting to go so well," said Matthew Jukes, the British wine expert and author who organised the historic event, at Juveniles restaurant in central Paris, in time for St George’s Day, on April 23rd.
"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," Mr Jukes added after Wednesday’s tasting.
The English have always been great wine drinkers, but it is only in recent years that their own industry has started to flourish.
It remains extremely small – accounting for around one per cent of the domestic market – but sparkling wine is doing particularly well.
England’s increasingly warm climate and its chalk soils are ideal for producing bubbly, and now the French are starting to agree.
"It is certainly impressive," said Eric Riewer, President of the hugely influential wine tasting committee of the Gault Millau restaurant guides.
Mr Riewer’s fellow panelists also included Mark Williamson, who opened the world famous Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris in 1980.
Explaining how he had regularly served English wine to Paris bankers, Mr Williamson said: "They were astonished to discover it was not champagne."
The experts’ view was echoed by ordinary Parisians who tasted the Nyetimber sparkling wine.
Jordan Huret, 32, originally from the Champagne capital of Rheims, and his friend Floriane Merzougui, 26, both said it was "very nice."
Ms Merzougui, an actress, added: "It’s very fresh and light – I’d certainly drink it again."
Valerie Bucek, 28, and a sales executive in the cosmetics industry, meanwhile said the same English wine was "very fresh, and more fruity than French champagne. It’s the first time I’ve tried it, and it’s a very nice surprise."
The growing popularity of English wine led to a 40 per cent increase in applications to develop UK vineyards last year.
Champagne giant Taittinger is among the speculators, buying 170 acres of Kent countryside at a former apple farm near Canterbury.
UK wines received a total of 365 awards in 2015, compared with 265 in 2014. This figure included 46 gold medals, compared to 25 the year before.
The production of English wine has seen record vintages in the last two years, seeing an average of around five million bottles per year. This is expected to grow to 10 million bottles by 2020.
Wine and Spirit Trade Association Chief Executive Miles Beale said: "This is a ground breaking time for English sparkling wine.
"We should all raise a glass on St George’s Day to celebrate that we have successfully slayed the myth that English wine cannot compete with the best in the world."
Tamara Roberts, who runs the Ridgeview wine estate, said: "I am delighted but certainly not surprised that our Ridgeview Bloomsbury was so well received by the French."
"Our wines, like many other English sparkling wines, are of the highest quality and reflect the unique climate and geology in and around the South Downs National Park where most of our vineyards are situated."
By Peter Allen
APRIL 20, 2016
Source: The Telegraph
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