“Britagne” (*) is British bubble and not a French province misspelled
There has been much media noise about the new sparkling wines from north of the Channel, grown on the English limestone and chalk soils that are similar to those found in Champagne. Is England a (or the) future producer of sparkling wines in the top class? BKWine’s reporters Ola Öhlund and Michael Karlin had the opportunity to immerse themselves in modern English winemaking with three wines from Nyetimber. Delicious but pricey could be a summary.
Nyetimber’s stated goal is to make the best sparkling wine in England and to think not in years but in generations. The international awards they have received show that they are on the right path.
(“Ever since the very first vines were planted Nyetimber has had a single aim: to make the finest English sparkling wine there is. With geography, climate, passion and determination on our side, we knew we could rival the best in the world, including Champagne. I don’t think in years but in generations” – Eric Heerema, Owner & Chief Executive.)
The conditions for making sparkling wine in Sussex are similar to Champagne with calcareous soils and cool climate. Nyetimber was founded in 1988 and was the first vineyard in England to focus on the most common Champagne grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
The quality aims they have do not permit them to bottle a wine in years when the grapes do not achieve sufficient high quality. 2012 was such a year when the winemaker Cherie Spriggs did not considered it worthwhile to produce a vintage wine.
So we have here a stated ambition to compete with Champagne and it is a clear and high goal. The design of box, the bottle and the label exudes successfully the same objectives. A very exciting tasting can begin.
Here are our tasting notes:
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
The wine consists of 55% chardonnay, 26% pinot noir and 19% pinot meunier and has been 36 months on the lees.
Generous fruit fragrance containing notes of yellow apples, nuts and a clear toastiness, a classic Champagne-scent. The wine is not quite medium-bodied with an elegant mousse that fades slowly, has good acidity and a relatively short and apply aftertaste. An elegant wine that shows a house style that has a touch more acidity than the French cousin. ~40 euro (all price estimates are based on Swedish retail prices)
Nyetimber Blanc des Blancs 2007
100% chardonnay and 40 months on the lees.
An elegant and delicate aroma of green apples, citrus and minerals. The mid-palate is tight with good weight in the long aftertaste. Very nuanced structure with elegant but high acidity and a more persistent mousse. The house style with high acidity and elegant austerity is further emphasized. This is a wine that comes into its own with seafood and not just as a social wine. ~60 euro.
100% chardonnay and 24 months on the lees. Non-vintage.
A full-bodied, apply and mineral scent of white peaches, lemon and honey. The taste is soft and enveloped with good length and a little bitter finish, not unlike lemon marmalade. A veritable nightclub bubbly! This is not as clearly expressing the house style with its higher dosage that a demi-sec requires. ~45 euro.
With a slightly embarrassed blush on our faces we must admit that our expectations have been exceeded by a wide margin. Have Nyetimber succeeded in their intent? Yes, this could probably be the best sparkling wine produced in England today. And in the next generation it might well be side by side with the French equivalent on the other side of the Channel.
(*) Britagne – Two British wine personalities (Christian Seely and Nicholas Coates) have proposed the word as the English equivalent to Champagne, i.e. a generic word for sparkling wine from Britain (well, England presumably). However, it seems not to have caught on much. Few people use it. No doubt for good reasons. (Ed.)
The wines are sold in Sweden by the net-merchant Invinitum who also kindly supplied us with the bottles for the tasting.
Mikael Karlin writes för BKWine Magazine on wine tastings and wine events in Sweden.
Ola Öhlund writes on BKWine Magazine on wine tastings with wine merchants and importers.
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