English sparkling wine

Ridgeview: Engels alternatief voor champagne


edwardsChampagneschrijver en columnist Michael Edwards bespreekt één van Engelands meest befaamde mousserende wijnen. Volgens Edwards is Ridgeview sparkling wine een – meer dan – redelijk alternatief voor champagne.


In the time of the Angevin and Plantagenet kings of medieval England (from 1200 to 1500) vineyards flourished as far north as Yorkshire under the keen stewardship of Benedictine and Cistercian monks, whose orders had first established the great wines of Burgundy. The English winter was certainly colder then than it is now, but it was also drier and less affected by the heavy rainfall that causes so much disease in the growing cycle of the vine. English viticulture died a slow lingering death  as riper, more agreeable wines from France, Italy and Spain came to dominate the English market well into Restoration and Georgian England.


It was not until the 1970s that English wine was restored in the Hambleton vineyard of Hampshire, pioneered and developed by Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, a retired diplomat and wine lover. But the best  sites on the cool chalk downland  of Southern England – so ideal for sparkling wine production – were not exploited until the 1980s. Thirty years on, the best English growers make sparklers that, if not completely like the real thing, do taste quite close to it.


Although warmer autumns and improved winemaking practice by English producers have resulted in some highs among our sparkling wines, one producer stands for the consistency of his range of fizz, largely because he has always acted on good advice from his contacts in Champagne. Mike Roberts, a computer software expert, left the high tech world in 1992 to start the Ridgeview vineyard on the South Downs of Ditchling, near Brighton. He was astute enough to grasp that he had to plant all three classic sparkling grapes – palate-filling Meunier as well as noble Pinot and Chardonnay – if he was to achieve a harmony of fruit and mineral flavours to match the flavours of the better Champagnes. He has also been the first English sparkling producer to use the state-of-the-art Coquard automated press which treats mature Pinot grapes particularly well, coaxing all the right flavours without bruising and oxidising the grape clusters.


Last Sunday at the Decanter Wine Experience, I tasted through the immaculate Ridgeview range with Mike Roberts’ son, Simon. Two very different recomendations: the utterly reliable Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2008 with its creamy round purity of fruit that comes from expert blending of incisive Chardonnay in the driving seat supported by firm rich Pinot and biscuity Meunier. And best of all, the South Ridge 2007 – its slightly raised proportion of black grapes, and an extra six months on lees, giving some of  the richness and restraint I associate more with  top Champagne producers like Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon and Jacquesson than with any English sparkling wine. Bravo!




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