What makes Champagne?
Champagne is named after the region in France where the grapes are grown and the wine is produced. The only bottles legally allowed to be called Champagne are those which are grown in its 76,000 acres and 319 villages. Almost all champagne is produced using three main grape varieties. The black grapes, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and the white, Chardonnay which account for 99.7% of grapes growing in the region. In addition growers also use small amounts of Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) strictly governs the making of all Champagne. Methode Champenoise uses a two step fermentation process. During the first stage the grape juice ferments into alcohol. The second stage occurs in the bottle when CO2 the trapped gas creates the distinctive bubbles.
English Sparkling Wine
English Sparkling is building a reputation based on quality and expertise and sales are definitely on the up. The chalky grounds of the South Downs are virtually identical to some of the best vineyards of champagne. Sparkling wine isn’t governed by same rules as Champagne but English wines do tend to use the same blend of grapes and it is not difficult to find some really great examples to rival some of the best champagnes.
Our Favourite English Sparkling Wines
· Hattingley Valley Just north of Winchester, Hattingley Valley is family run business making a range of award winning wines. These include a Classic Reserve, Sparkling Rose (Gold Medal Winner at the English Wine Awards ) and a delicious Blanc de Blanc made entirely with Chardonnay grapes. Hattingley runs regular tours of their vineyards and have a number of special events organised for English Wine Week including a special Wine and Dine Tasting Menu at the nearby Purefoy Arms. Waitrose, Ocado and Tesco all stock Hattingley Valley wines.
· Wiston With its distinctively elegant turquoise label the sparkling wines from the Wiston Estate are some of our favourites. We bought a mixed case for Christmas of Wiston Estate’s Cuvée 2009 and the 2011 Estate Blanc de Blanc. Both wines show a real complexity and depth. The signature Cuvée was awarded a Gold Outstanding Medal in The International Wine & Spirit Competition for two years running and the Blanc de Blanc was achieved Best in Show at this year’s Decanter Wine Awards. Tours of the West Sussex Winery run regularly. Sussex Wineries Weekend is running between 14 and 16 June.
· Gusbourne I love the Sparkling Wines from Gusbourne. The vineyards cover 60 hectares at the Gusbourne Estate in Kent and 30 hectares in West Sussex all planted with the three classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Gusbourne’s wines are elegant and fresh with a signature mineralogy. Tours and tastings are available all year round.
· Bolney We enjoyed a wonderful trip to Bolney’s Vineyards near Haywards Heath last week. A delicious lunch in the Eighteen Acre restaurant overlooking the vineyards makes a great opportunity to pair some of their wines with food. We came home with bottles of the award winning 2016 Cuvée Rose and the Blanc de Blanc. Bolney also make a range of still wine, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Estate Bacchus. Bolney are offering 10% off all wines during English Wine Week. Tours and tastings run throughout the year. Children and dogs are welcome, which is definitely popular with us.
· Hambledon There is lots going on at Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire during English Wine Week. On Saturday, 1 June you can enjoy an afternoon of music by the FB Pocket Orchestra live from the Vineyard. Bring your own picnic and sit out overlooking the vineyard listening to some Classic Jazz music. It sounds wonderful and luckily the weather forecast for the weekend is great. I think we will be there.
We have some great champagne and sparkling wine related gifts from champagne stoppers which really keep the fizz in to original champagne coasters and champagne saucers inspired by 19th and early 20th century designs. Take a look.