Sparkling wine has that magical quality of turning any moment into something really special, so it’s worth keeping a bottle or two on standby at this time of year. But instead of immediately reaching for French, Italian or Spanish varieties, how about enjoying a flute of fizz from one of our many brilliant local wineries? SO Drinks Editor James Viner selects some beautiful bottles of bubbly – and a celebratory magnum of Champagne – that are certain to put an extra sparkle into Christmas and the New Year…
Bubbles are a must during party season. And although many will reach for a bottle of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava, the good news is English fizz is becoming more and more popular. Thanks to our favourable climate and good growing conditions it really has become one of the success stories of the wine world over the past decade.
Therefore I thought it only right to shine a spotlight on some of our favourite producers to make your Christmas go with a bang. I have been spoilt for choice with English sparkling wines at this year’s trade tastings so I’ve had the luxury of picking the crème de la crème of the best bottles from many fantastic local wineries. From £18 to £73.50, these six brilliant bubblies are great value — and perfect for special sipping.
Uncork, unwind and have a very cheerful Christmas and New Year. Cheers!
- THINK PINK! SCRUMPTIOUS HIGH STREET CHOICE FROM THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND
Co-op Irresistible Eight Acres Sparkling Rosé NV, Balfour Winery at Hush Heath Estate
£18 Co-op; alc 11.5%
Producer website: balfourwinery.com
Open to the public? Yes
Date established: 2001
Dosage: Brut (less than 12 g/l)
Kent has been known as the ‘Garden of England’ since the sixteenth century when Henry VIII gave it the epithet after tasting an exceptionally excellent bowl of Kentish cherries. The county is also the biggest producer of England’s top three grape varieties used to make great sparkling wine, topping the county table for Pinot Noir (ahead of second place W. Sussex), Chardonnay (ahead of Hampshire) and Pinot Meunier (again ahead of West Sussex).
Step forward my top supermarket English rosé sparkler, a canny blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier made by Balfour Winery at Hush Heath Estate in nearby Staplehurst, Kent. Very classy pale pink English sparkling rosé, beautifully crisp and elegant with fine bubbles, mouth-watering lemony acidity, tangy red fruits and floral notes, plus a little spice. Try it with cheese straws, fresh or smoked salmon or sushi. Ready to go, this chic and downright delicious pink Kentish party sparkler will go down well with everyone. A gold-plated bargain to boot.
- PURE JOY FROM WESTWELL, ONE OF KENT’S EMERGING GREATEST HITS
Westwell Pelegrim NV (new release)
£23-£32 Roberson (bin end, now £23), Cambridge Wine, The Bottle of Hastings, The English Vine, Westwell Wines; alc 11%
Producer website: westwellwines.com
Open to the public? Yes
Date established: 2007
Westwell Wines, a low-intervention single-estate vineyard and winery situated on the North Downs near Charing in Kent, was set up in 2007. Adrian Pike took over just before the 2017 harvest and he’s been crafting several vinous beauties ever since. Previously Adrian had studied wine production and viticulture whilst working with one of England’s leading organic producers, Davenport Vineyards (whose 2015 Blanc de Blancs is one of my festive sparkling choices in this issue) after trying Will Davenport’s celebrated Horsmonden Dry White blend.
Westwell’s pure, stellar and stylish bottle-fermented Pelegrim NV sparkler is made with 40% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay grapes (with input from reserve wines from the previous five vintages, which adds complexity and maintains consistency), hand-picked on the Westwell Estate. Plenty of flavours: citrus, orchard fruits, yellow plum and light cherry notes, plus subtle brioche and ginger (the blessing of extended lees ageing) in effervescent perfection.
I recently caught up with Westwell Wines’ winemaker and owner Adrian and his wife Galia to find out more about their signature sparkling wine and what they like to drink with it. Adrian explained:
“Pilgrim is a real crowd pleaser: a good fruit-forward base wine with a large proportion of Pinots to give red apple flavours, and a second ferment in bottle with yeast and sugar added and aged for three years on lees to give a rich creaminess. It’s a classic non-vintage sparkler, intensely proud of its Kentish roots.”
With a soft, rich mouthfeel, this is a cracker and perfect to toast the festive season. It would also be excellent with smoked salmon canapés. It’s a lovely, light-bodied drinking, and a fine aperitif.
“Kent is the biggest producer of England’s top three grape varieties used to make great sparkling wine: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier”
- A savoury and juicy vintage sparkling wine from Squerryes in Westerham
Squerryes Vintage Brut 2015
£31.99 or £29.95 (mix 6) Lea & Sandeman; alc 12%
Producer website: squerryes.co.uk
Open to the public? Yes
Date established: 2006 (first vines planted), first vintage in 2010
The finest English bubbly shouldn’t be drunk too early and benefits from bottle age. This is a well-layered, creamy Champagne-style vintage sparkling wine with gentle indications of baked apple, plump peach and brioche, finishing dry with a citrus kick, to keep things joyful.
Taste the complexity that comes with 48 months on the lees of the second fermentation in the bottle, it’s exhilarating. Racy across the textural palate thanks to the fresh acidity, which keeps this lively and the finish long. Line and length are insistent, assuring a bright future if cellared well. Made by Henners’ head winemaker Colette O’Leary from fruit grown on a 2,500 acre, nearly 300-year-old working estate in Westerham that eight generations of the Warde family (whose family motto is ‘Licet Esse Beatis’: ‘it is permitted to be joyful’) have called home.
A joy to drink, it stands shoulder to shoulder in flavour terms with vintage offerings from familiar big-name Champagne houses on the other side of the Channel. You will be hypnotised by the effortless grace in this sparkling Kentish wine. I poured it for a wine group and everybody got out their phones to order some. 39% Chardonnay, 41% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinot Meunier.
- ARTISANAL TINY PRODUCTION ORGANIC SPARKLING WINE CHOICE
Davenport Vineyards Blanc de Blancs 2015, 100% Organic Chardonnay sparkling wine
£32.50 Davenport Vineyards; alc 12%
Producer website: davenportvineyards.co.uk
Open to the public? No
Region: East Sussex
Date established: 1991
Dosage: 8.5 g/l
Sustainability and the vinification of low-sulphur wines are at the forefront of everything that Will Davenport and his tiny team do at his vineyards and winery at Limney Farm in Rotherfield, East Sussex. Carrying tension and bite – and straddling an imminent drinkability with ample structural mettle for age-worthiness – this new energetic organic fizz showcases fine bubbles, crunchy acidity and aromas of golden apple, quince, peach and citrus alongside hints of bread dough and baking spice. Purity, refinement and joy! The finish is brisk, long and pulsating.
Won over by his organic fizz, I recently caught up with Will who has been very busy with the 2022 harvest, which went swimmingly.
How was this year’s harvest, Will?
“We now have some great flavours in tank and decent volumes. 2022 was less problematic for mildew, so the organic management was not too difficult.”
What have you got up your sleeve for the rest of this year and the next one?
“We have a few new wines out this year. Our first ever sparkling wine in magnum, new vintages of sparkling rosé and Limney Estate  will be out in December, with a lower dosage because the fruit is so ripe. We will soon also release the red Pinot Noir 2021. We also have a 2022 Pet Nat [aka pétillant naturel, whereby the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, trapping CO2gas in the bottle, and usually stoppered with a crown cap] which will be out in April 2023.”
“English wine has become one of the success stories of the wine world over the past decade”
- Sophisticated, estimable vintage bubbly from W. Sussex
Wiston Estate Blanc de Noir 2014
£56-£59 Wiston Estate, Swig, Hedonism Wines; alc 12%
Producer website: wistonestate.com
Open to the public? Yes, tours and tastings run daily Tuesday-Sunday
Region: West Sussex
Date established: 2006
Dosage: 8 g/l
This deliciously layered, textural, beautifully balanced, award-winning West Sussex bubbly is a stunner. Fabulous, ethereal fizz made by Dermot Sugrue (who recently left Wiston). Under Sugrue’s stewardship, Wiston won ‘Winery of the Year’ at the WineGB awards in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
It’s really smart, engaging and delicious. Lovely with Comté but could take on roast guinea fowl and mushroom risotto. A seamless and remarkable performance. A showstopping classic to enjoy now or cellar and forget. 66% Pinot Noir, 34% Pinot Meunier. Bottled in July 2015 and disgorged in December 20
Follow James on Twitter – @QuixoticWine
HOW TO POUR SPARKLING WINE
Check that the wine tastes spot-on, then pour half a glass for each drinker, topping them up after the ‘mousse’ has dwindled. You can choose to incline the glass to reduce frothing – I do. Sparkling wine is the only style where you can break the rule of never more than half-filling a glass, but do leave enough room for your nose so you can savour the bouquet!
What glassware should I use for my bubbly?
Bubbly is best enjoyed in a tulip glass, tall enough to let the bubbles and aromas fully develop. The glass I use most repeatedly is the Riedel Vinum XL Champagne available from theriedelshop.co.uk (£43.95 a pair). Always rinse Champagne glasses with hot water before use, letting them drain to eliminate any soap or ‘rinse aid’ residue that can make the bubbles go flat.