Ever since the roman invasion of England in 43 A.D, consumption of wine has been part of everyday life of English citizens. The Romans plantet vines and produced wine as this was a common when conquering land in those days. After all a lot wine was needed to quench the huge thirst of the Roman empire. When fast forwarding to more present times, one could see a booming English wine industry in the 10th and 11th century, with grand vineyards stretching as far as Yorkshire.
There is a development and a complexity here worthy of equal comparison to Champagne
The industry however, met its sudden demise at the start of the 12th century for several reasons. One of which was a French trade agreement that pushed the prices of French wines down, meaning that English wine growers had a very hard time selling their wine. Over 1,300 English vineyards ended up being uprooted and was replanted with more profitable produce like plums and apples. The last nail in the coffin was set by mother nature herself; with a sudden climate cycle change that gave way to a cooler and more rainy South England.
The revival of the modern English wine industry did not emerge until the late 1970s. South England was the safest placeto start replanting, but it was still a very wet and cold place. The choice of grapes fell on the German Hybrid varieties, with its lack of quality. It made up for this with a high resistance against the cold climate. The quality of the finished wines however was in lack of better words “shit”. They lacked in taste and was overly acidic.
In 1988 something happend that would start a revolution that would change the English wine industry forever. An American couple, determined to pick a fight with the Champagne industry, decided to settle down in West Sussex South in England and establish a vineyard. Here they planted only the classic varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
In present time, The English wine industry has shown a huge growth in the last decade, mostly driven by English Sparkling wine. On the World scene however, the success only came recently in the last couple of years.
The soil in South England is dominated by the same limestone and chalk content that has been profitable for the Champagne industry for centuries. The unique soil with its special draining abilities are perfect for the growth of grapes used for sparkling wine.
The climate is said to be the same as it was in Champagne over hundred years ago. Anyways, this might be a truth with several modifications; but the key point here is that the climate is the key. The reason for the sudden positive growth of the classic Champagne grape varieties is of course the sudden climate changes humanity has experienced lately. A big problem however is the huge vintage variation. Actually, some vintages has been so disastrous that wine has barely been made.
The production method for English bubbles is based on the same principals as those used in the production of Champagne. The wines go trough a second fermentation in the bottle, and is stored in the basement for a certain amount of time, so the elements can go trough “the marriage”; thus creating a balance and complexity worthy of quality sparkling wine. There is of course also made and stored old base wines used in blending to balance the wines, just like in Champagne. English sparkling is a product based mostly on the blending of several vintages, but Blanc de Blanc, vintage and single vineyards are also produced.
The difference between English Sparkling and Champagne is said to be noticed when comparing complexity; as Champagne has a higher degree of that. English Sparkling also has a higher degree of fruitiness and freshness.
The great potensial and the low price on land in South England has opened up for investment from several classic Champagne houses as well. Both Pommery and Taittinger has bought up several hectares of land, and has recently planted grapes here for the production of sparkling wine. So even the Champagne industry has opened its eyes to this land with an unreleased potential.
The market today is booming like never before.In 2017 it was produced nearly 4 million bottles of English sparkling, meaning 68% precent of the the countrys total wine production. English sparkling is now exported to 27 countries worldwide, where USA, Sweden and Japan stands for the majority of exports. Total export is however only 4%, meaning that most of the production is used for English domestic consumption.
Pinot Noir is taking the lead with 31,5% of total plantings (803 hectares), with Chardonnay on a close second place with 30,3% of all plantings (771 hectares). The third place however, goes to Pinot Meuiner with only 9,5%, meaning 243 hectares.
A great deal of its recent success has been helped by several prestigous blind tastings where English Sparkling has fought against Champagne, and has been victorious more than once. There has also been several tastings put together by Decanter and Noble Rot Magazine for those wishing to pursue this further.
Nyetimber is today one of the biggest and best known producers of English sparkling. References to the property can actually be found in the Medieval “Doomsday book” as far back as 1086 A.D. On one occasion the property was in the hands of King Henry VIII in year 1536.
As mentioned in the beginning, It all started with the American couple, Stuar and Sandy Moss who bough some land in West Sussex and planted this with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier i 1988. They released their first vintage in 1992, and this became the first commercially released English Sparkling wine.
The wine opened the eyes of many “doubters” in the trade around the fact that quality English wine was something that actually had potential.
Nyetimber has changed hands several times over the years, but after Eric Heerema took over the reins in 2006, they have held a steady course with great help from their chief winemaker Cheerie Spriggs. She also recently won the prestigious international title “Sparkling winemaker of the year”.
Today Nyetimber owns 220 hectares of vineyards, producing nearly 600,000 bottles each year. They own 9 individual vineyards spread all over West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent.
Al the wines go trough malolactic fermentation to mellow the high acidity. The wines also go trough a lengthy ageing on the lees in the cellar. Nyetimber produces the whole spectre of wines from Non vintage to Single Vineyards and Blanc de Blanc.
23rd of April 2016 in Paris would become the turning point of the journey of English bubbles when a 2009 vintage of Nyetimber won over Champagne in a blind tasting with a panel of 14 industry experts.
I recently had the great honours of participating in the celebration of Nyetimbers 30th anniversary on 17th of September. Here we tasted trough several vintages of both younger and older bottles. It became clear for me that English sparkling has a great potential. There is a development and a complexity here worthy of equal comparison to Champagne.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2003 Magnum
West Sussex England
Lemon green colour, with very intense aromas of toast, citrus and overripe yellow apples with hints of flowers and honey. Developed but still very fresh on the palate. Intens flavours of brioche and toffee in the middle, with a very intense, creamy and long lasting finish.
Tillington Single Vineyard Brut 2013 West sussex, England
Elegant and balanced aromas of green apples, red berries, bread and biscuits with a hint of reduction. Intens and gripping on the palate, with a balanced middle. A bit to acidic in the finish. Above average finish
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2010 West sussex, England
Lemon green color. A bit dusty in the beginning. A bit closed off on the nose. Green apples, citrus and biscuits with hint of minerals. Very youthful style. Opens more up on the palate with an impressive fruit concentration towards brioche, toast and toffee. Lengthy finish. A bit too acidic with a chalky feeling. Needs more time to develop and open up.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 1992 West sussex, England
Medium yellow colour. Intense and aromatic aromas of burnt toast, coffee beans and brioche with hints of dried apricots and mushrooms. Complex with a very developed taste towards decaying forest floor. Very flavourful and rich on the palate, but dries up a bit in the finish.
Pairs with: Fish, scallops, spicy food and chicken
Light lemon green colour. Medium intens aromas of green apple peel, lemons, almonds and biscuits. Creamy entrance on the palte, with a chalky and dry finish. Well balanced with some complexity with an intense acidity. Very youthful style.
Salmon pink colour. Medium intens aromas of red berries, strawberries and raspberries with hints of citrus, red plums and biscuits. Very primary fruit driven, with hints of autolysis. Fresh and balanced with a pleasant acidity. Some complexity with a hint of bitterness in the finish.
A bit dusty on the nose at the beginning. Feels a bit closed. Aromas of yellow apples and citrus, with a hint of sweet biscuits. Opens more up on the palate with hints of brioche, ripe apricots and honey.
Piedmont is located North-West in Italy, surrounded by the Alps. The climate is heavily affected by the ever lasting struggle between the warmth from the Mediterranean and the cold air coming down the Alps. At noon, parts of the landscapes are covered in fog, and the grapes that are grown elevated above this fog are the winners as they gorge in more sunlight than the rest. The most important grapes from Piedmont are Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Moscato.
Nebbiolo - the best grape in the world? The region is well know for its age worthy, firm and tannic reds made from one of the worlds most coveted grapes; Nebbiolo. The name is said to originate from the Italian name for fog; Nebbia. Nebbiolo is a small thick skinned grape, with a flowery and full bodied tannic taste. It needs several years in the cellar to ripen its harsh tannins. It is well known for its bouquet of red forest berries, rose petals, forest floor and mushrooms. The most important area for this legendary grape is the Langhe area. The more simple and easy drinking wines is sold simply with Langhe on the label, but the more complex varieties hails from vineyards in the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. Often called the King and Queen of Piedmont.
Barbera - Fruity and soft. Barbera is the opposite of Nebbiolo. Wines from this grape are usually soft and fruity with a very low level of tannins but with a very high level of freshness. Most of the wines comes either from the town of Alba or Asti. Hence the names “Barbera d` Alba and Barbera d`Asti”. Barbera is perfectly drinkable alone or paired perfectly with Pizza, Tapas and White fish.
Dolcetto - easy or complicated? Wines made from the Dolcetto variety will often vary from the simple, full and fruity styles to more tannic wines. Wines are often dark ruby in colour, with flavours of black currants, liquorice and spices. A perfect companion to cured meats and truffles.
Moscato - Sweet and aromatic. Moscato is actually one of the oldest known grape varieties in the world. It is actually also one of the top sellers. Moscato is very aromatic on the nose, with aromas of elder flowers, roses and tropical fruit. The wines are usually made in several degrees of sparkling style and is great in the company of lighter desserts and fruits.
White truffles from Alba. Truffles are a species of mushroom growing on the roots of certain types of trees. There are very long tradition in Piedmont in regards of both black and white truffles. Especially popular is the legendary white truffle from Alba, one of the worlds most sought after culinary treat with a kg price of about 10 000 Euro. The white truffle is much more intens a richer in flavour than the black truffle.
In Piedmont, the food and wine has developed together for centuries, resulting in some of the best food and wine pairings in the world.
Some local traditional treats in Piedmont:
All regions in Italy have their own pasta variety, and Piedmont is no different. Here it is called Tajarin, and is often served with tomatoes and beef ragu. In Autumn it is often accompanied by white truffles. Barbaresco is a great match here.
Thin slices of carpaccio, served with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper with a squeeze of lemon juice. Served with grated black truffles. A good wine here would be either a Barbera or Dolcetto.
Olive oil and anchovies and garlic fondue. Bacna Cauda means “warm bath” and is traditionally served hanged over a fire to keep it warm all trough the meal. Often served in terracotta dishes as a dip for the Autumns vegetables. Pairs nicely with a Barbera.
Agnolotti del Plin
A traditional pasta dish, reminding of ravioli. The pasta is filled med veal, beef or pork together with vegetables. It is served with either ragu or butter and sage. Great with Nebbiolo based wines.
Wine production in Valpolicella have existed ever since the ancient greeks brought the noble art of winemaking across the Adriatic sea. The area dedicated to wine is located a short distance from the Garda sea in the west. There is no doubt about it, this is red wine territory with focus on the local grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.
Valpolicella Classico is the most produced wine in the area. It is a pleasant and uncomplicated wine with fruity flavours of sour cherries and flowers like a classic table wine from Valpolicella should taste.
Valpolicella Superiore is a more structured variety from Valpolicella Classico. It is stored at least one year in old oak barrels. A process that adds more complexity to the wine. Both Classico and Superiore pairs nicely with pork, chicken and Italian Pizza. It is also a perfect match with the local speciality; Red Wine Risotto.
Amarone is literally on top of the food chain. It is also on top of the quality pyramid. The production is very different from traditional winemaking in the rest of Italy, and also the world. Amarone is made from dried raisined grapes; an extensive process who was traditionally done in large old drying chambers in the attics. The grapes will stay here and shrink in volume and dry out up to 120 days. Nowadays many producers use more modern methods where the drying is done in temperature controlled rooms.
The high level of sugar content and the concentrated flavour in the dried grapes is the very key to why the Amarone wines are so bold and flavourful, and also capable of developing for quite some time in the cellar. Amarone is aged for a minimum of two years in old oak barrels; if the labels says “Riserva” the minimum is three years. The wines pairs grat with bolder dishes like beef stews, smoked and grilled meat, game and hard cheeses.
Ripasso is a creation that falls somewhere between Amarone og Valpolicella wines. It is made by pouring a simple Valpolicella wine over the pressed grapes leftovers from the Amarone production. A second fermentation starts because of the residual sugar left in the grapes. Voila! a Ripasso has been created.
A Ripasso has some of the boldness and flavour intensity from the Amarone with a bit more freshness. On the nose it is more floral and fruity. It will pair nicely with game, beef and lamb.
Recioto. Lastly there is a wine as similar to Amarone is at the very top of the quality pyramid; the sweet, bold and luscious dessert wine Recioto. The winemaking methods are the same as for Amarone; with drying of the grapes lasting from three weeks up to three months. But as opposed to Amarone, the winemakers stops the fermentation after a while to preserve a lot of the sugars from the grapes. Recioto wines has a very intense flavour of raisins and overripe berries, and is traditionally served with a local Biscotti biscuit by the name of Pasta Frolla.
Four levels. It is a huge difference between simple table wines and complex Amarone. To protect the wine producers and to separate simple table wine from the really good stuff; Italy introduced a wine classification in 1963 by the name of DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). The law was inspired by the French AOC law from 1935.
Italys wine law has the following hierarchy:
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantitita (DOCG): These are the very best wines. The restrictions to use of local grapes and quality is the same as for DOC, men the wines must also pass a judgement panel before they can get DOCG on the label. There is also strict demands in regards of maximum yields.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): This is the wine classification from 1963 with strict rules applying to quality and usage of local grape varieties.
Indicazione Geogra ca Tipica (IGT): A geographical indication with less strict demands in regards of grape varieties.
Vino da Tavola (VdT): Simple mass produced table wines.
In relations to sparkling wine, most of us have a relationship to it. Many in regards of celebration, and for some its the complexity and alluring flavours. But how is it made, and what factors are decisive for the differences in flavours, quality and not to mention; popularity?
The seductive, sparkling liquid exists in several very different varieties, like Champagne, Prosecco, Cremant and Cava; to mention some. And they are all very different compared to each other.
Champagne. The most famous sparkling wine hails from the region of Champagne North in France. This is an area where the combination of climate, geology, temperatures and soil combine to create one of mother natures greatest inventions.
The Champagne region is barely warm enough to ripen grapes. But the grapes that struggle trough the harsh climate, develops a depth and complexity few others can recreate. The calcerous and fossile layers in the soil gives an extra dimension to the aromas and flavours. Compared to many other sparkling wines, Champagne radiates a cooler and slimmer style of bubbly, with a greater length and complexity.
The classic production method of sparkling wine is called “The Champagne Method”. It starts out with the creation of a simple white wine, but after the first fermentation has ended, the wine is bottle with added sugar and yeast so the second fermentation can begin inside the bottle. Here the yeast consumes the sugar and creates those lovely bubbles associated with great sparkling wine.
After the bottle has been sealed, it is placed in the cellar for a minimum of 15 months for Non Vintage Champagne and minimum three years for Vintage Champagne. In the bottle the yeast eventually starves and dies, leaving a residue of dead yeast cells at the bottom of the bottle. This is called Autolysis, and its a process that gives Champagne that “Magic touch” of smell and flavour. Eventually the yeast is removed by freezing the bottle neck in brine and removing the cork with a bottle opener. The pressure in the bottle shoots out the frozen yeast. After this the Chef De Cave adds sweet wine or sugar to balance the wine and then it is corked and cellared for several months.
Prosecco. The interest in Prosecco has exploded in recent years. As opposed to Champagne, Prosecco is note made with complexity of flavour in mind, but for easiness of drinking. It is often recognised by flavours simple fruity flavours of Green apples and Pears, and with a much lower acidity than Champagne. As opposed to both Champagne, Cava and Cremant; Prosecco is not fermented a second time in the bottle. Instead the whole production is done inside pressurised tanks on low temperature with not extra yeast contact.
Cava is the Spanish sparkling counterpart, mainly produced in the North-East region on Catalonia. The production method is the same as for Champagne. Cava can have some of the same yeast flavours as Champagne, but are often dominated by the earthy flavours from the local grape varieties of Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada.
Crémant is the name of French sparkling wine that does not originate from the Champagne region. The production methods are the same as Cava and Champagne, but the liquid is only in contact with the yeast cells for 9 months instead of 15 as in Champagne.
HISTORY OF CHAMPAGNE
Champagne was first created some time in the 1700s. Earlier it was thought that a munk by the name of Dom Perignon started the process of making Champagne. New research however proves that this is not the case. In fact it all started in England. The English was the first to create a thicker glass that could contain the pressure of Sparkle from the cider production.
Champagne is made from only three grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The last two are actually purple grapes. The reason why its possible to create a bright liquid from these two, is that they are pressed and not crushed like in the production of red wine.
IMPORTANT FACTS CHAMPAGNE
Blanc de Blancs - Only made from Chardonnay grapes
I found this small scale producer from Slovenia on the shelves on my local wine outlet, and i was mesmerised by both the label, origin and the tasting notes on the shelf. It wasn’t a very pricy wine neither. I am really glad that i gave it a chance, cause it literally blew me away.
The wine is layered with youthful complexity
About 40 km East of the Italian border lies Vipava Valley in Slovenia. The climate is influenced from the Mediterranean sea but it is also continental with winds and cold air from the Alps. This is where Primož Lavrenčič with his background in philosophy has dedicated his time to the noble art of winemaking. With his 7 hectares of vineyards, Primož distills a strong vision of quality and Slovenian tradition into his wines.
The grapes are grown on a soil dominated by chalk and limestone. The wines are fermented with about 7 days of skin contact in steel tanks, then stored on a combination of old Slovenian and French oak barrels for about 10 months.
Burja Estate Bela White 2016
A shiny yet hazy yellowish green colour coats the glass. The nose is dominated by lime, star fruit and flowers with a hint of struck matches together with hazelnuts and leather. The flavour grips the palate at the beginning, with a very creamy middle with a firm structure carrying the wine beautifully from start to finish. The wine is layered with youthful complexity and some development. The finish is long and zest.
What happens to wine over time? What are the criteria for storing wine? Why are some of the best wines very young, while others need several years in the cellar to become drinkable? These questions have troubled man since the very beginning of humanity’s venture into the world of wine.
The wines life journey. As soon as a wine is bottled, it slowly starts to oxidise because of the oxygen in the air, even if it stays unopened. So all wines are travelling towards their doom, and will eventually become vinegar in the end. It is the quality of the wine, together with the acidity and tannins that ultimately decides how long the wine can keep the oxidation at bay, and develop complexity before it fades away into eternity. Red wines with a higher level of tannins will become more drinkable after some years in the cellar; the same goes for some white wines with a very high level of acidity when young. They will also benefit from some years in the cellar, to mellow the high acidity and develop more layers of complexity.
As a red wine becomes older its lovely ruby to purple colours will start to fall out of the wine, and it will become brighter towards garnet, then tawny and eventually brown. White wine will also start to loose its vibrant green to yellowish colour, and will also develop towards brown.
The winemaker and farmers choice. In earlier days it was much more common for wines to need several years in the cellar before they even became drinkable. In the market today however, with a fast paced world and with more impatient consumers, most wines are made for consumption straight away.
But its the farmers and ultimately the winemakers choice who decides if a wine is compatible for storage at all. Low quality grapes have never made good wine, especially not for storage. So if a farmer wants more flavour and concentration in the grapes, so they can be made into storable wine, he needs to cut heavily down on the yields. This mean reducing numbers of grape clusters on the vines. This will of course also result in less wine, so for the farmer to have a viable business model, he needs to charge more for the finished wine. Flavour concentration in the finished wine, is crucial for a wine to be able to come at age at all.
Made for storing. Red wine is generally easier to store than white wine. The reason for this is that Red wines are more protected from oxygen with the help of both acidity but also the all important tannins. White wine only has protection from the acidity. But there are of course several fantastic white wines, especially from Germany and France with very high levels of acidity, that needs several years in the cellar to develop into something fantastic.
In terms of red wines, there are more choices when it comes to wines that will benefit from some time in the cellar. The beloved bold and tannic wines from Bordeaux are classic examples, but also their counterpart from California will age beautifully. Some great reds from Burgundy will of course all need some time in the cellar. Italy also has some amazing wines that need cellaring to develop complexity, especially from Piedmont and Tuscany. Many of these wines needs decades to fully develop. Also wines from Veneto, especially Amarone are very long lived.
Storing wine at home. Correct storage is crucial to preserve the quality of the wine and for it to develop gracefully over time. Lights and temperature are very important factors that needs to be followed, but also movement. Light will destroy your wine over time, so keep it in a dark place if you intend to have an enjoyable wine several years in the future. Never store your wine in the kitchen, as it is too bright, but there is also the risk of the wine receiving heat damage.
The most important when it comes to temperature is to keep it stabile between 12-15 degrees. This applies to both red and white wine. To high temperature will damage the wine, giving taste of boiled fruit. To low temperature will make the cork shrink, and more oxygen will get into the bottle and the wine will start to oxidise rapidly.
The best place to store wine is in a cellar below ground or in a special wine fridge. For short time storage a cheaper wine fridge will do fine, but if you intend to keep it there for many years, you need a wine fridge that is specially built with minimal noise and movement.