I really love the English wine industry. I find it both intriguing and charming and I never tire of hearing, normally with a note of surprise, how someone or other had a bottle of English fizz the other day and how delicious they thought it was. Because it is Sparkling Wine on which we are solidly building our reputation as a country that is able to produce a high quality product, capable of competing with the best that Champagne has to offer. One such producer is Nyetimber who have been making fizz for over 20 years. They are based in West Sussex near Pulborough, about 15 minutes away from where I grew up.
The reason that English fizz can be compared directly with Champagne is because it is made in exactly the same way; the same grapes are used – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – as are the same vinification techniques. Perhaps most importantly the exact same strain of chalk that runs through the soils of Champagne continues under the channel and through the vineyards of Kent and Sussex meaning the terroir can be almost replicated. You will no doubt have heard rumours of blind tastings where an English Sparkling Wine has beaten the best of what Champagne has to offer and fooled all the experts into thinking it was the real deal! Well it’s all true!
Nyetimber produces a Classic Cuvee, Blanc de Blancs, Rose and more recently a Demi-Sec. Interestingly each Classic Cuvee is made as a vintage wine rather than the more common non-vintage (NV) in Champagne. This is a brave move as although it means you can end up with an outstanding wine in a good year, it means there is nowhere to hide in a bad one. And there are plenty of bad years in the UK! In fact last year Nyetimber (and I believe they were alone in doing this) scrapped the entire vintage and publicly announced that they would not produce any wine from 2012. As I said, a brave move.
What sets Nyetimber apart is that they have pitched themselves at the luxury end of market. Having gone through a recent rebranding their products certainly look the part and have price tags to match. They, perhaps wisely, have chosen to compete with high end, well recognisable Champagne brands rather than trying to slip in as the cheaper offering. I will be very interested to see how this works out for them as sadly the vast number of Englishmen and women would rather spend their hard earned money on a Champagne they have heard of (which therefore must be good) rather than an arguably better quality English Sparkling Wine.
We had the pleasure of trying the Classic Cuvee 2005 and 2004, the Blanc de Blancs 2003 and 2007, the Rose 2009 and the Demi-Sec. As suspected the difference in vintage really shows – for me the Classic Cuvee 2005 was the best; it had a creamy nose with a lovely round body and without the overwhelming acidity you can sometimes find with English wine. The 2004 was much more citrusy and just not quite as good. Similarly the 2003 Blanc de Blancs was way better than the 2007 and had great fruit concentration and a very good length. Apparently it won ‘best Sparkling Wine in the world’ in 2009 which is quite an achievement. The Rose was pleasant enough with a nice body but lacked any real depth of flavour which was a shame as I have really liked this wine in the past. The Demi-Sec was popular with everyone; a nose of passion fruit and a lovely nutty sweetness that balanced well with the acidity.
Overall I though Nyetimber were very impressive and they are obviously running a very slick operation. I wish them well against the big guns in Champagne and look forward to many more years to come of an English Winery winning the best Sparkling Wine in the world.
One question I am repeatedly asked about expensive wine and Champagne is – is it worth it? Can you taste the difference? It’s a tricky one. Not only because, like with all things, there’s expensive and then there’s expensive. When we’re talking expensive, in general I would say no. In my humble opinion I don’t care how good a £900 bottle of wine might be, it is not worth the money you pay. Mind you, I might change my tune if I had a spare £900 sitting around with nothing better to spend it on, but I’m presuming most of you out there aren’t in that position. It is also important to remember that we’re talking about a product that can only ever be described as a personal opinion. If you don’t like caviar, you don’t like it – it doesn’t matter how expensive it is, or how much I tell you how delicious I think it is – so it is with expensive wine. I think it is always harder to give an honest opinion when it is something you are supposed to like and God knows I feel the pressure sometimes. When you’re in a room of 30 winos and tasting some ‘outstanding’ vintage of God knows what and everyone’s falling over each other to say how fantastic it is it takes a ballsy woman to stick her hand up and go ‘I don’t like it’.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a Champagne tasting a couple of weeks ago to try a range of LVMH Champagnes – the lineup was Veuve Clicquot NV, Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2004, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2004, Dom Perignon 2003 and Krug Grande Cuvee. Lucky me!! We’re probably looking at a price range starting at about £30 up to around £130. But does it get better as the prices go up??
In general I would say yes – the Krug is delicious! It is what they call a ‘multi-vintage’ Champagne and is a blend of up to 50 different wines from 6-10 different years which gives it the complexity and elegance for which it is renowned. It is full but not too full; buttery, nutty and beautifully balanced. Is it worth £130?? Hmmmmm, if I had it I would definitely spend it, put it like that.
The big surprise for me was the Grande Dame which I hadn’t tried before. Not so full as the Krug but it was elegant, complex with a fantastic length. A really really well made Champagne.
My awkward moment came with the Dom Perignon. I always used to think of DP as the height of decadence and sophistication. I think this mainly came from many teenage years spent reading Jilly Cooper novels; Rupert Campbell-Black was shagging his way around the Rutshire countryside with someone else’s wife on his lap and a bottle of ‘Dom’ in his hand – ah the glamour!! So you can imagine my disappointment while all my colleagues are mid-swoon (over the Champagne not Rupert Campbell-Black) and I’m thinking “Shit. I really don’t think this is very good”. And when I say not good I mean it wasn’t bad but was just a bit boring. I would much rather drink the Veuve Vintage, which is incidentally about 70 quid cheaper, and this is what I rather tentatively told my table. Happily it didn’t go down quite as badly as I’d anticipated and (thank God) I wasn’t the only one in the room who thought that.
There can be a huge pressure to say something’s good because it’s expensive and it’s very easy to lose touch with what something’s worth. It’s rather like that poor blogger who got pulled to pieces on Twitter for daring to say that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed the starter at Hibiscus. With food and wine it’s just an opinion. And anyone who ever has found wine an intimidating subject would do well to remember that no one can ever tell you what you do and don’t like.
But all that aside – give me Krug any day of the week. It is totally and utterly delish!