Ahead of Thursday’s sparkling wine blind tasting against New Zealand (“Battle of the Bubbles“) we look at, in alphabetical order, the English Team’s lower order.
Owen Elias is a four-time winner of the UKVA’s Winemaker of the Year award and his Balfour Brut Rosé is the pick of the Hush Heath offerings. The fresh English acidity merges seamlessly with the elegant cream, citrus and red fruit, making this is a successful international competitor. Verdict: This wine is all deck chairs at Hove on a hot Summer day against the soundtrack of willow on leather. Expect rapturous applause apart from those preferring a tartar style.
8. Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs, 2007
Nyetimber have been winning international awards for nearly 20 years and 2007 was the first vintage under the dynamic winemaking duo of Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix. This 100% Chardonnay is a complex nutty fruit mix set in an English orchard that won Gold at the 2014 IWSC. Verdict: Brearleyian in thoughtfulness and Athertonian in length; high scoring expected.
9. Plumpton Estate, The Dean Brut, NV
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Plumpton for having trained a generation of successful English winemakers. The Dean Brut is not a student novelty but a Pinot-dominated fruit-driven style that picked up a Gold medal at the inaugural Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. Verdict: Joe Root-like in its youthful, skilled approach; will surprise many.
10. Sugrue Pierre, South Downs, 2011
Speaking of Plumpton, where did that Dermot Sugrue train again? The resident winemaker at Wiston, he also produces 15 or so contract wines as well as his own brand, Sugrue Pierre. Which just happened to pick up a trophy at Decanter’s 2014 World Wine Awards. Verdict: The Ian Botham of wine; sparks will fly.
11. Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs, NV
Same winemaker (hope that’s in the rules). This is fresh fruit and apple juice rolled into delicious cream biscuits. And another Gold Medal winner at the inaugural Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships (2014). Verdict: Precise and poetic, this John Snow of wines will surprise and delight.
12. Wyfold, Brut, 2010
It’s entirely appropriate that both Laithwaites and Ridgeview should make the team, and this wine manages to combine them both. Barbara L’s vineyard provides Chiltern grapes and the team at Ridgeview were responsible for vinification. The 2009 vintage won the Judgement of Parsons Green (2013) while the 2010 vintage came equal 4th in the same competition the following year. Verdict: Team player rather than showy individual, its depth and character will win hearts.
It’s testament to the rude good health that the English Sparkling Wine industry finds itself in at the moment that there’s not a single weak member of the side. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too difficult for England & Wales to put together a challenging second team. New Zealand are certainly in for a very tough challenge on the wine front, even if arguably less so on the cricket field.