MY WINE OF THE WEEK …… IT’S ENGLISH!!
NYETIMBER DEMI-SEC. NV. (£28.99, www.ewwines.co.uk).
I was on BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ a couple of years ago with the lovely Julia Bradbury and the perky Matt Baker; before we started filming there was an air of ‘English Sparkling isn’t great but it’ll make an interesting programme’ wafting around the crew.
The slot ended with Julia, Matt and myself comparing Champagne and English Sparkling Wine … that changed things, “this is good stuff”, Matt smiled. Bingo, that was Matt and the crew converted! So, they’ll all love Nyetimber’s Demi-Sec (semi-sweet) sparkler. So will you.
I have a confession to make, I’m not be a big fan of English still wine but I am the world’s no. 1 fan of English Sparkling Wine. That said, it isn’t so surprising that English Sparkling Wine is so good.
Champagne may still be the bubble to beat but England is very similar to the king of sparklers in so many ways. England’s chilly, northerly climate’s is similar to the Champagne region in northern France and, what’s more, Champagne’s famous chalk soils slide under Paris, dip under the Channel and emerge in the south of England …… the white cliffs of Dover and all that?
It doesn’t stop there. The grape varieties are the same. The ‘Champagne’ grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier now account for over fifty per cent (and growing) of all English vineyard plantings and, as English bubbly is made in exactly the same way as Champagne, you can see why for me, English Sparkling Wine is the ultimate Champagne lookalike. To help create the crisp, mouth watering acidity so important to balance the sweetness in the wine, winemaker Cherie Spriggs uses 100% Chardonnay in Nyetimber’s Demi-Sec.
Nyetimber, a beautiful manor house in West Chiltington near Pulborough on the Sussex Downs, was mentioned in the Domesday Book and was once the home of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. The house is now set amongst vineyards, first planted in 1988.
Champagne and English Sparkling are made in the same way, that is, thanks to a second fermentation in the bottle when a pinch of sugar and a touch of yeast is added to a blended dry white wine before the bottle is sealed. The yeast reacts with the sugar to give a little more alcohol and carbon dioxide gas – the fizz. This gas builds up in the sealed bottle and as it can’t escape becomes an integral part of the wine. Hey presto – we have English Sparkling!
Following the second fermentation, the exhausted yeast leaves a very fine sediment (known as ‘lees’) in the bottle. Twisting and tilting the bottle by hand over about 6 weeks – known as ‘riddling’ – drives the sediment into the neck; the top of the bottle is then frozen to form a small ice plug of sediment and wine which is then expelled to leave a clear, dry sparkling wine. A quick top up with English Sparkling which is sweetened (or not) to the chosen style, (getting technical, the Demi-Sec has 45 grams per litre of sugar), a cork, a securing wire, a label and presto, after a resting period, the bottle’s ready for the shelf and our lucky taste buds.
Non Vintage Champagne has to stay ‘on its lees’ for a minimum of 15 months (too short in my book but what do I know) but this is nowhere near long enough for Nyetimber who are looking for more of those wonderful ‘quality defining’ yeasty, bakers oven tones borne from long periods ‘on the lees’. Nyetimber’s crisp, cracking Blanc de Blancs 2007 (100% Chardonnay) stayed nearly 5 years on the lees before ‘disgorgement’, (£29.50, The Champagne Company).
If you’re feeling flush in this post-election era you can start the meal with Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blancs – great as an aperitif or with the fish course – and end with an amazing sweet dessert matched with the Demi-Sec. What you serve with the main course will probably fade from memory ….. Nyetimber will have stolen the show from start to finish!