A bottle of Hampshire to put the fizz in the economy

STEVE CANAVAN: A real cliffhanger in the Lakes

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Despite our love affair with most things belonging to this region’s nearest international neighbour – their food, climate, long lunches, property and perfume, we still itch to put one over the French.

Whether it is rugby in the Six Nations, Andy Murray seeing off Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the French Open yesterday or... the Battle of Trafalgar, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about beating the old foe.

But when a sparkling wine from just up the road at Hambledon wins a blind tasting against three of the most famous Champagnes, it’s enough to put a fizz in your step until the grape harvest.

This paper’s wine writer Alistair Gibson organised the contest and the win for Hambledon Classic Cuvée was no fluke for Hampshire. For Cottonworth Classic Cuvée, from the Test Valley, came second. Both have been winning international awards for some time and the world is at last beginning to wake up to our high-class sparklers.

Putting the cork back in the banter bottle, there is a serious economic side to this region’s still-fledgling wine industry. And it’s all to do with climate change and what the French call terroir – geology to the rest of us.

Drive just a few miles from Portsmouth into the chalk downland of Hampshire and West Sussex and you cannot fail to notice the thousands of hectares of land now given over to vineyards.

The south-facing slopes, the slowly-increasing average temperature and the chalk have made this part of the world almost a perfect match for Champagne. Give it another 50 years and we’ll be its equal and the economic spin-off could be immense.

Of course, we’ve a long, long way to go before we start making still white wines as good and as diverse as those emanating from across the Channel.

But it might not be too long before grand prix winners are spraying the podium having cracked open a bottle of Hampshire.

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