Hampshire takes on France in a battle of the bouqets

Hampshire snatched a win over France as two different vintages went head-to-head in an unconventional way.

Thursday, 2nd June 2016, 6:00 am
News readers Angus Eitel and Rita Wakefield Picture Ian Hargreaves (160713-7)

The ‘Judgement of Hampshire’ took place at Hambledon Vineyard as four Hampshire-based sparkling wines faced off against four mighty French Champagnes.

The event was based on 1976’s ‘The Judgement of Paris’, in which British wine merchant Steven Spurrier carried out a blind wine tasting with French and Californian wines.

The results, which were a shock at the time, saw the Californian wines score highly, ranking third, fourth and fifth out of the 10 wines.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

From left, professional judge Lawrence Murphy, organiser Alistair Gibson, News readers Angus Eitel and Rita Wakefield, and judges Francesco Gabriele and Giles Babb Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160713-4)

Inspired by the event and to celebrate English Wine Week a battle of the bouquets took place in the tasting room at Hambledon as three restaurateurs, two lucky News readers and I indulged in a tense showdown.

We gathered in the room, hunched around a large table, with the sun peering through.

We joked about the timing of the wine tasting – 10am on a Monday – and then eight covered bottles, eight glasses and a scoresheet were presented in front of each of us. For about half an hour, the room was filled with a cornucopia of aromas as we each swirled, smelled and tasted each bottle.

We were told to give a score for each disguised wine’s appearance, its bouquet, the palate and our overall judgement.

Alistair Gibson Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160713-6)

I confess to be but an amateur when it comes to the intricacies of wine-tasting but there was something very entertaining about trying to ascertain whether it was the grapes of France or Hampshire that I was tasting.

My comrades, who came with far greater experience and know-how then I did, found it equally difficult to guess the origin of the tastes.

I was more inclined to the more fruitier tastes of the eight wines and found myself returning to the first bottle which was rich in flavour and had an encapsulating aroma.

The objective of guessing the bottle’s origin grew more and more difficult as the tastes began to all mimic each other by the final bottle.

From left, professional judge Lawrence Murphy, organiser Alistair Gibson, News readers Angus Eitel and Rita Wakefield, and judges Francesco Gabriele and Giles Babb Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160713-4)

I tallied my scores up and watched my comrades with interest, trying to guess their thoughts and whether I should be doing the same.

Some seemed generally confident with each wine and spoke about how they were sure which were the French Champagnes and which were the English sparkling wines, while others grew more perplexed with each taste and took more sips to help better ascertain their judgement.

Following this, I glanced back over the notes I’d made on each bottle and tried my favourites once more.

Rita Wakefield, one of our competition winners from Fareham shared her thoughts with me, confessing that she was also a newcomer to wine-tasting.

Alistair Gibson Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160713-6)

‘I just went for my favourites. I’m hoping they are English!’ she told me.

We agreed that the whole event was a good bit of fun with the chance to be further educated in the arts of the connoisseur.

One of the restaurateurs, Lawrence Murphy of the Fat Olives restaurant in South Street, Emsworth – the food writer for The Weekend magazine, which is produced by The News, also confessed to the tasting to have been ‘incredibly difficult’.

After Alistair Gibson, our inspector and wine expert, and wine columnist for The Weekend, tallied up the results, we gathered round the table to wait with bated breath ahead of the big reveal.

The lowest ranked wines were presented first and there were big smiles around the table as three French wines, Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial, Canard-Duchene Brut and Laurent-Perrier Brut were revealed as the bottom three.

I was a little stunned, as I had found myself drawn more to the Moet as my favourite on the table.

I felt it had the richer texture and no other bottle I tried had come close to the taste.

Hampshire wines then began to be revealed to us as the Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvee 2013 and the Exton Park Blance de Blancs 2011 took fifth and fourth respectively in the standings.

The reveal meant that with three wines left there was a strong chance that Hampshire could secure an unlikely victory for the English.

There was then a big cheer round the table as the third bottle was revealed to be the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, the last of the French champagnes, meaning a victory for Hampshire had been secured.

You could see the delight in the restaurateurs’ faces as each bottle’s identity was unveiled.

Alistair then revealed the Cottonworth Classic Cuvee to be in second place before the last hidden wine was shown to be the Hambledon Classic Cuvee.

The pride in the room was self-evident as the final bottle was unveiled as a blind taste test had pitted their own against seven worthy competitors and Hambledon had secured the top vote with a score of 93 out of 120.

Giles Babb, the owner of The Blue Bell Inn in South Street, Emsworth said he had thoroughly enjoyed the event.

He said: ‘The result did not surprise me at all. I got quite a few of the wines spot on although I’ll admit it was really tough to get them all.’

Mr Murphy added: ‘It’s a fantastic result for Hampshire. It shows that the standard of English sparkling wine is very high.

‘It shows that their wines are worth every penny and that’s very good in my book.’

Angus Eitel, a lover of wines from Emsworth said: ‘It was an interesting experience. They were all so very similar but my scoring seems to have been quite consistent with everyone else. I’m hoping that means that my palate isn’t a complete dud!’

So after years of progress since the days English wines were seen at best as poor relations of those over the channel, and at worst as a bit of a joke, here’s further proof of another step forward – Hampshire’s wines are truly sparkling.

The Judgement of Hampshire results

1. Hambledon Classic Cuvee, Hampshire

2. Cottonworth Classic Cuvee, Hampshire

3. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, France

4. Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2011, Hampshire

5. Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvee, H’shire

6. Laurent-Perrier Brut NV, France

7. Canard-Duchene Brut NV, France

8. Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial NV, France

COUNTY’s wine win IS ‘something to be proud of’

HAMBLEDON’S victory over the French Champagnes shows that the county’s wine-makers can stand on their own, according to The News’ wine columnist Alistair Gibson.

Alistair, who put the event at Hambledon Vineyard together, says that the achievement should be ‘really pleasing’ for wine-makers across Hampshire.

He said: ‘I think the fact we are doing this kind of event in the first place really values how far English and Hampshire sparkling wines have come in the last few years.

‘The fact that Hampshire wines have also come out on top of the champagnes is really pleasing for me.’

The vineyard’s wine tasters themselves had struggled to grasp the difference between the two kinds after completing the task before Monday’s event.

He added: ‘The most pleasing thing for me is that we put all these wines on the same table, on an equal basis to undergo an equal tasting and the Hampshire wines came out on top.

To read Alistair’s thoughts on the event, pick up a copy of The Newson Saturday and read our wine raconteur’s wine column.