Alistair Gibson on wine: England beats France – at last

Denbies Pinot Gris 2014 (M&S �16)
Denbies Pinot Gris 2014 (M&S �16)
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Today sees the start of English Wine Week and I can’t recall when there has been so much to celebrate.

A recent tasting in Paris, held on St George’s Day and organised by wine writer Matthew Jukes, saw a stellar line up of tasters from the Paris restaurant and wine trade taste three Champagnes pitted against three English sparking wines.

Nyetimber Classic Cuv�e 2010

Nyetimber Classic Cuv�e 2010

The results fascinated and excited the tasters.

When they were announced, in two of the categories the English sparkling wines came out on top as the preferred fizz and in the other category opinion was split straight down the middle.

It would truly appear that English wines have arrived and no longer justify the just-a-local-gimmick-and-not-to-be-taken-too-seriously tag of years gone by.

In the past year alone, UK wines received a total of 365 awards at various international wine competitions, compared to 265 in 2014.

Hambledon Premiere Cuv�e NV

Hambledon Premiere Cuv�e NV

This included 46 gold medals in 2015, almost double the 25 won the year before.

Without doubt most of the current excitement is about sparkling wine but before we get there, let’s look at some serious white wines coming into view.

Denbies Pinot Gris 2014 (M&S £16) is as good an English pinot gris as I’ve tasted.

It was handpicked and fermented in two-five-year-old French barrels before being aged for 10 months. It has a lovely colour with notes of pear and apple blossom plus a little melon, before some citrus and honey on the palate and a nice long textured finish. Try this with a summer salad and quiche.

As for sparkling wine there are so many fine wines being made, but here are two you can raise a glass to and celebrate English Wine Week.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 (Waitrose £31.99 and Majestic £36.99 but £24.99 as part of a mixed six until May 30) is in many ways the standard bearer for English fizz.

Having been established for more than 25 years it has been at the forefront of English wine and this is fairly serious stuff.

The nose offers citrus, pear and baked biscuit aromas. The bubbles are fine and long-lasting and the whole package is beautifully balanced. A perfect aperitif or, on a summer’s evening great with a bowl of fresh, local strawberries?

But if I had to choose one sparkler to show just how far our fledgling English industry has come, it would be the recently-released Hambledon Premiere Cuvée NV ( £42.50).

This is made from a classic blend of chardonnay (58 per cent), pinot meunier (18 per cent) and pinot noir (24 per cent) with a small percentage fermented in French oak.

This is exceptional sparkling wine, which in comparison with other sparklers at this price more than holds its own.

The nose is complex with brioche, orange peel and toasted nuts, the palate has that lovely English sparkling wine trademark of green apple acidity and yet more citrus fruit.

It will develop further, but this is very fine wine indeed.

Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call 01243 431002.