Beer? Sure. Cider? Of course. But wine just doesn’t feel like something to associate with damp, chilly England. It’s a prejudice well worth getting over, because English sparkling wine is officially a thing. And it’s a good thing. As it turns out, cool-climate-loving Chardonnay and Pinot are right at home in the southeastern UK. An increasing number of wineries are turning out bubbles to rival Champagne, though their lean, crisp flavors don’t require the comparison; they stand on their own just fine. Here are six of note.
Bolney Estate Blanc de Blancs ($80)
Of everything on this list, Bolney’s the brand you’ll probably have the toughest time tracking down; it seems a little less broadly distributed than the others. Worth looking out for, though! If I had to describe it in one word, I might go with “chic.” But because I am not confined to one word, I’ll mention things like: elegant soft gold hue, a creamy froth of mousse, and an overall “yellowness;” mellow summer apple, Mirabelle, a hint of something quince-like. Keen acidity plays out against what Professor McGonagall would call “well-mannered frivolity.” It’s got gravity, but it hasn’t totally succumbed to it. A very charming wine.
Chapel Down Brut Classic ($48)
The winemaker recommends pairing this bubbly with fish & chips, and by all means vet that for yourself if there is a decent chippy in your neighborhood. I might steer you toward oysters or something a little less fried and overwhelming so you can appreciate the finesse and complexity of this lovely wine without the oily redolence factor, but I’m American. Citrus notes favoring tangerine and lemon are prominent, as are a panoply of orchard fruits-traces of apple, cherry, plum and something on the peach-apricot axis with a seductive overlay of quince. Toast notes enter the picture toward the end, you get a teensy little grace note of-I’m not sure; something like vetiver but less dirty. Pretty bubbles, good minerality, friendly finish. An affable, go along to get along wine, but one that will stand up for itself too.
Gusborne Brut Rose 2010 ($79)
The mousse on this wine is decidedly exuberant (bordering on feisty). The color is pale rosy pink. The overall character is a bit taut-it’s wound a little tight, showing lots of poise and tension. Opening notes of rosewater, and perhaps rose hips as well (a tart, hibiscusy note) are followed by lean, well-defined notes of redcurrant and wild strawberry. Fresh raspberry is where the midpalate settles. This is a wine that makes sure you acknowledge the role yeast played in making it-a persistent bready, piecrust-y characteristic. And there is a bit of chalk on the finish. Dry, lean, very crisp and rather playful.
Hattingly Valley Classic Reserve ($50)
Fresh apricots and muted white florals are the opening impression with this pale gold wine-it has a lovely springiness to it and a certain tang. Toast and vanilla characteristics come from Chardonnay; Pinot-esque mixed stone fruits join in on the midpalate. It’s laid-back, yet snappy. Lean yet rich. There’s a lovely purity to it. And a complexity that nerdier nerds than I am would tell you was an “autolytic” character-I’d just go with “bakery aromatics.” Whatever you prefer to call it, this stuff is delicious.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2010 ($98)
It’s not in the cheap-and-cheerful category, to be sure, but if you’re looking for an occasion wine (or something to toast to an occasion well into the future) this all-Chardonnay sparkler is an elegant choice. Oh, are you one of those Chardonnay haters? Don’t give up on it if you’ve never had an all-Chard bubbly; the expression is pretty different. Blancs de Blancs are often rounder and softer in the mouth than Pinot-forward blends, and tend to favor rich, creamy, unctuous tones that I think pair really well with cooler weather. This baby’s got the goods: ethereal gold color, beautiful bead, neroli and mixed flowers on the approach, followed by vanilla pastry cream and an interesting touch of oatstraw. All that richness is nicely cut by a piercing lemon note, rounded out with green apple and fresh bread. Cellar this if you can summon the self-control; it’s probably going to keep developing for a while.
Ridgeview Bloomsbury ($50)
This is a delightful cuvee with a two-thirds Chardonnay majority (Pinots Noir and Meunier make up the balance). The buzzword here is honey, which dominates the nose and palate alike, and in a really nice way. A somewhat generalized citrus component is hard to pin down-I mostly get something in the mandarin family and a touch of lemon. Melon and peach notes are also present. The mousse is persistent and beady and lovely. There’s some salinity involved, a good balance of acidity and soft sweetness, and a lingering finish. A fantastic aperitif, and like many a fantastic aperitif, equally worthy of a spot at the dinner table. While it’s kind of asking for seafood with that saltwater note, I’m never going to back down from saying good sparkling wine goes with absolutely anything. No exception here.