Cava, Proseccco, Spumante, Sekt, Cap Classique. There’s no end of monikers for effervescent efforts that mimic Champagne—even if in Canada we’ve yet to come up with our own handle beyond, truly riveting, ‘Methode Traditionelle.’ The fact is: Champagne and sparkling wine sales are booming just about everywhere. That’s good news for consumers, who are benefiting from an expanding selection and, generally, an overall rise in quality and value for money.
The British passion for ‘bubbles’ is renowned. And has been for a long time. Winston Churchill’s love for Champagne was legendary. The British wartime PM was a huge fan of Pol Roger, of which he was reputed to have drunk a prolific quantity. In appreciation, Pol Roger used to send him a case every birthday. They also placed a black band around the label after his death, in 1965. And, some 20 years later, the house named its new top tier Champagne “Cuvée Winston Churchill.”
The UK is Champagne’s biggest export market, which means the English drink more than anyone else except the French. However, recently, as belts have tightened, relatively inexpensive Prosecco has overtaken Champagne. Sales of Prosecco have jumped over 70 percent since last year. Evidently, the British have embraced the notion that, while Champagne is absolutely proper for special occasions, there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t enjoy regular bubbles of any kind on any or every day.
Or, as Noel Coward famously quipped: “Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?”
The UK is building its own sparkling industry, buoyed in part by the effects of climate change but also very much by the same vein of chalky soil that starts in across the Channel in Champagne and reappears in parts of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. Nor is it only about “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Sail into Southampton and you’ll see Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight, and more. You can check the full extent of the Southern England Chalk Formation here.
Earlier this year I was l lucky enough to taste layered, toasty and textured Nyetimber Cuvée, from West Sussex, which was a real heads up on just how far British bubble has come.
British wine authority Dr. Jamie Goode says he expects English sparkling “to become a mainstay rather than a curiosity.” He also suggests that, “unlike sparkling wine from elsewhere, it’s harder to distinguish from Champagne.”
This month saw the arrival of Coates & Seely, from Hampshire, the first UK sparklers to reach our local shelves. Coates & Seeley (the result of a very savvy partnership)coined the term “Britagne”, pronounced (in the UK) similarly to ‘Britannia’… Although it’s yet to seriously catch on; and is competing with “Merret”, a nod to a 17th century scientist.
In a blind tasting of Champagne bruts and rosés, the pale salmon hued, Pinot Noir toned, savoury edged Coates & Seely Brut Reserve Rosé (91 pts, $55.99) fared well, with a group placing of third out of four. My scoring placed the C&S Rosé higher. We weren’t asked to guess the origins, which is a good thing. The flight revealed rosés from Moët Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte and Charles de Cazanove.
In the second flight, citrus and apple toned, with good mousse, Coates & Seely Brut Reserve (89 pts, $53.99) just held its own in a field that included a couple of major French houses, as well as Canada’s Benjamin Bridge, although there were definite issues with Coates & Seely bottle variation. A repour in blind tastings can be very tricky. Placing: fourth out of five. A rematch may well be in order.
British Bubble—be it Bretagne, Albion, Merret, Champers or Fizz—is definitely on a roll. Even if they really can’t quite agree on what to call it.