A few weeks ago, the veteran London Times drink correspondent Jane MacQuitty wrote a brief piece headlined ‘How to decode your wine label’, explaining how meaningless terms like ‘Reserve’ and ‘Grand Vin’ can be.
Looks, she wrote, can also be deceptive. “English bubbly that looks like a high-end champagne-method bottle could well be a lacklustre Charmat fizz.” Of the growing number of examples on sale in the UK, she continued, “only Chapel Down’s… is worth it.”
MacQuitty listed a few recommendations, including the Chapel Down ‘A Touch of Sparkle’. This, she said, was a “surprisingly good tank method elderflower and hedgerow-scented bacchus fizz”. And, presumably worth buying for £19,99, or £17.99 each for six.
Whether or not this wine is a bargain at the same price as a perfectly good Champagne in the same shop, is open to question, but I agree that it’s surprisingly good. Even more so because it is not a tank method fizz; it’s carbonated. Like Coca Cola.
UK is probably the only wine region in the world that simultaneously offers classic, charmat and carbonated fizz, made from a diverse range of grapes in very similar packaging and rather high prices.
In the near-unanimous chorus of praise for English Sparkling Wine, very little attention has been paid to the fact that, if it is treated as a single entity, the UK is probably the only wine region in the world that simultaneously offers classic, charmat and carbonated fizz, made from a diverse range of grapes in very similar packaging — ‘Champagne’ bottles — and prices that are all higher than the cheapest classic-method examples from Spain.
The front label of the Touch of Sparkle makes no mention of a production method, while Harlot, a UK tank-method wine is described as Sparkling Wine of England, rather than English Sparkling Wine. It also uses the term ‘Charmat of England’, on the highly questionable presumption that most British, or any other nationality, wine buyers are familiar with the term.
Is this diversity of styles and methods commercially wise, for a young industry that has made much of its reputation for Champagne-level quality and prices? Would Hermès introduce nylon and nylon-silk-mix scarves and ties to sell alongside its silk ones?