Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The British (bubblies) are coming! Should you believe the hype?

Please don't Tea Party our wine! (photo courtesy Brian J. Cantwell/Seattle Times)
There are a lot of British wine writers and not a lot of British wines. So British sparkling wines have had a ton(ne) of loving coverage in a language closely related to ours.

The question those of us across the pond have wondered is, how good are these wines?

British sparkling wines have been harder to get in California than Croatian Teran, which has been on the wine list in at least three restaurants in my neighborhood. I think I had a sip of Nyetimber -- that's one of the better-known British sparkling wines -- out of a coffee mug in another writer's room somewhere in Europe once, but I don't really remember it.

So I did not pretend to have a stiff upper lip when offered the opportunity to taste the first two bubblies that England is exporting to our shores. Send 'em! A legend come alive: It will be like tasting the Loch Ness Monster!

Yet I was a little nervous. What if, after every British authority assured us they are as good as Champagne except they're better and they're British, I didn't like these wines? Would I get bitch-slapped by Jamie Goode? Would Jancis Robinson, the world's best spitter, put Montrachet in my eye from sniper's distance?

Well the good news is I did like them, so just put the wine glass down, Jancis. Slowly. That's it.

My largest problem is I still haven't figured out Ridgeview's portfolio. They sent me their "signature blend" and their "traditional blend." What the hell does that mean? Both have the same grapes, and it's not a country with a winemaking tradition. I never have this problem with Champagne: the French are very clear that this wine is a reserve, that is a nonvintage, etc. Maybe Ridgeview should hire a Frenchman to teach them the English of wine.

But the good side is that the two wines are very different in interesting ways.

Ridgeview "Bloomsbury" England Brut 2013 ($45, 12% alcohol)

This is the "signature blend" of 59% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir, 14% Pinot Meunier. The legend behind British sparkling wine is that southern England shares the same chalky soils as Champagne, so in theory the wines could be similar. This wine could be mistaken for NV Champagne. It has a very fine mousse of delicate bubbles, is extremely light on the nose and delicate on the palate. It's not at all fruity or yeasty; instead, it's elegant, with a snap of minerality on the finish. Worth the money.

Ridgeview "Cavendish" England Brut 2013 ($35, 12%)
This is the "traditional blend" of 34% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier. Traditional for who? The Normans? The Saxons? I don't know why, but this wine is frothy and takes a while to settle down. It's fruity on the nose and a bit yeasty and full-flavored on the palate, with red-fruit notes sneaking in. This doesn't taste at all like Champagne. The fruitiness reminds me of a good entry-level California sparkling wine, and in that case "traditional" is important: the wines it resembles, like Gloria Ferrer and Scharffenberger, are "traditional method." I like this wine, and we polished it off, but California does wines like this at half the price.

Where'd Jancis go? Is she on that rooftop?

You can buy these wines from U.S. merchants here.

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Jack Everitt said...

Yeah, a bit pricey, but not so much that I saw no. I've had a few more different ones. For example, I've drunk four bottles of the 2009 Ridgeview Cavendish. I would guess you would like the two you just taste much better if they had gotten to age another year or so. (Like, mine weren't frothy.)

I've actually visited this wine county too, back in 2007, and even tasted at one winery, Wroxeter. (Shropshire, along the Welsh border.)

Aaron said...

Hm. For a few dollars more I can have 2 bottles of Roederer Estate Brut and be perfectly happy drinking something remarkably like a entry level NV Champagne that's sometimes not easy to tell apart from the real thing. At least, that's here in the US. No clue how much it'd cost in the good old UK compared to their own wine.