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Champagne varieties shine in UK sparkling contest

Champagne varieties, rosé and riper styles emerged triumphant at the second annual “Judgement of Parsons Green” benchmark tasting of UK sparkling wines.

Organised by Stephen Skelton MW, this year’s event saw 90 UK sparkling wines entered, an increase of 73% on 2011. Over half the wines entered came from the “excellent” 2009 vintage.

Whereas the 2011 tasting saw non-UK sparkling wines occupy four out of the top 10 places, this year their best performing representative, Sainsbury’s own label, non-vintage blanc de blancs made by Duval Leroy, only reached 19th place.

Emphasising that “there was no intention to make them appear as second-class citizens,” organiser Stephen Skelton MW explained that the non-UK contingent were selected to match the “typical price range of most UK sparkling wines”.

This year’s result led Skelton to conclude: “The best UK sparkling wines have better fruit, better acidity and greater length than wines grown in warmer climates.”

Within the overall results, the top placed wine made from grapes other than Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier was the Breaky Bottom Cuvée John Inglis Hall 2006 Seyval Blanc, which took 21st place.

Of the 35 worst performing wines, 23 contained a “significant percentage” of non-Chamapagne varieties. As a result, Skelton warned UK producers: “Unless you are making sparkling wines using the three classic Champagne varieties or you know how to grow, ripen and turn Seyval Blanc into good sparkling wine, think twice before you use other – in my opinion less suitable – varieties.”

Within the Champagne varieties, it was the rosé styles which stood out in particular. First place overall went to Camel Valley’s Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2010, while seven of the top 11 wines were rosé.

However, Skelton again marked out the poor performance of rosé wines made from non-Champagne varieties, saying: “Rosé wines made using a proportion of red varieties such as Regent, Rondo and Triomphe are very unlikely to score well against the excellent rosé wines being made from classic varieties.”

Offering a general comment on the wines tasted, Skelton remarked: “Unripe grapes with excess acidity and significant green characters can never successfully tuned into award-winning wines of any style.”

Despite this criticism, he concluded: “There is absolutely no doubt that the best UK sparkling wines, almost all made from the classic Champagne varieties, can hold their own on a world stage.

“We are producing wines with good fruit, length on the palate and the best have a superb balance of sweetness and acidity.”

This year’s panel of 12 judges included Champagne specialists Michael Edwards and Giles Fallowfield, as well as Jancis Robinson MW and Waitrose’s English wine buyer Matt Smith.

The tasting will be held again next year on Thursday 7 March.

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