English fizz triumphs in Paris judgment
Sacrilege on the streets of Paris this week, as France’s top wine judges rated English sparkling higher than Champagne in a blind tasting.
A selection of English sparkling wines, divided into three categories and tasted blind with comparable Champagnes, resulted in the English coming out on top in two, with the third category ending in a draw.
Many of the French tasters – some of the highest regarded experts in the country – believed that the English wines they were tasting were actually Champagnes.
“We couldn’t have expected the tasting to go so well,” said Matthew Jukes, the British wine writer who helped organised the historic event along with the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
“In all my years writing about wine, I never would have believed that top French palates would take English sparkling wine for Champagne – it really is immensely exciting,” he said.
Among the successes was a £40 bottle of 2009 Nyetimber sparkling wine produced in West Sussex. Nine members of the 14 member panel thought it was better than a £65 bottle of Billecart-Salmon Grand Cru Champagne.
Similarly, when a bottle of 2011 Gusborne Rosé went up against a NV Ayala Rosé Majeur from Champagne, nine preferred the Gusborne and five picked the Champagne. Half the tasters thought the English wine was Champagne.
Mark Williamson, who opened the famous Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris in 1980, said that tasters were “astonished” to discover that many of their preferred wines were not Champagne.
“It is certainly impressive,” said Eric Riewer, the wine tasting committee president of the Gault Millau restaurant guides.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said it was “a ground-breaking” moment for English sparkling wine.
“We have successfully slayed the myth that English wine cannot compete with the best in the world,” he said.
Members of the public were also invited to join in the tasting, which took place on Wednesday 20 April at Juveniles restaurant in central Paris, in time for St George’s Day on 23 April.
Many of them also reported their surprise at the quality of the English offering.
Jordan Huret, 32, originally from the Champagne capital of Reims, and his friend Floriane Merzougui, 26, both told The Telegraph that the Nyetimber English sparkling was “very nice”.
Ms Merzougui added: “It’s very fresh and light – I’d certainly drink it again.”
The tasting comes at a time of growing excitement in the English wine industry as more and more vineyards are planted across the country.
Last year, applications to develop UK vineyards grew by 40%, and Champagne Taittinger became the first Champagne house to invest directly in planting in Britain, buying 170 acres of land in Kent.
While English wine still only accounts for around 1% of wine sales in the UK, production rates are on the up, with the five million bottles produced annually now expected to grow to 10 million in the next four years.