What a wonderful way to celebrate English Wine Week with the inaugural English Sparkling Wine Show, the first dedicated to championing our fizz. Held in the perfect environs of the über-trendy Manhattan-loft-style The Apartment at the Hoxton Hotel in London's Shoreditch, the setting was perfect, the people were perfect and the smiles were perfect! This was an opportunity for small producers to meet their public, people who may never have tried English sparkling wine before, or those who wanted to see what the fuss was all about. In a true spirit of cooperation and friendship, this was one big, happy and enthusiastic family revelling in the quality and variety that English sparkling wine is now capable of producing. Although the three main Champagne varietals, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are the key players, Seyval Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Auxerrois Blanc and others are used too.
With a refreshing glass of Bolney Bubbly Brut N/V, visitors could sample award-winning wines from a variety of English producers, including domestic and international market-focused companies and smaller, more locally-focused family enterprises.
There was Digby Fine English with CEO and co-founder Trevor Clough justifyingly beaming from ear to ear with the news that the first UK Wine Award winners comprised three Gold Medals for Digby, including the trophy for 'Most Outstanding Classic Cuvée' for their 2010 vintage!
Guy Smith of Somerset's Smith & Evans presented his unique, beautifully made, low sulphur/low dosage and no-sulphur/zero dosage wines, explaining that "if the clones are right and ripeness levels are there to start with, no additions of sulphur or sugar are necessary."
Jim and Anja Nolan of Black Dog Hill, another of the irrepressible Dermot Sugrue's growing family of estates for whom he plies his trademark winemaking expertise (Digby is another), emphasised the family-orientated nature of their enterprise. Inviting people in for tours and tastings of their Ditchling vineyard, close to the sea at the foot of the South Downs, they also epitomise the spirit of optimism and comraderie within this burgeoning industry.
Melanie de Matos of East Sussex's Hoffmann & Rathbone brought along the winery's Classic Cuvée 2010 and Rosé Réserve 2011, while Lucinda Colucci of Blackdown Ridge Estate, also in West Sussex showcased Primordia Brut 2014, further examples of fruity, aromatic, elegant English sparkling wines.
Danebury Vineyards in Hampshire presented both a sparkling and still wine, the latter being a Madeleine Angevine varietal that is showing really well, one of the best expressions of that particular grape variety I have tasted.
Earlier this year, East Sussex's Henners Vineyard was bought by wine merchant Boutinot, having distributed the estate's wines since its first vintage release in 2012. With ten acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines, their three wines - Brut 2010, Vintage Reserve 2010 and Rosé NV are delicious and elegant, the extra honeyed richness of the second so evident!
Yet the real star was the event itself, the brainchild of Mousseux Anglais' Fabio Adler, who spoke to me at the show about its location and buzzing atmosphere. "This event needs to have a bit of an edge with a contemporary vibe that's not forced or contrived", he explained. "The venue embodies a forward-thinking, professional setting, which is so important for us. This is grown-up Hoxton!"
English sparkling wine has a character all of its own and events such as these can only help to raise the sector's profile and encourage wine lovers to make a more informed choice when selecting from the ever-increasing range of fizz styles available today. This was a celebration of optimism and success, of coolness, elegance and joy, of Englishness … and it sparkled!