Article by Wine-Searcher

It is difficult for anyone accustomed to drinking good-quality Champagne to be satisfied with a sparkling wine from anywhere else. I suppose that is due to conditioning as much as terroir, but, as far as aficionados are concerned, Champagne has that special something that sets it apart from other sparkling wines. Yet the quality of sparkling wines made beyond Champagne’s borders has never been more exciting and that excitement is a very, very recent phenomenon.

The first world-class sparkling wine to be produced outside the confines of Champagne was the second release of Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, and that did not find its way onto the shelf until the early 1990s.

Today’s buzz of excitement about English sparkling wine was started by the two Americans who founded Nyetimber and made headlines when their 1992 vintage was served at the Queen’s Golden Anniversary Lunch in 1997. Just 15 years ago there were only two world-class sparkling wines you could buy. Now there are more serious quality sparkling wines than you can shake a swizzle stick at.

Why the sea change?

Although traditional method sparkling wines become effervescent through the same winemaking process, the key to creating classic sparkling wines literally lies in the soil. Not so much what that soil is, but what vines are planted in it and how they should be cultivated.

Chalk gives Champagne an advantage, but it cannot be responsible for more than, say, 10 percent of a wine’s potential (possibly much less), whereas climate must represent most of the remaining 90 percent.

However, what really drives sparkling wine producers towards greatness on this planet is the selection of clonal material that is best suited to sparkling rather than still wine production, and then pruning and cropping accordingly.

This has certainly been the strategy that has made English sparkling wine the overnight sensation it has become, although it should be stressed that this has been achieved by a small minority of English sparkling wine producers, with the rest basking in their reflected glory.

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