Imagine the scene if you will, 14 top Champagne experts, several top bottles of Rheims’ finest (Champagne) and a few bottles of Sussex sparkling, all gathered in Juveniles Restaurant, Paris to decide which was the better sparkling wine. Consider the obvious outcome while I explain a bit of Champagne history.
It’s English. Okay, the wine was produced in France for centuries but it was a still wine, the French wine producers saw the bubbles as an unwanted fault.
In the 1600s English gentlemen were very keen on the wines of this region. They had 1000s of barrels shipped to England and bottled there every year. The odd thing about this wine was it had a tendency to explode in the bottle. For those that didn’t, occasionally the contents had delightful little bubbles. The English liked the bubbles and wanted more.
Christopher Merret, a scientist of the day, was the first person to explain why this happened. The temperatures in Rheims would vary considerably, the warm days encouraged the fermentation and the cold nights slowed or even stopped it. Once it was bottled in the UK and the temperature rose the fermentation process begain again, ergo bubbles. Mr Merret suggested adding sugar during bottling would produce a fizzy wine. The glass industry came up with special bottles to avoid explosions and some clever chap reintroduced the use of corks to seal bottles. The Romans used corks but somehow the technique lost favour. Most wine producers of the 1700s stuffed oil soaked rags into the neck of the bottle, yuk.
Dom Perignon, didn’t say “come quick I’m tasting stars” that first appeared in an advert in the 1900s. He also didn’t invent the dimple in the bottle bottom or the wire cork cage. What he did do was blend grape types before pressing.
So for the first time knowingly sugar was added to wine to produce Champagne. Yes, there were naturally fizzy wines but until Mr Merret’s deduction no-one knew why. The UK is still the biggest importer of Champagne but that may change once word gets out.
So with the history above who would you say won the best Sparkling Wine competition? Well obviously English Sparkling wine won. The organisiers deliberately selected some of the best Champagnes and they were outdone by Sussex Wine. So if you want to celebrate in style with quality bubbles try one of these. I’ll be adding English wines to the Protectedfood pages soon.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2009 £40, I tried this a few years ago and it is fantastic and very moreish.
Gusborne Rose 2011 £37.99