Blue sky drinking: English fizz

Categories: Expert guidance

Jane Parkinson on the crisp, acidic flavours of English sparkling wines

It’s local, it’s good quality, it’s delicious. Seriously, what’s not to like about English wine, and English sparkling wine in particular?

The future really has never looked brighter for English fizz. In April, English Wine Producers announced that a record-breaking one million new vines will be planted into UK soil this year. This should yield another two million bottles of (mainly) sparkling wine, worth around £50 million in revenue to our native wine industry. And the growth is just as exciting for we wine drinkers, as the choice of English sparkling wines continues to broaden.

Most high-quality fizz in the UK comes from the south of England, where the climate is just about warm enough to ripen the grapes every year but is still cool enough for the grapes and resulting wine to end up with very high acidity. Very high acidity might not sound like an appetising quality, but it is essential for making the ‘traditional method’ sparkling wines that dominate British production.

The traditional method, the most expensive and complex way of making a wine fizzy, involves two fermentations, the first of which changes the grape juice to alcohol. After the wine is bottled, a second fermentation creates two important by-products: carbon dioxide, which can’t escape the bottle so sinks back into the wine and, bingo, it’s fizzy, and yeast deposits. Known as ‘lees’, these yeast deposits give traditional method fizz its lovely bready, buttery flavours and textures. The longer the wine stays in contact with the lees, the richer and fuller it tastes.

Perhaps the best thing about our home-grown fizz is that it pairs so well with local food. Its high acidity and bubbles cut through fatty or fried food, which is why it’s a real winner with good old fish and chips, but it also works well with the richness of egg yolks, making it a great brunch wine, too. And because of these cool growing conditions, there’s an inherent green apple crispness to its flavour, which complements English seafood and garden greens: a perfect match for a celebratory spring salad.

Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV, Borough Wines, £28
This classy Hampshire sparkling wine is made from a classic blend of the three sparkling wine grapes that England produces so well: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. Its crunchy apple and green herb flavours pair perfectly with sea purslane and asparagus, while its lick of saltiness loves crab meat and its gentle toasty richness matches Jersey royals.

Read Rosie Birkett’s recipe for crab, asparagus and Jersey royal salad