Per chance, one of my buyers planned Christmas in the crucible of my wine career: Saratoga Springs, New York. Years ago, I left academia and started fresh-ish there at Putnam Wine, run by British expat William. He crushed and carried me through wine’s complications, trends, and the WSET Advanced. So I sent my buyer with a few bottles from home in Oregon. He returned with, of course, English Sparkling wine.
Now English wine was once a staple of antiquity. A cooling Middle Ages supplanted it with beer and later spirits. Thanks to global warming and wine’s rise for the aspirational, over 450 vineyards produce English wine today.
An hour and a half drive southwest of London, in Hampshire, sits Hattingley Valley winery. Hattingley: as English-sounding as Paddington bear, eating marmalade in a railway. They work 60 acres on the same ribbon of chalk that runs through the Cliffs of Dover straight through Champagne. So today’s Brut blends the same grapes: 48% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 17% Pinot Meunier and 2% Pinot Gris.
Methods match Champagne. Teams hand-harvest grapes into small baskets. A Coquard press squeezes whole clusters. Used white Burgundy barrels ferment 15% of the grapes to soften acidity, stainless works the rest. 18% reserve wines tame the current vintage. Then secondary bottle fermentation occurs and it hangs 18 months on the lees. Seven grams of sugar add to balance it out.
But can the Brits match France?
Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV $45.00
It froths intensely when poured (the cross-country flight probably did not help). The APPEARANCE looks a clear, light gold with brassy highlights. AROMAS and Flavors smell layered, clean, and a bit chunky of moderately intense salted pistachio, brioche, a strawberry’s white core, mostly lemon juice, white oak, and steel. It enters the PALATE off dry, but a zipper of citric acidity straightens it. The body feels light, lean. The rapid yet fine effervescence keeps an otherwise supple texture edgy. The long finish rides lightly with meringue and baguette crust.
Hattingley Valley’s bubbly is young, bracing fizz, and damned good (4 of 5). It has been to college, travelled a bit, knows a fair deal, but might takes itself a bit seriously imitating its mentors. Still it gives any non-vintage Champagne around $40-50 a great run for your money.