The pandemic gave local producers a boost in 2020 because travelers who couldn’t visit wineries abroad “started to realize that they could actually visit a winery at home,” says Anne McHale, a certified master of wine in London.
Talking from The Bloomsbury Hotel, where she has curated one of the largest English sparkling wine menus in the U.K., McHale says English sparkling made its name in 1998 when Nyetimber won best sparkling wine in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
“It was judged blind against a whole load of Champagnes and other sparkling wines by top industry judges, so people began to become aware that in this country we can actually make good quality wine,” she says.
Part of English sparkling wine’s attraction, she says, is its close resemblance to Champagne. It uses the same three grapes — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier — and the same production method, the “traditional method.”
“This means the wine undergoes a second fermentation in bottle. The bubbles get trapped, and then the wine has the opportunity to spend some time aging on the yeast, which gives it that lovely, biscuity brioche character,” McHale says.
She adds that the soils where English vines are planted around the South Downs in South-eastern England contain a lot of chalk that is nearly identical to France’s Champagne region.