Two sparkling wines, perfect for St. Valentine's Day
With less than a week to go until arguably the most romantic day (and night) of the year, I've picked out two delightful sparkling wines that would really hit the spot this 14 February. The Hambledon Vineyards Classic Cuvée English Sparkling Wine represents the new generation of superb fizzes from England, whilst the Taittinger Prestige Rose is a model example from perhaps the greatest of all sparkling wine regions, Champagne in France. These are my joint Wines of the Week.
Hambledon Vineyards, Classic Cuvée Sparkling Wine NV, England
For a decade now commentators on English sparkling wine have pronounced it "surprisingly good." But do you know what? There's no longer any need for the adverb, however, as English wine is now simply "good." In fact, it's pretty damned good. Over recent decades English fizz has truly come of age. It has risen through the ranks to challenge the best in the world - even if we do allow Champagne to occupy its own special pedestal at the very top. I've taken bottles of the best English fizz to friends and colleagues around the world on my travels and for many it's a seriously eye-opening experience. The quality is what gets people, but it really shouldn't be so surprising: all along the English South Coast, from Cornwall to Kent, the growing conditions for the great grapes of Champagne - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, are really very similar to those of the northern French appellation, and there are even similarities in the chalky soils in many of the best English vineyards. This fine example from Hambledon Vineyards of Hampshire is mostly composed of Chardonnay (around 70%) though there is also Pinot Noir and Pinot in the blend. It is a delicious exemplar of the style and quality of English fizz, with its classic yeast and bready notes over clean apple fruit. In the mouth the mousse is fine, with tiny pin-prick bubbles caressing the tongue, and those apple and lemon flavours are bold and mouthfilling. That all gives this plenty of approachable charm, whilst it finishes pin-sharp with excellent balance and length. Totallu convincing and stylish stuff from this relatively young member of the English sparkling elite. It costs £28.95 from Berry Bros. & Rudd, and it's around the same price in local merchants Caviste (Overton), Christopher Keiller (Southampton) and Fareham Wine Cellar. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Champagne Taittinger, Prestige Rosé Brut NV, France
What a contrast in so many ways is this delicious fruit-bomb of a rosé Champagne from Taittinger, an excellent family-run house where Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and his children are in charge. Rosé Champagne is almost unique amongst European wines in that it can be made by blending red wine and white wine together. This method is known as 'assemblage'. For still European wines this technique is strictly forbidden and rosé is produced by the 'Saignée' method, literally 'bleeding', where a little of the colour from black grapes is allowed to leach from the skins to produce a pink wine. Taittinger's rosé is indeed an assemblage, where 15% of red Pinot Noir wine has been added to the final blend. It is a Champagne that is just crammed with small red berry fruit aromas with a charming, clean and creamy nose. It doesn't have the yeasty, bready character of the Hambledon, but then pink Champagne rarely has but makes up for it with extra depths of fruit. In the mouth it is that red fruit - rasperry, reducurrant, perhaps a hint of strawberry - that plays against the
luxurious mousse and, again, clearly defined acidity to make for a very satisfying - and romantic - pink fizz. The cheapest stockist at the moment is Ellie's Cellars of Scotland where it is on special offer at £29.99 (and they do offer online ordering and national delivery). A more typical price is between £35.00 and £40.00, and there's a list of stockists at wine-searcher.