A regular request I receive from friends and wine lovers is for advice on what bottle (or case) to lay down for a new godchild, a future anniversary or a ‘big birthday’. They might mention that they’re considering Port or Champagne, at which point I tend to throw English sparkling wine into the mix. The question that inevitably follows is: ‘But will it age?’
Scroll down for Susie Barrie MW’s pick of 18 ageworthy English sparkling wines
A decade or so ago that was almost impossible to answer with any certainty. The modern English wine industry was just too young and older vintages simply didn’t exist in sufficient quantity. Now, this is no longer the case. With several English wineries building libraries of their older vintages, we can say unequivocally that the best English sparkling wines can and do age. In some instances, quite spectacularly.
The question then becomes: what makes for an ageworthy English fizz? You might think England’s naturally high acid levels and low yields are the key. But for any wine to age well, first and foremost it must be balanced, and the acidity in some English vintages can actually be too high for wines ever to become harmonious, no matter how long they’re aged.
Equally, as Nyetimber Estate’s head winemaker Cherie Spriggs says: ‘Low yields aren’t necessarily your friend in sparkling wine.’ Low yield can often give a wine with more polyphenolic content. And those polyphenols can make the wine more susceptible to oxidation over time, which can lead to the wine developing too quickly.
Creating an English sparkling wine with ageability is clearly a fine art and a multi-faceted process. As for factors beyond a balanced base wine that have a material impact on ageing, from my extensive tastings of older English sparkling wines and discussions with leading producers, I’d mention the likes of vintage, bottle format [size] and, on a purely practical level, winery (or home) storage facilities.
In terms of vintages, at present, the 2010 and 2013 vintages are looking terrific and drinking beautifully. But there are some lovely wines from 2014, 2015 and 2016 on the market, too, and if you’re looking to lay a fine English sparkling wine down then 2018 is a must.
When it comes to formats, one of the most intriguing aspects of this whole subject is what’s referred to as ‘the magnum effect’. In my experience, there is often compelling energy to English sparkling wines bottled in magnum (especially when you compare them to exactly the same wine in a 75cl bottle). They also tend to age better and develop more complexity over time.
The subject of ageability is very much on the agenda for England’s top sparkling producers, and rightly so. There is nothing quite like the flavour of an English fizz that has developed from tangy and orchard-fruited to complex, multi-layered and full of the truffle, honey and brioche characters of age.
Labels such as ‘library collection’ may come at a price, but I guarantee that any one of the wines that follow would make a very valuable addition to your cellar. And they will come in handy for any number of celebrations.