Nyetimber: An English Cuvée
Though England is a considerable consumer of the world’s wines, its production of them has been, until recently, stunted by the challenges of its historically poor climatic conditions. The onset of climate change has fundamentally changed this however, and slowly the poor repute English wine once shouldered is beginning to lighten. With high scores and awards, international recognition, and even its own Judgement of Paris moment – is the wine world ready to accept English Sparkling Wine? Pioneering Sussex producer Nyetimber certainly seems to think so.
By way of a brief history lesson, the Romans introduced vines for winemaking to Britain as early as 43 BC during the conquest of the British Isles by Emperor Claudius. The Romans were known for their love of wine, so it made sense to have it readily available on their newly conquered lands. It is likely that these wines were sweet, fruity and fermented with added honey. But even during this time, trade routes between France, Italy and England meant that superior wine could be imported with ease. And for many hundreds of years, England’s winegrowing efforts were of little consequence and vastly overshadowed by better wines from around the world. On the onset of World War I, it eventually ceased altogether as crops for food took priority. Vineyards lay mostly dormant, save for a few keen individuals who saw potential in England’s chalky soils, near identical to those of Champagne. But focus towards English sparkling wines caused a stir that eventually breathed new life into this promising industry.
The Nyetimber estate dates as far back as 1086 (remember that number) where it is mentioned in the Domesday Book; William the Conqueror’s “Great Survey” of the shires of England. Back then is was known as Nitimbreha, but it wasn’t until 1988 when the first vines were actually planted. And those vines were, significantly, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; the holy trinity of sparkling winemaking.
2006 saw a new owner for Nyetimber, Eric Heerema, who went on to recruit Head Winemaker Cherie Spriggs and Winemaker Brad Greatrix, all of whom shared in the vision that the estate and its wine had enormous potential yet to be realized. To say: “and the rest is history” at this point would be an enormous disservice to the accomplishments that have followed.
Rising to renown as a brand synonymous with English quality and luxury, Nyetimber’s international acclaim has grown exponentially. Winning a continuing stream of gold medals from respectable institutions as the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships, International Wine Challenge and International Wine and Spirit Competition, their biggest triumph, however, came in 2016.
In a blind tasting of Champagne and English Sparkling wine held symbolically in Paris, Nyetimber’s 2009 Blanc de Blancs was famously mistaken for Champagne by 13 of the 14 panelists of Parisian restauranteurs, winning against some of the most prestigious names in the world.
Clearly emboldened by their runaway success, it seemed like the time to unleash the ace-up-their-sleeve that had been in the works since that same Champagne-beating vintage, but the grand reveal was kept until 2018.
In a lavish event complete with exclusive guest list at Ritz in London, Nyetimber 1086 was revealed; England’s very first Prestige Cuvée, serving both as the ultimate expression of the house and as a bid to compete against Champagne’s elite expressions.
Aging for seven years on the lees and a further nine months post-disgorgement, the 1086 is an ambitious cuvée made in limited numbers, boasting a seamless texture with notes of grapefruit, vanilla and nougat. An undeniably impressive effort and one that with aging could develop even further balance and complexity.
What do you think? Can English sparkling wine truly hold a candle to the great wines of Champagne?
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