You would be forgiven for thinking of English sparkling as a badly fashioned picture of fawn pleated gentlemen dithering with hessian bags hoarding volumes of poor tasting fizz. Where the gum sticks to the hand and the label feels uneasy under thumb and heavy fonts jump out with little to excite.
Did such a time ever exist I don’t know, but in a corner of England there is a wholesome and impassioned drive to establish something very different. English sparkling wine is emerging strongly, as new creative wine makers with a desire and determination to rustle the old guard look to establish a revived top order that excites even the most partisan of Frenchman. After numerous trips across the continent I was very interested to visit my first English sparkling vineyard. So with a train full of Lussmanns brass we made a day of it as we headed for the English Riviera, Sussex style.
Wiston is situated on the South facing chalk slopes of the South Downs and though never part of the once great Burgandian empire, as was Cornwall, the recent interest in this unique terroir makes this area ripe for commercial partnerships such as Champagne.
A small but deeply passionate team head up this unique and slightly geeky approach to producing some of England’s finest sparkling. Fresh and innovative thinking has landed Wiston much applause, most recently when they received a gold medal for the Wiston Rosé 2011 and a silver medal for the Wiston NV Blanc de Blancs at this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards. “Electric lime thunders through it” Said Gus Gluck (Vinoteca) of the Blanc de Blancs.
Though the day was overcast our moods swayed into happiness as we learnt about Wiston through the charisma of Irishman and wine maker Dermot Sugrue, the warm hospitality of owner Pip Goring who made lunch, which was delightful, and master of the house Harry Goring who, unlike his continental cousins, maintained our timetable throughout in order that all was achieved with five minutes to spare.
We would be fabricating the truth if we set out our stall and extoled the virtues of what makes the difference between a good sparkling and a great sparkling wine. Restaurants by their nature are simply the purveyors of many small touches of beauty and value. We are not experts but middlemen relied upon to stoutly champion what we feel should sit at the restaurant table. When that something is English, beautifully crafted and made with genuine passion with a nod to excellence, then is the time to enjoy being the middleman.
Our thanks to Corney and Barrow and all the team at Wiston Estate for their generous hospitality.