Just as the last drops of bubbles were drained from a zillion bottles of Champagne on New Years Eve, our roving reporter and sparkling wine expert Roger Jones unsheathed his laptop and sent in this report on the global rise and changing face of the sparkling wine industry and which are the names we should all be keeping an eye on as we head into 2020 proper. As ambassador to the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships (CSWWC), and founder of Sparkling Sundays (held in Cape Town and Little Bedwyn) he gets his fair share of bubbles.
Reflecting back on 2019, whilst relaxing by the pool in Langkawi, Jones has noticed the continued increase in quality of sparkling wines from around the globe. He notes that whilst the English and Welsh sparkling bubble continues to excite and grow into a world class product, there has been a significant increase in awareness of other sparkling wines from across the globe.
Australia (notably Tasmania) especially in the prestige area, has certainly enjoyed the popularity of English Sparkling with the higher price point level, making their sparkling wines in tune money-wise, and certainly one of Australia’s export successes last year into the UK. Ed Carr of House of Arras sees a huge opportunity in increasing productivity of his brand, which he set up in 1988, with his top wines leading Australia’s sparkling opportunities.
The Arras Vintage 2008 was my restaurant The Harrow at Little Bedwyn’s biggest selling sparkling in 2019, just ahead of Louis Roederer, with Nyetimber third. The range from Arras is quite exceptional, and well documented in The Buyer (see here). Other names to look out for include; Clover Hill, Stefano Lubiana, Taltarni, Jansz, and Chandon Australia.
Over in New Zealand, there are not as many producers, but those that do certainly hit the high mark with No.1 Family Estate top of my list with the late-disgorged Nautilus and Hunters not far behind. The No.1 Family Estate is New Zealand’s prestige sparkling producer, founded by the Le Brun family from Champagne, specialising in just producing sparkling wine, with current winemaker (13 years at the vineyard) South African born Lee Dobson, guided by founder Daniel Le Brun.
Back in Europe, Italy has certainly turned a corner with many more people now aware of the quality sparkling wines they can produce away from Prosecco, although as noted by The Buyer’s feature on Prosecco, even here we are seeing some great quality.
Both Franciacorta and Trentodoc produce spectacular sparkling wines, not least Ferrari Trento, producing amazing wines including Ferrari 2010 Perlé Nero in magnum.
SOUTH AFRICA and MCC
South Africa, although producing exceptional MCC (note that ‘sparkling’ in South Africa refers to Prosecco/tank style whilst MCC is Methode Cap Classique) is still finding it hard to hit the UK market, besides the classic Graham Beck brand under the leadership of Mr Bubbles, Pieter Ferreira. This country has the ability and does produce a huge range of bubbles, covering all price brackets and needs a bigger window in the UK market. Prestige producers to name a few include Cuvee Clive (Graham Beck), Le Lude, Colmant, Cederberg, Simonsig, and Charles Fox.
ALSACE and CREMANT
Alsace, with cremant, is certainly offering a fabulous value wine that competes on price with Proseccco but is of course made in the champagne method, Whilst nearly all Alsace producers make cremant not all are specialists, so it is important to choose carefully, top names include Domaine Willm, Bott-Geyl, Jean Baptiste Adam and Joseph Cattin.
SPAIN and CAVA
Spain, with Cava often mistaken by consumers as similar to Prosecco, now has a break away group under the name Corpinnat, involving nine producers. There are still issues on labelling and other legalities but anything which helps elevate Spanish sparkling wine is most welcome. The basis behind the Corpinnat brand is to have stricter control, longer ageing time, grapes sourced from the Penedes region only with no bulk wine buying; importantly 90% of grapes have to be indigenous varieties, Xarel-lo, Parellada and Malvasia. interestingly the top Spanish Sparkling Wine Award at this year’s CSWWC went to Gramona 2009 Celler Batlle, a Corpinnat.
I also rate Juve & Camps, although it is not part of the Corpinnat group. Having met Juan Juve and his daughter Meritxell Juve a few years ago at their impressive cellars, where they store some 10 million bottles to age, we sadly do not see enough of their wines in the UK, with their biggest market being Peru where the Juve & Camps brand is bigger than Coke. Their top label is La Capella, 108 months on oak, with the 2006 being a favourite with a dreamy rich honeyed and spiced wine, apricots and green pistachio with delicate puff pastry on the palate.
Germany with Sekt can produce excellent sparkling, with Von Buhl being my top choice. Germany produces two billion bottles of Sekt a year, with over 20% drunk on home soil. The term Sekt is not straight forward as it covers entry level made from “tank method” to the more traditional champagne method with ageing.
The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships
Entries to are now open, (early bird entry prices until January 30th, closing date for entries on 28th March, with samples due by 24th April) which gives the opportunity of sparkling wines being showcased alongside top prestige champagnes at the annual awards dinner hosted on November 4th 2020.
Tom Stevenson founder and chair of the Championships which was set up in 2014, has the aim of being “the most respected, comprehensive and rigorous international sparkling wine competition in the world, give an in-depth report to all sparkling wines entered offering a rare chance for winemakers to evaluate their wines.”
RESULTS FROM THE 2019 AWARDS
Champagne, Trentodoc and Franciacorta all went head to head in a battle for the World Champion trophies at the 2019 Awards Dinner. In the end it was Dom Perignon which was finally crowned Supreme World Champion for the Dom Pérignon 2004 Brut in magnum with Ferrari Trento taking the gong for Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2019.
The Chairman’s Trophy, presented this year to Palmer & Co for the 2003 Grands Terroirs in magnum and The Tony Jordan Rising Star Trophy went to Bulgarian sparkling producers Midalidare for the Thracian Lowlands sparkling. Bolney Wine Estate was the top winner from the UK.
And in conclusion….
What is clear is that sparkling wine, especially quality sparkling wine is increasing in production and in demand. No longer a celebration drink, its undoubtable variety and styles gives a huge opportunity to both producers and consumers to enjoy these wines in so many different ways. I see this category continuing to increase and give enjoyment to so many more people, I look forward to enjoying many more glasses in 2020.