English sparkling wine has been on a roll for a few years now. After all it was back in 2010 that Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée 2003 was judged the world’s best sparkling wine at Bollicine del Mondo; the same year that Ridgeview won Decanter’s International sparkling wine trophy with their Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2006. Since then the vineyard area in England has reached an all time high, driven largely by new plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with sparkling wine in mind. So perhaps it’s time to ask, who are the best producers of English sparkling wine?
There are already many competitions which attempt to assess the quality of individual English sparkling wines, including the Decanter WWA, the International Wine and Spirit Competition, the International Wine Challenge, the UK Vineyards Association Competition and the Judgment of Parson’s Green. These will be joined later this year by the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. There’s certainly no shortage of competitions out there which English sparkling wines can (and do) enter and also a great number of medal-winning English sparkling wines.
One approach to determining the best producers is to pool the results from the various competitions and to see who’s won the most awards. Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when assessing producers (as opposed to individual wines) you want to see how they have performed over a period of time. Yet many English sparkling wine producers were established quite recently and may have only entered competition this year. Producers such as Langham and Sugrue Pierre have produced some outstanding individual wines, but do not yet have a substantive track record.
Secondly, producers often don’t enter the same wine into every competition, indeed they often don’t appear to enter a particular competition at all. (I say “appear” because competition organisers are notoriously protective about providing information on wines which fail to win awards.)
Thirdly, judgments have to be made as to what medal tallies actually mean. Some producers may enter five or more wines into a given competition, whereas other producers might have restricted themselves to a single entry. Different competitions appear to award a significantly higher proportion of gold medals to wines entered. So should a gold medal from competition x have equal worth to a gold medal from competition y? And how does a producer with say three silver medals compare with another producer who has a single gold? None of these questions have simple answers, so involve matters of judgment rather than spreadsheet calculations.
The final results shown below are based on compilations from the five competitions listed above for the period 2010-2014. Producers with track records for only part of this period are disadvantaged and have not been pro-rated in some way. In this sense the classification resembles the approach taken by Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer in their Classification of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Presenting the results for English sparkling wine in terms of three classes seems appropriate given the current size and development of the industry. All the producers listed in the classification have produced noteworthy wines and there are many other producers not shown on this classification who are undoubtedly striving to enhance the quality of their products. This is a very exciting time both for producers and consumers of English sparkling wine.