Hugh John­son

‘Cu­rios­ity drives me to taste ev­ery English bub­bly I come across’

Decanter - - CONTENTS -

I stood In the vines pinch­ing my­self, one hour west of Lon­don, count­ing the crop of per­fectly ripe Pinot noir in a Mar­low vine­yard. Mar­low? Ap­pel­la­tion thames Val­ley? I still can’t get used to the idea, or rather the fact, that the south of Eng­land has pro­duced a huge and near-per­fect crop of in­cip­i­ent bub­bly.

I’ve been a Cham­pagne ad­dict for half a cen­tury. My de­liv­er­ies go back to 1959. I’ve of­ten de­scribed my favourite White Foil as ‘mother’s milk’. now my loy­alty is wob­bling: sheer cu­rios­ity drives me to taste ev­ery English bub­bly I come across. Cu­rios­ity, and lo­cal pride, pa­tri­o­tism, chau­vin­ism – call it what you like.

I ap­pre­ci­ate acid­ity in ev­ery­thing I drink. My favourite clarets would rarely ap­peal to Parker fans. Ev­ery wine, in my view, ben­e­fits from a pro­por­tion of not-quite-ripe grapes. English bub­blies (I’m talk­ing about the class acts – and they are surely in the great ma­jor­ity) have ex­hil­a­rat­ing brisk­ness as their UsP.

Cer­tainly it’s not enough on its own. It can be (and has been) al­lied to sim­plic­ity. now, in many cases 10 vin­tages in, there are re­serve wines to play with for com­plex­ity, deeper roots in the vine­yard, more ex­pe­ri­ence of han­dling, fer­ment­ing... and above all, there is blend­ing. A lot of vint­ners are fer­ment­ing, at least par­tially, in oak. the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties, in other words, has ex­panded ex­po­nen­tially, and the no­tion of house style, sketchy at first when it was all trial and er­ror, has be­come re­al­ity.

Re­gional style – let alone county style, as some vint­ners in a hurry have pro­posed – hangs in the air. An AP for dorset or West sus­sex might one day seem rea­son­able – but only when peo­ple can dis­tin­guish the wines blind. Hamp­shire, the sus­sexes and so on are after all purely po­lit­i­cal en­ti­ties. But names will al­ways be con­tentious. no­body seems to like my own, cheer­ful pro­posal of Bub­bly for the whole cat­e­gory, but I haven’t heard bet­ter. As for WineGB, how would the scots like whiskyGB, I won­der.

should Cham­pagne be wor­ried? Qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion is surely al­ways a good thing. did the Prosecco craze worry them? I hope it re­duced the temp­ta­tion to trade down­mar­ket. new World sparklers have great lo­cal mar­kets, but the ap­peal of Cham­pagne, its style and qual­ity, is qua­si­u­ni­ver­sal. Bub­bly? Per­haps one day.

Hugh John­son OBE is a world-renowned wine writer

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