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May 26, 2022

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English fizz on rise for celebrations

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This image provided by Gusbourne wines shows grapes from their vineyard in 2017, in Kent, England.
This image provided by Gusbourne wines shows grapes from their vineyard in 2017, in Kent, England. (Gusbourne via AP) Photo Gallery

LONDON — English sparkling wine has been gaining prestige in recent years, with experts comparing it to Champagne in taste and quality.

Globally, the sector is still relatively small: IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reports that sparkling wine produced in the U.K. represents about 0.2 percent of total global sparkling wine volume. But sales are growing: U.K.-produced sparkling wine volume rose by almost 11 percent from 2015-2020, the report said.

“Maybe 10 years ago, there were only two or three wines which might have been known outside of the U.K. or certainly recognized by wine critics as well,” says Jonathan White, spokesman for British wine producer Gusbourne. Today, “there’s a collective of maybe 10 to 20 producers that are making really excellent wines.”

Gusbourne planted their first vines in Appledore, Kent, in 2004. They released their debut Brut and Blanc de Blanc sparkling wines in 2010, and say demand has been growing ever since.

“There’s been a splurge of interest from overseas in recent years as wine media and critics have started to talk more fondly and more positively about the wines from England,” White says.

Known as the “Garden of England,” Kent has long been home to fruit-growing in the U.K., so it’s natural the area has become one of the country’s most successful wine-growing regions.

The pandemic gave local producers a boost in 2020 because travelers who couldn’t visit wineries abroad “started to realize that they could actually visit a winery at home,” says Anne McHale, a certified master of wine in London.

Talking from The Bloomsbury Hotel, where she has curated one of the largest English sparkling wine menus in the U.K., McHale says English sparkling made its name in 1998 when Nyetimber won best sparkling wine in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

“It was judged blind against a whole load of Champagnes and other sparkling wines by top industry judges, so people began to become aware that in this country we can actually make good quality wine,” she says.

Part of English sparkling wine’s attraction, she says, is its resemblance to Champagne. It uses the same three grapes and the same production method, the “traditional method.”

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