I’m lucky in my job as Brand Ambassador, I get to work with some of the most accomplished Sommeliers in the world. Aside from anything else, regular contact with them allows me to build up a clear picture of the London drinking scene in top restaurants. What I can say with the utmost confidence is that English wine is by far the hottest category of the moment.
Peering at wine lists as much as I do, I’ve noticed that many restaurants have at least one English sparkling wine on their list, sometimes a good deal more. That said, unbelievably there are still a number that don’t, preferring Champagne and Franciacorta, Italy’s top fizz. They are thankfully in the minority, as I’ve seen a complete shift in the way English sparkling wines are perceived by the Sommeliers in charge of wine buying, and now everyone wants a piece of the action. Almost everyone, that is.
Take the Ritz as an example, one of the most traditional institutions in London. Giovanni their Head Sommelier was telling me that the fizz section had been all about Champagne, until last year when he sat down with his team and they came to the collective decision that English sparkling wine could no longer be ignored. To me, this is a good barometer for how far the category has come. The Ritz now have two on the list, well, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Some Sommeliers I’ve brought down to Rathfinny hadn’t had any previous exposure to English bubbles. By their own admission, many had a preconception that English sparkling would be overly acidic due to our cool climate, like an unripe Granny Smith apple (other makes of apples are available). With these Sommeliers in particular, it’s interesting to clock their reactions when they taste our sparking. It’s always positive, with one Sommelier from a very high-end restaurant group saying our rosé was better than many rose Champagnes he’d tasted.
On the other side of the scale, there are some Sommeliers who see themselves as champions of the category, including 67 Pall Mall and the Gilbert Scott, of the Marcus Wareing empire. You’ll see upwards of five or so on their list, creating more of a ‘category’. This is no mean feat considering they are taking up valuable real estate on a list where Champagne Houses have all the buying power.
The latest news is that pub group Fullers have replaced the Champagnes on their list with English sparking. This is a bold move by a major player, but demonstrates a savvy strategy. It’s great for the category, shows support for the English wine industry which is being taxed into insignificance by the government, and will doubtlessly be a game changer. When we launch our sparking in June next year, I’ve no doubt the landscape will have changed even more, and I for one can’t wait.