Rathfinny Wine Estate

Why does English Sparkling sell at a discount to Champagne?

One question we are often asked is why does English Sparkling Wine cost so much? I think we should be asking “why does English Sparkling wine cost less than Champagne?”

No one seems to question the price of French Champagne or alternatively question why many Prosecco’s are cheaper than Champagne and English Fizz! So I thought I’d try and explain and hopefully convince you that far from being expensive, English Sparkling Wine is in fact a bargain.

In the BBC’s recently aired “The 12 Drinks for Christmas”, drinking buddies Alexander Armstrong and Giles Coren ‘chose the booze that will give them their Christmas spirit’. They each chose a sparkling wine for Christmas day and tasted it against the other. Armstrong chose Bollinger Special Cuvée, a safe choice. A wonderful rich, premium Champagne, aged for over three years on the yeast lees and made predominantly of pinot noir with chardonnay and pinot meunier. Giles Coren chose an English Sparkling Wine – Gusbourne’s 2008 Brut Reserve, made predominantly of chardonnay with pinot noir and meunier. And guess what? When tasting the two wines side by side they both agreed that the Gusbourne was the preferred wine. This is nothing new. English fizz has won more awards in international competitions than any other wine region in the world over the last eight years. However, the most interesting thing for me is that Bollinger generally sells for £35 a bottle whilst Gusbourne costs £25.

So why do people keep saying that English Sparkling Wine is expensive? Perhaps they are comparing it with Prosecco or other new world fizz. So let me explain why you may not be comparing like with like, or apples with apples.

The reason is that English fizz is made in the “traditional or Champagne method”: the grapes are hand picked, the whole bunches are pressed in the same way, the juice is fermented in similar tanks, then the wine is bottled with a little sugar and yeast for its secondary fermentation and aged on the yeast lees for a length of time (generally 2-3 years). The secondary fermentation puts the bubbles in the wine! Yes, some English fizz is made of the grape variety Seyval Blanc, but the majority is made predominantly from the same classic three varieties (chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier) as Champagne. It therefore costs the same to produce, if not more, as we generally don’t have the same economies of scale as the French. Oh, and the excise duty and VAT involved is the same on both wines.

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So why is Prosecco and certain other fizz cheaper? The main reason is that it that might not be made in the same “traditional method”. Prosecco is the coca-cola of the wine world. It is generally mass-produced in large tanks in what’s called the “Charmat or Italian method”. This means that the secondary fermentation (which puts the fizz in the wine) takes place in these large stainless steel tanks and the sparkling wine is then transferred into bottles under pressure. Whilst the “traditional or Champagne method” means that the secondary fermentation takes place in individual bottles over a number of years, not months. So please don’t compare English fizz to Prosecco, compare it to the Italian Franciacorta, which is made in the “traditional method” and interestingly costs £28-60 a bottle!

Next time you are looking for a sparkling wine to celebrate a special occasion, reach for the English and stop saying that English fizz is expensive. As Messrs. Armstrong and Coren discovered it’s actually very good value compared to French Champagne. It’s the same wine, made in the ‘traditional method’ and often considered better.

Wine made in the same method, on the same band of chalk, just 80-100 miles north of the Champagne region, often considered to be better than and priced at a 20-50% discount to the French stuff, sounds like a bargain to me!!

So perhaps it’s time we started saying “why does English Sparkling wine cost less than Champagne?”

Mark Driver

PS – Before you write and tell me how much you like Prosecco, or Cava, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t or that they are not good wines. I’m not a wine snob, but please consider the differences rather than the similarity i.e. they are both fizzy, but certain wine producing methods cost more than others and lead to other benefits – bottled fermented wines yield finer bubbles, which last longer in the glass and have those yeasty characteristics and depth of flavour.

PPS – Have you visited our shop or the Heritage Centre yet in the Gun Room on the Tye  Alfriston?

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