They're forever winning medals

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FIONA SIMS With a burgeoning reputation, a hatful of medals, and the accolade of the world's best, now is the time for pubs to stock British bubbly...


With a burgeoning reputation, a hatful of medals, and the accolade of the world's best, now is the time for pubs to stock British bubbly

The Jolly Sportsman is on a quiet, no-through lane in rural East Chiltington in the heart of the South Downs, a gastro pub run since 1998 by chef Bruce Wass. His best selling wine? An English bubbly.

In case you hadn't noticed, English sparkling wines have got rather good lately. So good, in fact, that they are winning trophies Nyetimber's stunning sparklers, made from grapes grown in its own West Sussex vineyards, beat many Champagnes hands down.

And it was an English bubbly that has just won the bubbly trophy, the International Wine & Spirit Competition's Best Sparkling Wine. Yep, you did read that right an English wine won the category for the world's best sparkling wine.

Scooping the top bubbly award

The Ridgeview vineyard, near Ditchling Common, in Sussex, scooped the top bubbly award for its Merret Bloomsbury 2002, its signature cuvee, a traditional blend of Champagne varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

With a retail price of around £15.95, and a flavour profile that runs through biscuits, baked apples and brioche, it is currently scoring top marks with regulars at the Jolly Sportsman, who can buy it by the bottle for £27.50 or by the glass for £5.75. And it's been positively flying since its recent win, confirms Wass.

Ridgeview has won 44 medals and 12 trophies for its four bubblies in just five years and the range includes a rose, a blanc de blancs, a non vintage called Belgravia, and the signature, Bloomsbury, all donning the Merret brand I'll explain.

Champagne guru Tom Stevenson, author of The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, discovered papers archived at the Royal Society since 1662 that an Englishman, Christopher Merret, described not only how to make sparkling wine, but how this 'gay, brisk and sparkling wine was being drunk and enjoyed in London over 30 years before the French first made sparkling wine and almost 70 years before the oldest Champagne house was established. Bet you didn't know that (actually, I didn't either).

My point? More pubs should champion English sparkling wines on their lists especially as we appear to have invented it (though I am still struggling to find more than a handful of English still wine that stands up to the vibrant flavours and varieties of both New and Old Worlds).

On-trade visibility

'The on-trade is important to us, says Tamara Roberts, Ridgeview's general manager, and grand- daughter of founders Mike and Christine Roberts, who set up the winery in 1994. 'It gives you visibility. And it's so nice to see people drinking it in a pub by the glass.

Not that Ridgeview needs the on-trade to secure sales, you understand. Since its big win, stocks of the current vintage of Merret Bloomsbury are pretty low. And sales of its other three bubblies are soaring (available via mail order direct from the winery, 01444 241441,, which is also open for direct sales and tastings). 'We're sticking with what we're good at making Champagne-style sparkling wine, says Roberts, when I asked her if they are experimenting with any other styles of wine or grape varieties.

'We are planting more vines though and signing up other growers to get more grapes. The five year plan is to take production from 50,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles, she reveals.

'But we still have a few preconceptions about English wine to get over, especially in the on-trade. When we started, it was a huge mountain to climb. Now we're getting closer to the summit, says Roberts. Time for another look, don't you think?

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