Alex Preston (right), sommelier at Isaac At restaurant in Brighton, whose wine list features 16 varieties produced solely in Sussex - including Nyetimber and Ridgeview - says that English sparkling wines are not popular because they are becoming equal to traditional French varieties, but because they are better.
“Sussex is the new Champagne, in my opinion,” he says. “It doesn't rival it, it trumps it. In blind tastings, between French and English wines, English wines will come out on top.”
The colder climate of the UK – which, Preston said, was similar to that of northern France 30-40 years ago ‒ meant that the grapes could stay longer on the vine, and develop more flavour, while still retaining a lighter taste.
“French sparklings – at least to me ‒ taste much heavier and creamier,” he says. “The English varieties are lighter and fruitier, crisper and easier to drink. You'll never find a New World or French wine that tastes the same as a wine from Sussex, or Kent, or anywhere on the south coast.”
Isaac At, with head chef Isaac Bartlett-Copeland, offers a menu entirely created from locally- and hyperlocally-sourced ingredients and produce, and this ethos extends to the wine list.
“As a restaurant we locally source all of our food, so we think it's only fair that we do that all the way through,” explains Preston. .
With a mixture of sparkling, white, red and rosé, he explained that the main characteristics of English wines tend to be lightness, and fruitiness, with tastes such as citrus, elderflower, apple, and passionfruit, as well as “cream cheesy” aspects.
All pair well with simple, pared-back food, away from heavy sauces or flavours.
Preston also explained that it is often the customers with the biggest resistance to English wine when they first visit the Isaac At restaurant, who go on to become its biggest supporters.
“We get people who are reluctant to try things, and who say, ‘Can I have a Sancerre?’,” he says. “And then we have to explain that we don't have it, but then they'll ask...’What's closest to it?’ Once we are able to break down that barrier, they become the wine’s biggest fans.”