The Similarities & Differences between English Sparkling Wine and Champagne
Quite often, when our guests visit the vineyard and get to discover our award-winning collection of English Sparkling wines, there is one question that keeps being asked to our guides – and it’s about the differences and similarities between English Sparkling wine and champagne. “What are the main differences between Champagne and Sparkling wine in general?” And, more interestingly, “what are the similarities between Champagne and English Sparkling Wine?”
We all know that only a bottle of bubbly that hails from (and is bottled within 100 miles of) the Champagne region of north eastern France, can be called champagne. Yes, Champagne is sparkling wine, but the opposite is not always true. However, aside from provenance, are there any other factors that distinguish Champagne from English Fizz? And, what exactly are the similarities, and the points of difference that could create interesting contrasts in their tastes? We can’t speak for every English sparkling brand out there of course, but we can certainly tell you what Hambledon Vineyard sparkling wines and Champagne have in common.
Hambledon vs Champagne: The Same Terroir
The term ‘terroir’ can be translated to ‘a sense of place’ and encompasses the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced. It includes the soil, elevation and climate, all of which have a tremendous effect on the finished product. The chalky subsoil of the Champagne region is ideal for the cultivation of vines because it acts like a sponge, absorbing water when needed and providing great drainage when it rains. And this is what makes Hambledon Vineyard so special – we grow our vines on Newhaven Chalk, which is exactly the same chalk found in the best Chardonnay areas of the Côtes des Blancs in Champagne. In fact, our home in Hampshire used to be attached to France not so long ago (something like 10,000 years ago - which is quite young in geological time!), which is why these soils share the same mineral and fossil content.
In general, the UK and France have similar climates, which means that their grapes will take around the same time to ripen and the grape’s acidity levels will be comparable. Therefore, the wines will also share that lean profile and refined lightness as that acidity is the core part of the structure and will eventually create the length of the palate of finest sparkling wines. As opposed to grapes grown in warmer climates – like Prosecco in Italy, which have less acid and more sugar, making for a fruitier flavour but sometimes lacking in length and structure because of that.
It is worth noting though that the weather in Hampshire being slightly cooler than in Champagne today, it makes it even more suited for sparkling winemaking. Most years, ripening times will end up being a bit longer and therefore acidity levels may be increased. This difference will enhance the fresh, citrusy, green apple taste that we love in sparkling wines.
Considering our consistencies with the French terroir, it should come as no surprise that Hambledon Vineyard uses the traditional champagne-making method, or Méthode Champenoise. In short, with this technique, the wine undergoes a second fermentation process in the bottle. This produces the carbon dioxide gas that will make all of those delicious trademark bubbles. Overall, this method is highly technical, lengthy and labour intensive… but well worth it.
There are three primary grape varieties that are used in champagne. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, and are the only grapes we use in our sparkling wine production. Chardonnay has a mild flavour so is easily blended and offers freshness, floral, citrus and sometimes mineral notes. Pinot Noir is one of only two red grapes that is allowable in champagne. Although delicate, it brings body and beautiful aromatics to the blend. The other red grape is Meunier which introduces juicy berry flavours. Together they create a complex yet harmonious combination.
A Shared Love of Winemaking
Hambledon is England’s oldest commercial vineyard. In 2022, we will celebrate its 70th anniversary - which will bring many exciting surprises : new experiences to book from here at the vineyard; the opening of a stunning restaurant at the heart of our vineyard somewhere around Summer; our first harvest from the extended vineyard…. And with such history, comes knowledge and experience.
As with established champagne houses, we have impressive know-how that is evident in our fine products. Hambledon Vineyard sparkling wines have actually beaten all champagnes during a notorious blind taste test at Noble Rot tasting in 2015 – further proof that we know (and love) what we’re doing. Proudly English yet deeply Francophile, our vineyard has shared roots with France. Its first owner, Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, the father of English sparkling wine and of Hambledon Vineyard, spent many years in Paris as a diplomat. A wine lover and lover of France and its culture, he embarked on his winemaking journey with the help of friends at one renowned champagne house. More recently, when current owner Ian Kellett – himself wine lover & Francophile too – decided to give the vineyard a second life back in 1999, he decided to surround himself with the best talents from both sides of the Channel.