Champagne has come in third place in a three-way battle between English, Australian and Champagne sparkling wines. An English sparkling wine from Nyetimber, and the non vintage Australia sparkling wine, Pirie, have beaten four of France’s top Champagne houses in an unprecedented wine tasting in Stockholm. The blind-tasting (called The Judgement of Stockholm!) with five of Sweden’s top wine writers, as well as me, Drew from the Wine Wankers, was held to investigate whether English Sparkling wines were capable of matching Champagne on quality, and price. If you’re new to English Sparkling Wine – definitely read this article we have also just published.
Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs was the clear winner, easily beating all other wines in the competition with its total combined score of 63 points. The next highest combined score was for the bargain priced Pirie Non Vintage from Tasmania, which scored 49 points. Veuve Clicquot NV and Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV tying in third place with 48 points.
- How was this tasting conducted,
- why were these wines chosen to represent each country,
- what wines were tasted in the competition
- and why using Swedish wine writers set this tasting apart, read the end of this article.
What the judges said
“I was surprised I didn’t pick any of the Champagnes in my top three. I think some of the big Champagne houses are resting on their laurels. Rather than striving for quality, they strive for brand, whereas the UK producers and it seems like the Australian producers are trying to make their name known through quality. I was also surprised that the most typical ‘Champagne’ noses, were British.” Erica Landin
1St: Wiston Estate 2010 Blanc de Blanc (England) 2nd Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs (England) 3rd Pirie NV (Tasmania, Australia)
“Nyetimbern was a stand out. UK flower-power, elegance and very pure. And very true to it’s origin.” Alf Tumble
1St: Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs (England) 2nd Pirie NV (Tasmania, Australia) 3rd Lanson Black Label Brut NV (Champagne, France)
“Champagne’s got a tough time ahead for them!” Andreas Kjörling
1st: Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV (England) 2nd Mumm Cordon Rouge NV (Champagne, France) 3rd Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs (England)
“I tasted without thinking about the origin. I tasted to evaluate quality using the WSET tasting method. My conclusions can be seen in the results.” Susanne BK of Punkvin
1st Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs (England) 2nd Denbies Cubitt Reserve 2010 (England) 3rd Veuve Clicquot NV (Champagne, France)
“In sparklings, I look for small bubbles, and length in combination with acidity.” About the tasting: “They all were all on a high level, but with slight differences in character, although, in my opinion, the bubbles were very different. Small vs big.” Elke Jung
1ST Taittinger (Champagne, France) 2ND Veuve Clicquot NV (Champagne, France) 3RD Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV (England)
“Champagne has always been placed on such a high pedestal; its marketing has definitely helped frame its quality perception. But when you strip that away and stack these wines against their foreign counterparts in a completely blind tasting, you get down to the nitty gritty – it’s just fizzy, fermented grape juice in the end. And in this tasting, English sparkling wines were showing very well. I was most surprised by an Australian wine coming second – I was not expecting that at all. This tasting says to me Australia has earnt its place on the world stage for producing decent fizz.” Drew Lambert, The Wine Wankers
1St: Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs (England) 2nd Pirie NV (Tasmania, Australia) 3rd Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV (England) £32.99
About the wine tasting – and why holding it in Sweden was so important
Let’s get one thing straight. this tasting did not include every English or Australian sparkling wine, nor every Champagne available to buy. The wines that were included in the tasting were cherry picked for a reason, and the setting of the tasting was also very important – this is why…
Having recently moved to Stockholm, I’ve discovered Sweden’s drinking culture is unique and so are its wine writers. Without a wine industry to protect or feel parochial about, wine lovers (and wine writers) will judge a wine on its merits, and boy, does this country have a selection to choose from. Every wine producing country on earth is distributed here and are vying to win over the nation’s palate; it’s a completely level playing field.
For wine geeks like me, over the past two years, English Sparkling Wine has become somewhat of a darling of the wine world, what with its world beating ways – but these articles have always been written by English wine writers, with the judging panel usually being made up of English palates, or occasionally, French experts. After recently visiting English wine country, I had a lightbulb moment. Wouldn’t it be cool if I conducted my own Champagne versus English sparkling wine tasting, but held it on neutral territory, where English Sparkling wine has almost no distribution so nobody could have any preconceived ideas.
But that wasn’t enough for me, being Australian, I wanted to include a couple of Aussie sparkling curveballs in to the mix, both with outstanding pedigrees. Can the Champagne-like climate of Tasmania match France, or indeed, England?
The final mix included
- six sparkling wines chosen from my recent trip to England (a mix of non-vintage and vintage wines, blends and Blanc de Blancs), (Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV, Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs, Ridgeview 2013 Blanc de Blanc, Wiston Estate 2010 Cuvee Brut, Denbies Cubitt Reserve 2010, Wiston Estate 2010 Blanc de Blanc)
- four non-vintage Champagnes from big name houses, chosen for their wide distribution and commitment to quality (Taittinger NV, Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, Veuve Clicquot NV and Lanson Black Label Brut NV)
- and two non-vintage Australia sparkling blends – both heralding from Tasmania (Arras Brut Elite NV and Pirie NV)
Why mix vintage and non vintage English and Australian sparkling wines and place them up again only non-vintage Champagne. The reason; price. Vintage Champagne is expensive. You have to pay double sometimes and this puts the drinking experience into a whole new category. In the UK, the difference between a non vintage and vintage sparkling wine is sometimes as little as £5 to £8. Most wines were priced at £34/390 Swedish Krona/AU$58/US$43 – except for the Australian wines, which were substantially less.
The final results and how the scoring took place
If you’re familiar with Eurovision voting, or Formula 1, the scoring was in the same vein; 12 wines were tasted, so each wine taster ranked the wines they drank from favourite (theu received 12 points) to least favourite (sorry guys – 1 point only) and all the wines in the middle scored scaled points. We then tallied all the points from all the tasters to achieve the final result. Please note: just because a wine scored three times the amount of points does not mean it was three times better in quality! All wine writers involved in the tasting said how tough the competition was, and there was not much difference between many of the wines. Remember – these wines were chosen because they had already proven themselves as great ambassadors for each wine region.
1, Nyetimber 2009 Blanc de Blancs (England) £40.99 – 63 points
2, Pirie NV (Tasmania, Australia) AU$32 – 49 points
3, Veuve Clicquot NV (Champagne, France) £40 – 48 points
3, Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV (England) £32.99 – 48 points
5, Lanson Black Label Brut NV (Champagne, France) – 47 points
6, Mumm Cordon Rouge NV (Champagne, France) £33 – 44 points
7, Denbies Cubitt Reserve 2010 (England) £28 – 37 points
7, Wiston Estate 2010 Blanc de Blanc (England) £40 – 37 points
9, Arras Brut Elite NV (Tasmania, Australia) AU$45 – 29 points
10, Taittinger (Champagne, France) £37 – 28 points
11, Wiston Estate 2010 Cuvee Brut (England) £33 – 23 points
12, Ridgeview 2013 Blanc de Blanc (England) £45 – 15 points
So – what are your thoughts. Will you be giving English or Australian sparkling wines a go in the future? Do you think we should have included vintage Champagne in the comparison, even though they are much more expensive. Should smaller growers Champagnes be included, even though they are harder to find?