English producers have to ask themselves the question who they are making their wines for: themselves, the consumer or competition judges?
What the other judges think of English sparkling wine it’s difficult to say, says Wolfe
He says: “Obviously they liked the Furleigh Estate classic cuvee, but there was more than one English wine on show. I can’t say why these wines didn’t win any awards but speaking with the foreign judges the general consensus is they prefer English wines that show good autolytic characters with a soft effervescence, they say because it tastes like Champagne.
“I do not necessarily agree with this as I believe it comes back to balance, and maybe this is an indication that we have been hanging on to the Champagne coattails for long enough and need to craft our own identity embracing modern winemaking techniques, whilst respecting tradition to get the very best from our grapes.
“In England we don’t age our wines for as long compared to many worldwide traditionally- made sparkling wines, but that doesn’t mean they lack quality, complexity or autolysis. The general feedback from the judges that dislike the wines is that they are too young, aggressive, acidic and unbalanced. Why don’t we try and make these aggressive acidic wines into a fresh, vibrant style?”
Wolfe asserts that English producers “have to ask ourselves the question: who are we making our wines for?” Is it themselves, the consumer or competition judges.
He says: “It’s possible for all three to agree but only one matters when it comes to buying the wine. That said, what does the UK market want? It’s full of wine from all over the world at competitive prices, if of variant quality. Without research, nobody has an answer other than consumers want value for money and when English sparkling is retailing at £20-£25+ [as] a premium product, we have to ask ourselves are we achieving that?”
The Furleigh Estate classic cuvee is a great example of what the English can do using the classic grape varieties and Wolfe uses it as a sample for tasting sessions.
He says: “The wine has a good complexity of fruit and yeast characters, which leads to a long balanced finish. For me balance is the key and it’s more than just sugar and acid. For sure many English producers use the higher end of the brut scale when deciding on their dosage as they believe that their customers are addicted to sugar (which I don’t necessarily disagree with). However excessive sugar only has an impression on the initial taste of the wine, and actually promotes acidity and heightens the perception of bitterness on the finish as well as masking the wine true fruit flavours.”
There remains a question over fruit quality, over-extraction and poor winemaking practice considers Wolfe.
He says: “Again this is only my opinion but with the pressure of limited yields and high production costs, some producers are under pressure to extract as much volume as possible which can also involve the use of diseased fruit. I can go on but the bottom line is over-extraction and diseased fruit affects the wines protein levels and foam stability, which in turn is linked to dissolved CO2 content leading to a more aggressive or flat mousse etcetera, affecting wine harmony. It should be pointed out other wine-making practices, such as disgorging, can also have an effect.”
So what’s the answer? He accepts that Ian Edwards has had a great year and is obviously doing all the right things.
He says: “There are other great English winemakers who have also previously won great accolades. Consistency is what English sparkling wine needs and with success comes expectation. Vintage variation will always be a factor but I believe sparkling wines are crafted in the winery and that it’s financial pressure and meeting commercial demand which is what allows some of these great winemakers to drop their guard; for example, cutting the time spent on lees because the supermarket has demanded another palate.”
One solution is bench-marking English sparkling wine a project I have done some work on and with the help of industry professionals hope to roll out sometime in the future, but this is currently out of my hands. He concludes: “I am pro-English wine and support it fully, but the consistency needs to be strengthened by a number of producers (in an ideal world all producers) before we can honour the reputation of being amongst the world’s best sparkling wines.”
From a young age, Luke has had a dream of owning a vineyard and making his own wine. The credit crunch called time on his financial career, so he decided to take the plunge into achieving his dream. After working for Wine Rack as a manager for a year, he enrolled onto the BSc Viticulture & Oenolgy course at Plumpton College and has worked since in New Zealand, Californian, England and France and now enjoy a roll as vineyard manager at Lakestreet vineyard in East Sussex as well as offering freelance viticulture, winemaking and wine tasting services.
He says: “To me Robert Mondavi articulates wine perfectly ‘Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living’.”
He is also a specialist wine judge and is on the Effervescents du Monde judging panel as well as the quality assurance panel for Sparkling English Wines.