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Champagne goes pop as English sparkling wine impresses chef to send sales fizzing

The slopes of Jenkyns vineyard in Bentley, Hampshire
The slopes of Jenkyns vineyard in Bentley, Hampshire

THERE is a far, far corner of a Hampshire field which is forever French.

Famous Champagne houses are buying up land on the south coast to plant vines because our climate is perfect for growing the kind of grapes that produce a brilliant sparkling wine.

In fact, thanks to climate change, it is now too hot in the Champagne region of Reims so major companies like Tattinger and Pommery are now growing grapes in cooler Britain.

What that means for English sparkling wines is that we are now producing some of the finest fizz ever – some that even rivals top Champagnes. In fact in one blind tasting English sparkling wine beat some brands of Champagne hands down.

That’s one of the reasons why the Montagu Arms Hotel’s Terrace restaurant is running a special vintage night on the 29th of November during which they will be showcasing some of the best English sparkling wines available.

Head chef Matt Tomkinson has produced a menu that will pair dishes with a different fizz to bring out the best of each individual wine and perfectly compliment his choices.

He said: “I don’t think people realise just how fantastic English sparkling wine is. I was really blown away by some of the wine we are offering on this night.

“I think customers will be really surprised. I certainly was, the quality is just superb.”

Matt admits he was as guilty as anyone else about thinking that English wine was a poor relation to its French counterparts. “I can remember buying this really cheap bottle of wine and not realising until I looked at the label that it was ‘British’ wine.

“It was actually shocking. But British wine is totally different to English sparkling wine. It bears no resemblance at all. English wine is of a really good quality.”

That’s something the Queen knows well, she has her own wine made from grapes grown on royal estates in Windsor. At both Prince William and Harry’s weddings English sparkling wine was served to guests instead of Champagne.

In Hampshire we are lucky to have chalky soil which is free draining and helps the vines as they prefer dry conditions.

The English sparkling wines for the occasion at the Montagu Arms have been chosen by Phil Weeks from Lea and Sandeman Wine Merchants. As Matt discovered, a good English sparkling wine can be a much better investment than a mediocre supermarket brand of Champagne.

He said: “I’m looking forward to the time when supermarkets start stocking lots of different English sparkling wines. I think that moment is coming and it feels ready for it.

“The success of Prosecco and Cava has opened peoples’ eyes to the fact that sparkling doesn’t automatically have to mean Champagne.

“I think the old days of keeping a bottle of fizz around for a special occasion has gone. People definitely like to drink sparkling wine much more now and it’s more affordable. But I have to admit that before we planned this vintage night I thought that you just couldn’t drink sparkling throughout a meal. But I have really been proved wrong.

“It actually works really well. It’s also taken the idea that there are certain dishes you should never drink sparkling wine with and turned it on its head.”

Matt Tompkinson, head chef at the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu
Matt Tompkinson, head chef at the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu

Matt has collaborated closely with head sommelier Sergio Dos Santos so that each dish perfectly complements the wine.

Matt explained: “If Sergio says the wine has lemon, or vanilla notes he can tell me what he thinks it would really partner well with.

“There are dishes on the menu already that we have taken and added a twist so that they partner with the wine well and I have also created new ones.

“It’s been really exciting I think for both him and me.”

At the even sparkling wine growers, Phil Weeks and Sergio will be on hand to introduce the wine and answer any questions diners may have.

Matt will also be talking to customers telling them why he has chosen that dish to go with that wine.

He said: “What I am looking forward to is people discovering just how great English sparkling wine is and how well it goes with food. We have a lot of regular clients who enjoy the wine pairing evenings and I think they are going to be surprised by this one.”

On the night diners will be served a selection of English sparkling wine from Hampshire, Kent and Dorchester.

They will be welcomed with a selection of canapés accompanied by Jenkyn Place Brut Cuvée 2013, from Bentley in Hampshire.

A starter of roasted pumpkin velouté with toasted pumpkin seeds and sesame cheese biscuits is paired with Coates & Seely Brut Reserve Non-Vintage, from Whitchurch in Hampshire

This will be followed by organic salmon, lobster and crab ravioli with shellfish butter sauce, basil and lemon, will be served with Gusbourne, Blanc de Blancs from Appledore in Kent.

A main course of free-range guinea fowl with celeriac purée, braised cabbage and a crisp guinea fowl croquette is paired with Langham Estate Blanc de Noirs from Dorchester in Dorset.

Dessert is macerated blackberry ‘crumble and custard’ comes with Herbert Hall Rose Brut Organic from Marden Vineyard in Kent, and a warm poached pear with chocolate sorbet and vanilla cream is matched with Nyetimber Demi Sec Non-Vintage from West Chiltington in West Sussex.

Tickets cost £110 each and more information can be found at www.montaguarmshotel.co.uk

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