Thinking about talking about English fizz
Next month I'm judging at the National Wine Show of Australia in Canberra. Apparently it's traditional for one of the international judges to hold a mini masterclass for the rest of the judges and I've been asked to give one on English sparkling wine.
Representing your country's wines in this kind of setting feels like a fairly big responsibility. All the judges have got positions of seniority and influence in the Australia wine biz, and I gather that many of them won't have tasted English fizz before.
First and foremost, I want them to be really impressed with the quality. There are loads of producers making great wine, but my top choices were Gusbourne and Camel Valley - both of whom are not only top quality, but have a reliable track record and a good back story. Both of them agreed to send me samples to take for the masterclass: Gusbourne's Blanc de Blancs 2010 and Camel Valley's White Pinot 2010.
What I need to figure out next is what to say about these wines. The usual way of introducing English sparkling wine is to make comparisons with champagne, but I don't want to take that route. Firstly, my audience is going to be very wine-savvy, and they'll know this stuff already. Besides that, it's predictable, clichéd and actually proves nothing.
So what if the climate's similar and the grapes are the same and the wine spends three years on lees? Okay, you can make the point that this the same process used for some of the world's very best sparkling wines, but there are plenty of crap wines that use this method too. It's a bit like claiming a terrible painting is good because it uses the same canvas and paint as a Rembrandt.
I will mention that they come from opposite ends of southern England, though I don't believe there is anything identifiably Kentish or Cornish about them in terms of flavour profile. Indeed, I want to emphasise their similarities - very high acidity, pure fruit and above all, excellent quality - instead of their differences.
Also, I think I will talk about what is arguably more important to brands such as Gusbourne and Camel Valley than terroir and winemaking: marketing and promotion. How have these guys established themselves as such firm favourites in such a relatively short space of time? What are their plans for the future, especially in an increasingly competitive environment?
It will be fascinating to hear the thoughts of a roomful of Australian wine show judges on the wines too - not just from a stylistic and quality perspective, but if and how they think English fizz could fit into the Australian wine market. Knowing Australians, their opinions will be frank!