Ideas can change the world. Back in 1776 the Scottish economist Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, and in the process upended the winner-takes-all, mercantilist vision of international relations. He replaced it with a model of the world in which nations cooperate and prosper through trade.
From the ideas of Smith we grew into a great trading nation – confidently handing over our hard earned cash to foreign nations in exchange for stuff we wanted. Smith’s ideas eased our conscience about buying French wine even though we’ve been able to produce our own blanc plonk since Roman times.
Smith’s theories influenced Lord Palmerston, the Liberal Prime Minister, who very liberally slashed the tax on imported wines from 1 shilling to 2p in 1860. For better or worse – and French wine was certainly better – this looked like the death knell for the English wine industry. Over the years, a few brave souls tried to resurrect English viticulture, but many faced failure and derision in equal measure.
But fortune is now favouring the brave with English wine very much in vogue. Champagne is so last century: the twenty-first is all about English sparkling wines. The recent rise of English sparkling wine isn’t based on trade tariffs or passing fads – the demand is based on quality. You don’t need to be a jingoistic Little Englander to buy into it.
The tide turned in 2010 when Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvee 2003 won a blind tasting at the world sparkling wine championships in Verona. Since then, French comedians have had to find a new punch line to their jokes.
Nyetimber broke ranks first, though Camel Valley, Chapel Down, Denbies, Gusbourne Estate, Hush Heath, Ridgeview Estate and plenty more have joined the vanguard.
One company producing English sparkling wines with particularly fine notes is Digby. I sat down with its co-founder Trevor Clough at Charlotte’s Bar in Chiswick as we experimented with a few cocktails designed by bartender Teddy Walsh. We came up with these three very different concoctions but all worth tasting. Sparkling cocktails are ripe for experimentation.
The Romanic John Keats once wrote “Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.” If he were around today he may replace that French wine with a bottle the English sparkling (and the music with an ipod).
■ 12.5ml fresh cranberry juice
■ 12.5ml fresh apple juice
■ A dash of plum bitters
■ 20ml William Chase gin
• Mix ingredients in a flute glass
• Top up with chilled Digby Fine English 2009 Reserve Brut sparkling wine
• Garnish with a cocktail cherry, dropped into the glass