Pop Open the Bubbly for Valentine’s Day
Popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling wine on a special occasion is as natural and traditional as it gets – a celebration without some bubbly is just not the same. From the sound of the cork to the fizz in the glass, there is something exciting, romantic and somehow magical about a glass of crisp, cool, sparkling wine.
Bubbles, fizz, and celebrating with a drink didn’t begin with the invention of Champagne (Champagne was first created in the Champagne region on France in the eighteenth century); sparkling wine came first. It hails from the sixteenth century, and was first made in the Languedoc region of France.
It wasn’t particularly well received back then… since the pressure in the bottle tended to make corks pop and bottles explode on a fairly regular basis, it was nicknamed ‘the devil’s wine’, and only those who were brave enough would actually get close enough to sip it. Over time, however, as superstitions melted away and taste buds looked for something a little different, sparkling wine began to become more popular. And when Henry IV took to drinking it regularly, its popularity really took off. This gave the Champagne producers a boost, and makers such as Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot and Andre Francois were able to refine the taste of their creations.
The trend for sparkling wine – some from Champagne and some not – was born.
This was a double-edged sword. As more and more people clamoured to buy sparkling wine, the producers kept increasing the price (this was also partly due to rising production costs as they invented new and better machinery to make the wine taste better and explode less). As a result, soon enough (by the nineteenth century), only the wealthy could afford bubbles on a regular basis. Everyone else had to save up and wait for a special occasion; hence the idea that sparkling wine was a special, celebratory drink. And although prices have dropped considerably from what they were two hundred years ago, the tradition has persisted.
So, sparkling wine and Champagne is drunk on occasions such as New Year’s Eve, Christmas, weddings, and, of course, Valentine’s Day.
If you are looking for some sparkling wine to celebrate with this Valentine’s Day, you don’t need to look too far – there are plenty of producers right here in Kent. Thanks to the terroir (the soil and geology of the surroundings, as well as the climate) of the county – which is similar to that of France – the conditions are ideal for producing wonderful sparkling wine.
Squerryes // Westerham // www.squerryes.co.uk
Squerryes Court was built in 1681 with the Warde family making it their home since 1731. Their family motto, LICET ESSE BEATIS (permit oneself to be joyful), sets a wonderful precedent to the newest development in the family business as award-winning sparkling wine producers. Set in 2,500 acres of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Kent countryside, the Squerryes Estate was renowned for its history of farming. In 2006, charged with ambition and a clear vision for a new direction, Henry Warde planted a 35-acre vineyard and has since produced two exceptional brut vintage sparkling wines: the double gold winning 2010 and 2011 vintage.
Chapel Down // Tenterden // www.chapeldown.com
The North and South Downs of Kent and Sussex share almost identical geology and soils to the Champagne region which is perfect for the great sparkling wine varieties. Working with the vineyard team and contract growers, Chapel Down ensures that only the finest fruit arrives at the winery in Tenterden to make the very best sparkling wines. The sparkling wines are made primarily from the classic sparkling wine grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc.
Biddenden Vineyards // Biddenden // www.biddendenvineyards.com
Biddenden Vineyard is Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard, having been established by the Barnes family in 1969 to produce wines and ciders. The vineyards are set in 23 acres on a gentle south-facing slope in a shallow sheltered valley, 1.2 miles from the lovely Wealden village of Biddenden. Eleven varieties of grapes are grown to produce white, red, rosé and quality sparkling wines. Traditional Kentish ciders have also been made here for over 30 years together with farm pressed apple and pear juices.
Terlingham Vineyard // Folkestone // www.terlinghamvineyard.co.uk
Terlingham Vineyard is nestled just above Folkestone on the Downs, with fabulous views over the English Channel to France. This is a boutique vineyard with 5,500 vines including Pinot Noir, Meunier, Chardonnay, Bacchus, Dornfelder and Rondo.
In 2014, Terlingham joined forces with winemaker Kobus Louw, and is working towards making the vineyard totally organic. Terlingham produces 80% sparkling wine – rose and white. They also make a delectable Bacchus white wine and an exciting red wine using their Rondo and Doornfelder grapes. Each of the wines has their own unique character.
Hush Heath // Staplehurst // www.hushheath.com
At Hush Heath Estate, it is believed that the finest wines can only be produced from the finest fruit. Winemaking, therefore, starts in the vineyards. Nestled among the rolling hills within the Garden of England, the vineyards enjoy quiet serenity and a favourable microclimate supporting optimal ripening conditions for their prized grapes. Only fruit grown within Hush Heath Estate is used to create the wines and ciders made there.
Gusbourne // Appledore // www.gusbourne.com
The original Gusbourne Estate in Appledore dates back to 1410. In 2004, Andrew Weeber took over the estate with a clear vision and a single goal: to create English sparkling wines that would stand up alongside the very finest offerings from across the globe. The first vines were planted that year. In 2010 the debut vintages of Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2006 and Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2006 were released to critical acclaim. Gusbourne quickly earned a reputation as a producer of outstanding quality wines, with accolades from some of the industry’s most exacting critics.
Herbert Hall // Marden // www.herberthall.com
Since its founding in 2007, the ‘under-the-radar’ boutique Herbert Hall Winery in Marden has quietly built a reputation as one the UK’s foremost sparkling wine producers. Herbert Hall has gained a loyal following at the highest level with listings including the famous Ivy restaurant, Fortnum & Mason, Annabel’s Night Club in Mayfair, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. Their handmade wines were recently chosen by The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Field as among the very best in the world. The winery even makes a limited edition blend for HRH The Prince of Wales under his Highgrove label.
Woodchurch Wine // Woodchurch // www.woodchurchwine.co.uk
Donna and Graham Barbour established their vineyard at Woodchurch in the heart of Kent in 2010. After five years of hard work, they released two award-winning wines from their first harvest in 2012. With their first production run already almost sold out, the couple have just released their first sparkling rosé wine. The wine has a beautiful bright salmon pink colour with wild strawberries on the nose and raspberries, loganberries and crisp red apples on the palate. With just 1,000 bottles available this is a perfect match for a romantic Valentine celebration.
The Mount Vineyard // Shoreham // www.themountvineyard.co.uk
The Mount Vineyard is situated in the idyllic village of Shoreham and produces award-winning still and sparkling wines, including their special rosé. This sparkling rosé has an elegant pink colour that is just bursting with the aromas of fresh strawberries. Made from Seyval, Phoenix and Pinot Noir grapes, the crisp, refreshing acidity supports the intense ripe summer fruits. It won the silver medal in the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2014.