May 03 2010
Perhaps it is because the opportunity arises so rarely, but nothing is quite so enjoyable, in the field of food and wine, as poking fun at the French. As far as wine goes, the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 (in which cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays from California were preferred in a blind tasting to their French counterparts) is always a good place to start. But the rosbifs now have another string to their bow: champagnes from Canard-Duchêne, Bollinger and Louis Roederer have been beaten by Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2003, made in West Sussex, in an Italian wine competition, the Bollicine del Mondo.
Nyetimber has been flying the flag for English sparkling wine for more than 15 years. Devotees, as I recently discovered, include the former chef at The Ritz, Giles Thompson, and the deeply French Fred Sirieix, general manager at the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows, atop the Hilton on Park Lane.
Giles Thompson rusticated himself nearly three years ago, swapping the Smoke for green and pleasant Goodwood. The Earl of March is the sort of pub of which any county should be proud: delicious, robust ingredients, many from nearby estates, lightened by the touch of an excellent chef, served with great local ales and English fizz at very reasonable prices. When I visited, a plump chunk of fresh-as-a-daisy brill – matched very successfully with Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1996 – was topped with crab meat and sat in a fine lobster sauce; the accompanying kale was notably springy and delicious. A fine cheeseboard included the delicate, buttery Flower Marie from East Sussex, made from ewe’s milk.
Up at Galvin at Windows, meanwhile, Sirieix and head chef André Garrett (who, despite his first name, is definitely English) have collaborated on a Nyetimber tasting menu, available until the middle of May. Highlights on my visit – aside from spotting Sir David Frost at the next table – were some splendid Scottish scallops, gently tinged with ginger, and the distinctly French truffled poulet noir with jus gras, matched with Nyetimber’s Cuvée Classic 1995. The five-course, bells-and-whistles menu is £130 a head for a minimum of four people, including – naturally – fine examples from Nyetimber’s range with each course. Galvin at Windows is, I am pleased to say, the most startling exception to my general rule that the quality of the food is inversely proportional to the height of the building.
As for English wine, new vineyards are being planted all the time, and the future looks sparkling, especially for Nyetimber. It may have Dutch owners, French equipment and a Canadian winemaker, but the fizz is definitely, defiantly English. If only we had a word for terroir…