Who doesn’t love a wine tasting? The four of us absolutely do, so when we were invited along to a Champagne & Fizz evening, how could we say no?
We arrived at the Wyastone Townhouse Hotel on Parabola Road in Cheltenham at about 6:45pm and met with the organisers Nick and his partner Serena. They were both lovely, friendly and extremely welcoming.
A quick note about the venue; it’s a fantastic independent hotel near the center of Cheltenham which has been decorated beautifully. You can find out more here > They seemed to be very accommodating to Nick at the Wine School too with access to the main dining room for the tasting.
After admiring the decor, meeting all the other attendees and getting to know Nick a little bit we all sat down ready for the night.
It started with Nick, our host, introducing himself and the evening. Nick is a very passionate wine lover and really enjoys teaching people about wine, giving them great experiences. Nick’s passion really shows through and you can tell by the way he runs these classes that it’s a real labour of love. During the tasting Nick treated us to a couple of yummy snacks, one of which showcased a stunning English goats cheese which was just a memorable as some of wines! Also, Nick thoughtfully gave us plenty of plain crackers to eat between glasses to help neutralise our pallet before the next tasting.
The evening consisted of six bottles; a mixture of Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, Cap Classique and English sparkling wine. One extremely useful fact we learnt was the difference between British and English wine. Although the names sound similar, there is a marked difference between their meaning. English wine is made from grapes grown here in England that are produced and bottled here, but British/UK wines are made from imported grapes. We had no idea there was such significant difference and from now on we will always check the label!
I love wine, I love drinking and testing it, however, I do not pretend to know a huge amount – I know what I like and what I don’t. So, because of this I will use Nick’s tasting notes below so you get an experts view.
Wine 1: La Gioiosa Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry DOCG NV, Italy. Majestic – £9.99.
Tasting Notes: In the classic Prosecco style, this wine is off dry with soft gentle bubbles (“extra dry” is slightly sweeter than Brut, between 12 and 17g/l residual sugar). The wine is made quickly with a second fermentation which occurs in a tank, rather than in a bottle, producing less pressure and making the wine less violently fizzy. Without any extended lees resting period, this wine also demonstrates much more of the fresh fruit character (apricot, citrus) of the Glera grape. 11% ABV.
Wine 2: The Society’s Cava Reserva Brut NV, Spain (The Wine Society) £8.25
Tasting Notes: A blend of the traditional grapes used in Cava (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo) with the addition of a little Chardonnay, this is made for TWS by Sumarroca. It is made using the traditional method and spends 30 months on the lees, far longer than most cavas, giving a fragrant, appley fizz with some brioche richness. 12% ABV.
Wine 3: Graham Beck Brut NV ‘Cap Classique’, South Africa (Majestic) £11.99
Tasting Notes: “Cap Classique” means this fizz has been made using the traditional, or Champagne method, from a roughly equal mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their own farms in Robertson and Stellenbosch. The wine has also spent 15-18 months on its lees, giving us familiar biscuit, bready, creamy notes with red fruit on the nose, carrying through to the palate. It has good length and nice, spicy complexity, but ultimately doesn’t have the acidity of Champagne – it plays more to the fruity end of the spectrum. RS 7.9g/l, 12.0% ABV
Wine 4: Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury Brut 2013, West Sussex (Waitrose £26.99)
Tasting Notes: A blend of 59% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 14% Pinot Meunier, grown on the South Downs, and made using the traditional method, spending 18 months on the lees. Made by the Roberts family, who specialise in sparkling wines and established their business in 1994. “Very fine fizz… It’s decidedly champagne-like, with a rich, creamy texture, good depth of flavour, and crisp, tiny bubbles.” Suzy Atkins, The Telegraph 12%ABV.
Wine 5: Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne Brut NV (widely available eg Majestic, Tesco, from £34)
Created from more than 100 different wines, of which 20% to 30% are reserve wines (Moet does not give info on the exact years), the blend comprises 30 to 40% Pinot Noir, 30 to 40% Pinot Meunier and 20 to 30% Chardonnay. With red berry aromas thanks to the higher proportion of Pinot Noir, and a fruity core of roasted Golden Delicious apples, there’s a classic toasted brioche, pear, and lime zest flavour and this wine has a bit more heft and is a little less floral than some leading NV wines. RS 9g/l, 12% ABV.
Wine 6: Duval-Leroy Blanc de Blancs 2005 Champagne Brut (Majestic) £39.99
Tasting Notes: Founded in 1859 by négociant Edouard Leroy and the vine-grower and winemaker Jules Duval from Vertus, Jules’ son Henri and Edouard’s daughter Louise married and the result was the Duval-Leroy family, which remains the owners and which is still based in Vertus in the Cote de Blanc. In 1991 Jean Charles Duval-Leroy died at 39 years of age, and his widow Carol Duval-Leroy (who originates from Belgium) took over the management of the company. Duval-Leroy has been quite expansive, in recent years: sales have gone from 400,000 bottles in 1970 to 5.2m in 2006. All their vintage Champagne is made from 100% Chardonnay and this example comes from a year which was particularly good for this grape! On the palate, opens with apple reminiscent of a Granny Smith softening to a gentle citrus flavour and with a long almost buttery finish. 12.5% ABV
After trying all the fizz, and feeling rather merry ourselves at this point, Nick asked us to vote our favourite. This vote was money-no-object and the winner wasn’t surprising, to me anyway, as it was the way I voted. The Prosecco won the vote. The majority of people preferred it to the other wines as it was light and smooth and easy to drink.
The English Sparkling Wine was widely loved by everyone too, with most people saying that they were surprised at how good it was.
After the main part of the evening had ended and there was no more wine to taste, we got chatting again to other members of the group and Nick and Serene. Everybody was friendly and we chatted at length with people about all sorts of things. It was a great evening and all four of us left knowing, not only a lot more about wine, but with information about a lovely little farm shop at Middletown Farm in Newent, owned by another attendee, Dordie (see our blog here >).
In summary, all four of us loved the evening, a lot. The atmosphere was so chilled! We all had a great time both trying the fizz and interacting with a group of people who had similar interests to us. So, would we do this again? 100% yes, no hesitation. One final fun fact we’ll leave you with is after France, Italy, Germany and Spain, which country is the fifth biggest producer of sparkling wine? Could it be the USA? China maybe?…. Well, it’s actually Russia.
Do you want to go to a tasting? Or would you prefer to organise a private tasting with friends or family? Visit oxfordcheltwineschool.com to find out more about Nick, see the upcoming events and how to contact him about private events. It’s worth it, we promise!