French Get Taste for English Wines

English wine has received the biggest compliment – thumbs up from the French. A group of 50 sommeliers, members of the prestigious L’union de la Sommellerie Française visited vineyards in South East England and were impressed by the quality of what was on offer.

They were so impressed that they took cases of English whites and rosés back across the Channel and held a tasting for other members of L’Union. ‘The sommeliers thought the wines had a great potential to build on,’ said Jermone Pont, who has since started stocking certain English varieties in his Calais wine store, Calais-Vins. ‘They were impressed by the ability of English vineyards to produce nice dry wines with citrus and grapefruit flavours which are steady from one vintage to the next.’

The wines from Chapel Down and Binneden in south east England quickly sold out and Mr Pont is currently waiting for new stock to arrive. ‘It is very flattering,’ said Fraser Thompson, managing director of Chapel Down. ‘Selling in France was never a prime objective of this company but it is extremely flattering that they like our wines. The French are often more willing to try things than the English.’

According to Mr Thompson, convincing the English market was difficult at first; ‘People wonder how they can take it seriously if it isn’t in Tesco.’ But sales are now rocketing, with large amounts of wine being sold at the vineyard gate itself and more being ordered in by restaurants, hotels and wine shops. ‘It’s a question of putting it in the right hands,’ said Mr Thompson, ‘sommeliers are the people who are going to recommend it.’

Gordon Ramsay’s decision to sell three Chapel Down wines in his New York restaurant has given the brand a launch platform for the American market. Mr Thompson believes the ‘light, aromatic, spritzy’ wines will appeal to American taste. Visitors to Ramsay’s restaurant will have the choice of Chapel Down Rose Brut, Bacchus Reserve 2004 (Sauvignon Blanc style) and Chapel Down Nectar.

England’s mild climate is well-suited to producing light and refreshing Alsatian and New Zealand-style wines. ‘Light wines are difficult to make as they need a longer season with a later harvest. They are economically rarer in terms of grape yield,’ Mr Thompson explained.

But considering the English’s unsurpassed knowledge of wines and the fact most Champagne houses in France are owned by British companies, it is surprising they are reluctant to participate in the English wine movement. ‘You must be proud of what you’re doing,’ said Mr Pont.

The more enlightened restaurants and members of the public have, according to Mr Thompson, already jumped on the bandwagon. He deems those restaurants who dismiss English wine ‘lazy’: ‘They’re not thinking hard enough about what they are trying to say,’ he said, ‘ English wine has become a barometer of what is cool and what is not cool.’

To follow in Gordon Ramsay’s footsteps and serve Chapel Down wine visit