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Just Miles From France, England Produces Its Own Bubbly


So it's Sunday morning. You're getting ready for a lovely brunch and maybe you'll have a little bit of bubbly. Instead of champagne, how about some sparkling wine from England? Now, I know what you're thinking. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence. But believe it or not, there are some English wineries getting newfound respect, and their sparkling wines are starting to show up in American bottle shops. Sommelier Andrew Stover specializes in unsung wines. He's brought us some samples. Welcome to the show, Andrew.

ANDREW STOVER: Thank you for having me, very excited.

MARTIN: I had no idea that England even had a wine industry. Has England been making sparkling wine for a long time?

STOVER: Well, there's some interesting research if you start digging around. As early as 1662, Charles Merret wrote a paper in London about the method of bottle-fermented sparkling wine. That's 30 years before it was ever recorded and written down in the Champagne region of France.

MARTIN: What about the climate?

STOVER: Climactic conditions are very similar - cool, semi-continental climate and also the soil is almost identical. Are you familiar with the White Cliffs of Dover?


STOVER: It's a limestone chalk ridge that runs through the south of England, exits at the White Cliffs of Dover and then it's, you know, submerged underwater and then comes back up on the mainland of France. And that's sort of like when you learn - as a sommelier - when you learn about first champagne, you talk about the chalky limestone soil. So it's almost identical.

MARTIN: How are Americans responding to English sparkling wine? Americans are buying this stuff?

STOVER: Yeah, yeah - well, it's new. It's new to the market, so it's only been in the U.S. for about three years. And a lot of these wines have been winning awards. Ridgeview Estate took a decanter wine award in 2010 for top sparkling wine over four or five of the best-known champagnes.


STOVER: That's kind of a big deal.

MARTIN: All right, it's time to taste this stuff.

STOVER: (Laughter) I know, you're like - you're salivating (laughter).

MARTIN: Bring on the sparkling wines. OK, so we're actually going to try these. We're going to do a blind taste test.

STOVER: We're going to do a blind taste test.

MARTIN: My editor Barrie Hardymon is going to come in and we're going to do this taste test.

STOVER: Hello, Barrie.


STOVER: Nothing like a little bubbly in the morning.

MARTIN: Indeed, indeed. All right, so these look almost identical. The color is - right?

STOVER: The color is similar.

MARTIN: Barrie, what do you think? The color looks exactly the same.

HARDYMON: Yeah, I think this color - it's like a peachy yellow.

MARTIN: OK, so I'm going to take the one that's to my left.

STOVER: Yep. And you have the same.

HARDYMON: OK, so I'll take one that's to my left.

STOVER: You have the same, yeah.

MARTIN: To the left. Cheers, Bar (ph).


MARTIN: Same reaction.

HARDYMON: I mean, it has, like...

STOVER: Very fresh.

HARDYMON: ...Lemons, which is what I want in the morning, which for some reason I'm associating (laughter) all my champagne - but, you know, you want to celebrate the day.

STOVER: Absolutely, you want something to be refreshing and a palate cleanser.

HARDYMON: Right, it's like dawn - right, dawn breaking.

STOVER: Exactly.

MARTIN: It's the dawn of a new day.

HARDYMON: It's clean.

MARTIN: All right...

HARDYMON: All right.

MARTIN: ...So let's go to the other one.

STOVER: So let's go on to the right side.

HARDYMON: Ok, right side, to the right side, OK.

MARTIN: Let's try this.

HARDYMON: I don't like this as much. But, I mean, I like it. I mean, I'm going to finish it, but...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

STOVER: Of course you are. Bubbly at - bubbly at 11 in the morning.

HARDYMON: It doesn't have as clean a finish, for me.

MARTIN: I just - this doesn't feel as complicated. Is that...

HARDYMON: This feels...

MARTIN: ...A smart thing to say about this? I don't know.

HARDYMON: Yeah, sure. No, this one feels like a lot of champagne I've had.

STOVER: A cleaner, maybe.


MARTIN: This is drinkable.


MARTIN: This is a highly drinkable experience.

HARDYMON: Well, I mean, yeah.

STOVER: Clean, fresh, right?


STOVER: Maybe more delicate, perhaps?

MARTIN: More delicate is a nice way of saying less complicated. OK, should you put us out of our misery and tell us which is which?

STOVER: I would be happy to.

MARTIN: All right, the one on the left - did we decide - did you prefer this one or no?


MARTIN: You preferred it.

HARDYMON: I think I did.

MARTIN: I actually think I preferred it, as well.


STOVER: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Which one is it?

STOVER: That would be the champagne.

MARTIN: This is the champagne.


STOVER: Perhaps not a fair comparison, but I wanted to pick something very iconic.


STOVER: I think the most - one of the most iconic champagnes - but it's the Veuve Clicquot, the yellow label, they're entry-level, great product, always consistent.


STOVER: And on - that was on the left.

MARTIN: That was on the left.

STOVER: The right side was the wine from England.


STOVER: That is the Ridgeview - the Ridgeview Estate. Bloomsbury is the name of the cuvee.

MARTIN: The bottom line is that both were very drinkable, very delicious and...

HARDYMON: Highly celebratory.


MARTIN: Very celebratory.

HARDYMON: Which is what I, you know, look for.

MARTIN: We always go for in a sparkling wine. And who knew, English sparkling wines, something to look for?


MARTIN: (Laughter) OK, I think we've run out of time, but clearly our party is going to continue. Andrew has popped yet another bottle of something sparkling and delicious. Certified sommelier Andrew Stover, thanks so much for coming in and sharing the bubbly.

STOVER: Such a pleasure.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) The night they invented champagne, it's plain as it can be. They thought of you and me. The night they invented champagne, they absolutely knew that all we'd want to do... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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