On a cold, sunny Spring day in Santa Monica, we arrived at the Bring-Your-Own-Rosé party as anyone would: on an empty stomach, with a notepad and pen. Just another day for the blog, we figured! We made our deposit to the chilled bucket of a dozen bottles and, you know, just felt really ready to learn.
But it so happens that on this occasion we weren’t introduced to the subtle fruit differences between a 70% grenache and a a 60% pinot noir. No, instead we were introduced to Frazer Thompson, to his wine company, Chapel Down, and the climactic properties of British sparkling wine.
We weren’t entirely asleep to British sparkling wine. We’d watched BBC’s The Wine Show, where there may have been some mention of British sparkling wine in Series 1, Episode 12, at 28:32.
So yeah, we were ready and willing, but appreciated at the time that it seemed as likely for us to get a glass of the ‘Glish as it was to sample a Sip of India (S1E5, 31:11).
Mr. Thompson knew his audience. He was rocking a second bucket of bottles, for one. And it being a rosé party, he handed us a glass of the ruby red grapefruit-hued non-vintage Rose Brut sparkling rosé to sample.
And we sipped.
And it was like Luther VanDross was performing live at our wedding while the freshly-minted Mrs. Rum & Biscuits spoon-fed us berry cobbler, and when we asked where she got the cobbler from, she pointed to Jesus in the corner and He was like, “Heyyy, did you guys see Black Panther???”
Then we snap out of it. Thompson is talking. “British sparkling wine is something special,” he says.
Thompson: “And I’ll tell you why.”
Us: “Oh, right. Please proceed.”
And y’all: the mind-blowing, trivia-night-winning gems that proceeded to be dropped were nearly enough to sober us up. But then he popped another bottle, and we recognized it was up to us to take one for the team, open up the notepad, and get serious even as we got less cognizant.
So if “orgasm” isn’t reason enough, we encourage you to consider the following five as evidence that Kent is the New Champagne. Matter of fact, get your mind blown as we did – half a bottle in – because apparently this s**t is even at Wally’s. Let us begin.
Reason #1: SE England has always had Champagne soil
When we think of sparkling wine, we think of champagne. And as Thompson explained, what makes champagne so particularly special is the chalk in the soil. But aint geology something: the same chalky soil that’s found in France’s Champagne region actually stretches northward, down beneath the English Channel, and appears again in the legendary Cliffs of Dover. Thompson even had a bottle-sized hunk of chalk for us to lick before we tasted the wine. We just licked the bottom of the glass instead.
Reason #2: SE England now has Champagne climate
Climate change over the past several decades has given the Southeast England of today the climate of France’s Champagne region in the 1970’s – a time period known for great champagne. It should only follow that English sparkling wine (very few of which are more than two years old, says Thompson) should be enjoying something of a Golden Age, if a quiet one.
That’s not to say that those wines falling outside the time range missed the sweet spot. The ridiculous vintage Three Graces that Thompson had the nerve to serve next was from 2011. The tasting notes were of “ripe red apple, strawberry, buttered brioche, and hazelnuts.” Thank God, because our own notes were more like, “Smoothe as f**k.” No wonder they served it at the Royal Wedding. Oh shit, that’s Reason #3!
Reason #3: Royals drink it, and we are #TeamSNC
Not only was it widely reported that the brut rosé that WE ENJOYED at this tasting was also enjoyed by Prince William and Kate Middleton at their 2011 wedding in celebration, it’s been rumored – and confirmed by Thompson – that Prince Harry and Megan Markle will follow suit and select another Chapel Down wine for their own wedding.
If it wasn’t evident from the white dude authoring posts on African food, we at Rum & Biscuits, (like the newly engaged royals), are firmly #TeamSNC. And SNC stands for Something New Couple.
And now not only do you have a movie to watch, but one hell of a bottle of wine to drink while you do so.
Reason #4: Brits may have been the O.G.s
As Thompson tells it, the Brits invented champagne a full twenty years before its widely recognized father, Dom Perignon, did so in France.
From other wine and alcoholic beverages, you likely appreciate that all the fermentation = all the fun. But the addition of sugar and yeast in the bottle itself is what’s known as a “secondary fermentation.” It’s what give sparkling wines the fizz, and in early France, it’s what made bottles explode.
Christopher Merrett – whose titles, like all 17th Century people, read kind of like Two Truths and a Lie – is often cited for the Brits’ early success in creating and containing sparkling wine. But just as cited and even more amazing is the role that self-defense played in the BSP biz:
The flimsiness of French bottles was largely the result of their being fired in oak charcoal; the Brits – refusing to use their wood for anything other than ships to fight the French – instead used coal, which burned hotter and created thicker, heavier glass. Able to contain a wine with gas pressure three times greater than a car tire.
Honestly, everything didn’t seem that complicated when Thompson used a sword to lop the top off the third bottle, but whatever, it was delicious. Which brings us to Reason #5.
Reason #5: These flavors!
It’s not a cop-out, it’s facts: the Chapel Down brut rosé we tried melted our face off. Typically skeptics of pink wines any darker than a ripe peach, we tasted slowly but finished quickly. Notes of wild strawberry, apple, and flowers struck this perfect, sultry balance of boldness and lightness. If you hate sweetness and your fiance hates tartness, just serve this at your wedding and stop wasting time. And congratulations by the way!
CD’s vintage offering was even better. Infuriatingly so, in the way that only expensive, yet ironically more widely available wines can be. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, the Three Graces was confounding in more ways than convenience. The buttery fresh bread descriptors we’d read later were spot on, but not in the same way a chardonnay can be buttery. No, here it was in the crisp airiness of just-risen yeast, but without any sharpness or astringency. It was welcome, open, easy, and…yes, indeed, “smoothe as f**k”! You have to wonder if Prince William and Megan said the same thing when they tasted.
In conclusion, yes, there are cold (still sunny) days in Santa Monica. And even then, we’ll be damned if we’re not drinking chilled wines like a good crisp sparkling. Our friends in Britain have opened up a whole new world for us, as we hope they have for you. In their own act of patriotism – choosing a British wine for the (mostly) British, (definitely) royal wedding – our #RelationshipGoals hashtag couple of the decade has somehow made us feel proud.
A new frontier, where the beverages are delicious, local producers make money, wine-lovers discover untasted worlds, and English princes have caramel babies is certainly a world we all should embrace. A world where everything is “smoothe as f**k.”
So cheers to that!