Can English sparkling wine ever rival champagne? Based on the results of two of Noble Rot Magazine’s events when various champagnes were tasted ‘blind’ against English sparkling wines, most certainly! In 2015 Hambledon Classic Cuvee came top out of 12 wines. And in 2020, Hambledon’s Premier Cuvee came 2nd out of 24 wines, beating several well-known names from our French neighbours, and just one point behind the winner.
Hambledon Estate, overlooking the Hampshire downs, actually has a long (for the UK, and ignoring Roman times!) winemaking history. After World War II, the estate was owned by the formidable-sounding Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones. Sir Guy planted vines in 1952 and in 1961 Hambledon became the first winery in England to release a commercial vintage. The wines won a few prizes and were even served on the QE2 and in British embassies around the world. By the early 1990s Hambledon had stopped producing wine but in 1999 the estate was bought by Ian Kellett who, recognising the special terroir of the Hampshire chalk, had big plans. In 2011, one of the final pieces of the jigsaw slotted into place with the appointment of Hervé Jestin, formerly one of Champagne’s leading chefs de cave. Since then they have gone from strength to strength, winning multiple awards at the International Wine Challenge, Decanter World Wine Awards and other competitions.
Full disclosure here: in 2015 Hambledon were raising investment funds via a corporate bond to facilitate their expansion plans. The bond was paying a good rate of interest for 5 years, so as I had funds to invest, out of curiosity I went to the annual GB Wines tasting to find out more. Arriving at the Hambledon stand, I was pleasantly surprised to see the larger-than-life and ever ebullient Joe Wadsack promoting the wines, and thought ‘that’s a good sign’, because Joe knows what he’s doing! When I tasted the wines I was so impressed by the quality that I decided there and then to invest. In fact, I said to Ian that I thought that the Premier Cuvée (the top wine) was better than a famous deluxe champagne with the letters DP!! As part of my investment I was sent 6 bottles a year, some of which are still maturing nicely, gaining added complexity from bottle age.
Hambledon only produce sparkling wines as that’s their expertise. The current line-up includes four wines: two white and two rosé, and current retailers include Majestic, Waitrose, Berry Bros, Harvey Nicholls, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges and Hedonism, as well as many independent wine merchants. What a pedigree! For more stockists visit Wine Searcher. The ultimate irony for me is that, having tasted the Classic Cuvée many, many times, when tasting it ‘blind’ I have twice thought that it was a champagne. Now that’s proof of the quality.