Win fizz! Help UK sparklers!

(by peter)

Our resident guest blogger Jonica Fox has made a generous offer to our readers.

It involves a prize of an exclusive preview bottle of her soon-to-be-released Cuvee No 1 English Sparkling Rosé 2009 for the winner of a competition which needs a little prefacing…

English sparkling wine is on something of a roll at the moment.

When it’s not trumping champagne in respected wine competitions, it’s gaining valuable PR by being served at high-profile state events such as Kate’n’Wills’ wedding and the banquet for Barrack Obama.

A further publicity boost came last week when HRH The Duchess of Cornwall was announced as the new President for the UK Vineyards Association.

Camilla’s father Major Bruce Shand was a wine merchant and thus has form on the wine front. She has visited both Camel Valley in Cornwall and Denbies in Surrey lately, on both occasions voicing admiration for the quality of the wines.

On the latter visit she also touched on a subject that is currently vexing many a producer of English fizz when she pronounced that it was ‘annoying’ that English sparkling wine couldn’t be called champagne, ‘when it is champagne’.

Camilla was doubtless referring to the style of quality of the best English fizz being more than a match for champagne, and in this sense you can’t help but salute her proud championing of the UK fizz cause.

But the issue is all in the name.

You can’t call English fizz ‘champagne’ because that term is reserved for wines produced in the region of Champagne in France. Yet the name ‘champagne’ is hugely valuable, because it doesn’t just act as an identifying feature – it also carries overtones of luxury, hedonism, aspiration and celebration. It’s an incredibly powerful brand that can be used by producers all across a diverse region to justify ambitious pricing and convey immediate prestige.

And now English sparkling wine producers are wringing their hands about whether they could or should have a name to rival that of champagne – and if so, what it might be.

One proposal is for the term ‘Britagne’ (prounounced ‘Britannia’) to be adopted – as espoused by the recently launched pink fizz from Coates & Seely.

Another is for ‘Merret’ to be used, after Christopher Merret, who first documented the process of making sparkling wine by adding sugar to base wine in a sealed glass bottle in 1662, thus pre-dating any French reference to the technique.

Both of which are decent ideas but flawed suggestions from the start.

To begin with, both terms are already used by individual producers (Merret is used by Ridgeview) which immediately deters others from jumping on the bandwagon.

What’s more, Britagne is not only confusing in terms of its pronunciation but it sounds dangerously like corporate committee speak – think: Diageo, Accolade, Glera… (Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrène has also memorably described it as ‘a cross between Britvic and Pomagne’). Finally, it’s just a bit nebulous – Champagne works because it not only has a lovely sound, it also happens to be rooted in the land: it’s the name of a specific area in France. Britagne has no such roots.

The problem in the UK is that fizz producers are located all over England and Wales so a geographic term is unlikely to work for everyone.

Wine critic and champagne expert Tom Stevenson has suggested the term ‘Original British Method’. (You can read his logic in this blog.) To paraphrase, Tom believes that any term adopted for UK fizz should focus on the fact that the documentary evidence suggests the English were the first to systematically produce sparkling wine by re-fermentation in bottle. (This was primarily because the English glass-making industry was more advanced than elsewhere, enabling them to produce bottles that wouldn’t explode from the high pressures that fizzy wine exerts on its container.)

It’s an ingenious idea to focus on the method rather than the origin, and it’s undeniably a fine phrase. There’s no reason at all why it shouldn’t be put to use. But it still seems somehow second-division in a way – as if it should be on the bottles, but in a supporting role rather than a headlining one…

So we come on to the real issue. Which is, if there is a catchy, punchy term that would work for all high-quality English sparkling wine, what is it? Alternatively, maybe there’s no need for any such term at all, and this debate is merely a storm in a wine glass that means little or nothing to wine drinkers.

This is where you come in.

The prize of an exclusive bottle of English rosé fizz will go to whoever comes up with an inspired new name for English fizz – or whoever comes up with the best reason not to have such a term.

The competition will be judged primarily by Jonica, who as an English sparkling wine producer clearly has an interest in the outcome, with Susie and me in a supporting capacity. Answers can be submitted by Twitter (@wineschools), Facebook, commenting on this article (as below) or by emailing us or Jonica. Terms and conditions as below.

Good luck!

Competition terms & conditions:

Entrants must live in the UK and be aged 18 or over. Proof of age will be required prior to despatch. One prize only is offered as specified. No substitutions will be made. Delivery will be after July 1st 2012 and before October 1st 2012.  Competition closing date is September 1st 2011. The winner will be announced at a time of the judges’ choosing. No correspondence will be entered into. The judges’ decision is final.