On Sunday 9thSeptember in a field on the outskirts of a small village in Derbyshire, under a still-warm sun in the golden light of an early autumn afternoon a seminal moment in the history of wine happened. Now, if you blinked you may have missed it but for those that were there, a handful of villagers, one or two who travelled far from across the border from neighbouring Nottinghamshire, passports stamped, and the handpicked judges of great note, this was an earth-shattering day to remember. The day that English wine prevailed over Champagne in a closely fought battle to for the hearts and palates of Wessington, the right to be called the winner of the Judgement of Wessington.
Our Judges and the lineup.
We gathered to inspect the line-up, Jean-Claude Schmitt and William Armitage Jn. independent merchants from The French Wine People in Matlock, flying the flag for Champagne, added some very fine wines to the table from the Houses of Jose-Michel et Fils and Champagne Lalier, making the line-up from France all the more formidable. One of my favourite Champagnes was already there Deutz, a blanc de blanc 2008, a fragrant, layered and complex Champagne, along with another I knew was a very good drop, which was Champagne Premier Cru from the Tesco’s Finest range. Now some may turn your noses up at that but I kid you not, it’s good and you need to be alive to that.
Soon Sir Richard Fitzherbert (of local radio and Tissington Hall fame) turned up, a former wine merchant who knows a good drop, he was fresh back from Drum Hill Scouts camp shepherding and corralling scouts all day and was probably in need of a ‘tasting’ of fine fizzes. The last of our judges soon joined us, straight from work no less at Majestic, clutching some great English wines to add to the line-up Andrij Jurkiw, also writes and reviews English wines for the well-known blog site Great British Wines. He added Wiston Estate, Exton Park and Majestic’s own Hampshire Parcel Series to the line up. This was going to be good. The others were put in the line-up by myself, including ones from my precious personal collection like the Chapel Down Pinot Reserve and the Deutz.
The aim of the line-up was accessible wines; ones that folks can get from their local merchant or even supermarket. Nowadays, pleasingly and depending where you live, you can get these perhaps from your friendly local vineyard. Long may that trend grow and prosper!
Andie, Taste the Seasons editor and seasoned wine drinker adjudicated the event and prepped the blind tastings along with me. The line up of 13 wines was ready. Settling down to judge with spittoons at their elbows, our esteemed panel were ready and the tasting commenced with much sniffing, sloshing and spitting. Brows became furrowed in deep thought and a quiet descended as the panel went into deep contemplative concentration. Wines were quietly poured, fresh glasses issued from time to time, whilst pens scratched at paper, intelligent notes were made, legible lines described the wines being judged and points were awarded.
Outside, I gathered a handpicked people’s choice panel of the assembled public viewers. Who would’ve thought that wine judging could be a spectator sport – one for the Olympics committee to consider perhaps? And, again blind, they tasted the wines. I can only tell you, perhaps because the spittoons were not used and seemingly larger than normal ‘tastings’ were poured, that the results were ‘inconclusive’. Andie did most of the pouring’s.
As the afternoon raced towards fading light the judging had concluded and the results were announced in a live stream to a Facebook audience by Andie. The ranking was as follows….
1st Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004 ESW
2nd Wiston Estate Brut Cuvee 2013 ESW
3rd (joint) Champagne Premier Cru Tesco Finest F.CH.
Hambledon Premiere Cuvee ESW
Champagne Jose-Michel et Fils F.Ch.
4th Champagne Lalier F.Ch.
5th Champagne Deutz 2008 Blanc de Blanc F.Ch.
6th Exton park Blanc de Blanc 2011 ESW
7 Hampshire Parcel Series 25 – Majestic EWS
8 Louis Pommery NV EWS
9 Prosecco – Tesco Finest N/A
10 English Sparkling Hush Heath Estate. Tesco Finest ESW
11 Chapel Down Classic NV Brut ESW
The scores were interesting, out of the top six scores (a total of seven wines, with three scoring at joint third) the top two were English: Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004 and Wiston Estate Brut Cuvee 2013. Joint third was Tesco Finest Champagne Premier Cru, and Champagne Jose-Michel et Fils, the first two champagnes showing well in the judging, along with Hambledon Premiere Cuvee, the third and final wine in the top six scorers. The curveball or wild card in the line-up was Tesco Finest Prosecco, which came out in ninth place, probably expected. Overall there were no bad wines and all the judges commented that it was a hard line-up to judge.
Comments picked up by the winning wine, the Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004, were ‘gold colour,’ ‘aged honeyed nose’ with complex honey, brioche, lemon, ripe peach and biscuit coming through on the palate. All the judges rated this one very highly.
The second place winner, Wiston Estate Brut Cuvee 2013, was described as complex, with brioche and orange peel on the nose, a fruit driven wine with a good mousse. For those that were trying to pin down origin suggested this was Champagne.
As I said, there were no bad wines on the list, far from it, even the Prosecco (the wild card) was a good one, but there is always a last in any line up and that slot went to another offering from Chapel Down, their Classic NV. As our wise adjudicator Andie, commented, “Wine was the winner.”
This was a glorious and memorable afternoon. And, who knows, maybe this event will become an annual affair – a key date in the UK wine calendar – judging wines on the edge of the beautiful Peak District overlooking the Amber Valley. Why not!