ENGLISH SPARKLING WINE – THE JAVEA CONNECTION!
Javea, that three-part harmony of a town, on the Costa Blanca, which nestles between the, historically, more famous, Denia, and the ever more chic, Moraira, is famous for the sum of its parts.
El Pueblo, affectionately referred to by the Brits as, the Old Town, sits atop a hill, whose crowning glory is its blue and white tiled church dome overseeing: the indoor market, the tranquil plaza and a labyrinth of donkey-wide, sloping, atmospheric streets; El Puerto, with its tide-smoothed pebble beach, lovely marine walk and cool shops; plus, of course, La Playa Arenal, whose golden sands and palm trees look out onto the fabulous turquoise coloured bay.
However, Javea can also lay claim, in part at least, to have had a hand in the rise, and rise of English Sparkling Wine! A past, long time resident of Javea, Anton Massel, now located in Germany, I think, was actually instrumental in starting the now burgeoning English (and Welsh) Sparkling Wine industry!
Anton, a friend, colleague and business partner of mine some 15 years ago is well known amongst wine types on the Costa Blanca as the founder of the Costa Blanca Wine Society. A renowned, oft published wine writer, and wine-maker and consultant of his time, he also had a fine reputation in Germany and other western European countries. Plus, although I didn’t know it until I walked into the head offices of the International Wine & Spirits Competition several years ago, for my first appearance on the judging panel, Anton Masel was also the founder of the IWSC, still one of the three most prestigious international wine competitions!
English Sparkling Wine was first produced in about 1955 – the history is murky. Wine production in the UK, historically the preserve of monasteries and noblemen, had virtually died out between the two World Wars, certainly on a commercial scale, and there were only a few who had the wherewithal and the courage to restart. Most wines were made with German varieties, considered hardy enough to withstand the British climate, albeit in the south of England, and Wales. And almost invariably they were still wines.
Fast forward a couple of decades and enter our hero Anton Massel who was working as wine consultant and wine-maker for Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones who had readily agreed to Anton’s suggestion that they make a traditional method Sparkling Wine using the Champagne variety, Chardonnay, of which Sir Guy had some modest plantings. The experiment was a success and others took note, though it wasn’t until the late 80s that a new generation of winemakers began to eschew the hardy Muller Thurgau, Reichensteiner and La Seyval varieties in favour of Chardonnay (following Anton’s pioneering work), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meurnier.
There followed a number of successes in wine competitions and especially at the IWSC in 1992 and again in 1998.
Readers will perhaps have heard of, and sampled(?), Nytember the English Sparkling Wine that started to win glory at blind international fizz tastings, competing against Champagne and top Cava, in the 2000s. Nowadays, Chapel Down, Furleigh, Ridge View, Langham and many others are up there competing for the gongs.
Indeed, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, turned over part of her Great Windsor Estate to the planting of vines in 2011, the resulting sparkling wines were made available at the start of 2017. The 3,000 bottle only production was put on the market by Laithwaites, in fact in a three-bottle presentation case priced at only 75 pounds – which, as you might imagine, sold out immediately!
English Sparkling Wine is served on BA First Class flights and a recent directive to all the British Embassies across the world stated that English Sparkling Wine must be served to visiting dignitaries!
So cheers to Anton, and cheers to Javea too!