Winegrowers Supplies  -  Vine varieties for Sparkling wine

Suitable varieties come from the 'neutral' group: fresh, neutral wines with fine delicate bouquet. Other varieties, with stronger flavours and aromas, do not produce good Sparkling wine. As well as suitable flavour a variety must retain a high acidity.

Mid-season harvest:-

      Reichensteiner: has been used in England with some success, it has good ripeness and acidity but has a very slight 'muscat' flavour which means it is not ideal.

Mid-season to late harvest:-

      Auxerrois: loses acidity quickly as it ripens so is not ideal.

      Freisamer: a Pinot gris crossing. Trials in Germany, on the upper Mosel, have produced a methode champenoise which is indistinguishable from fine Champagne. I have used some Freisamer grapes in my own Exmoor Brut, blended with Pinot noir.

      Orion: I've not heard of this being used for Sparkling wine but I can imagine it would be interesting.

      Pinot blanc: has a much thinner taste than the other Pinots, and ripens slightly later, so there is no point in growing it.

      Pinot gris: more than a century ago it was grown in Champagne, but faded out because of the relatively low yield. With modern clones/selections giving higher yields it is the equal of Pinot noir. My first experimental Sparkling wine was from a small quantity of our 1987 vintage Pinot gris, I took the base wine to a top producer on the Ober-Mosel who made it into one of the finest 'champagnes' I've ever tasted.

      Pinot meunier: the third Champagne variety, grown for quantity. The stronger flavour is too coarse to produce really fine Sparkling wine.

      Pinot noir: the most delicious Champagnes are made from Pinot noir, those from the Bouzy Grand Cru in particular; 'blanc de noirs' or 'oeil de Perdrix' (partridge eye).
      I remember tasting my 1990 Exmoor Brut (Pinot noir and Freisamer) with Warren Randall (at the time he was the top Australian Sparkling wine maker), he thought it could have had more acidity than the 9.5 g/l !
      Clones that are grown in Champagne are selected for their high yield; not the small berries and low yields that are sought by red wine makers.

Late harvest:-

      Seyval blanc: used in England with great success; however, these wines generally have relatively low acidity and are not like Champagne in character.

      Chardonnay: very particular about the soil it is grown in, chalk/limestone is really necessary to produce the correct flavour; in red sandstone or clay it does not taste good.
      In the early 1990's I made Quality Sparkling Wine for a vineyard at Newport in south Wales, the grapes had a terrific lemon/citrus flavour even though they were very unripe (typically 48 °Oechsle and 24 g/l acidity!). Amazingly the wine was superb, 100 bottles were drunk at the opening celebration for the second Severn bridge.
      Personally I prefer the richer/riper 'bready' flavours of Pinot noir and Pinot gris.
Chardonnay has been planted in vast acreages in England in the past few years, which surprises me as is much later ripening than the Pinots; picking has to be into November, which is not an enjoyable time to harvest.

      Elbling: used on the Ober-Mosel and can produce a nice Sekt but the flavour is really too unripe.

      Riesling: widely used on the Mosel and in Luxembourg but really has too much flavour.

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