Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited Denbies wine estate this week with her husband Prince Charles. Denbies is the largest vineyard in England and is located in a valley south of London. Three hundred thousand vines cover the valley’s chalk hillsides – part of a seam that runs under the English Channel to form the White Cliffs of Dover and under the Champagne city of Reims where it has been mined to create maturation cellars for the sparkling wine of the region.
Camilla, whose father Major Bruce Shand was a wine merchant, knows her wines. When she tasted Denbies Cubitt Reserve 2006 sparkling wine she exclaimed "It's so annoying not to be able to call it champagne, when it is champagne."Cubitt Reserve is named after one of Camilla's forebears, developer Thomas Cubitt who built the upmarket London area of Belgravia. The wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir and is bottle fermented in the traditional Champagne method.
So is Camilla correct? Here we have a wine made from in the same way as Champagne, from the same grape variety, on the same chalk outcrop just 275 miles from Reims, so why shouldn’t it be called champagne?
Daily Telegraph Consumer Editor Harry Mount thinks the restriction on the use of the name champagne is a ‘charade’. He writes that the champagne-makers are “desperate to hold on to an exclusivity that helps to justify the vast mark-up on inferior champagne over other – much better – sparkling wines.”
As a consumer I think he is wrong.
There is a meaning behind the wine name Champagne that means much more than a wine that has bubbles. The entire process of making Champagne is controlled from the area that can be used to grow the vines, which vines can be grown, how they are planted, how they are picked and how much can be produced, how the wine is made, and how long it is matured for.
There is no doubt that there are sparkling wines made elsewhere that are as good or better than Champagne — and they should revel in their quality and be proud of what they are. Why would they want to shelter under the name of another drink?
If I order Champagne I am asking for more than any wine with bubbles, I am asking for a wine made in a certain way from a certain place and I should be served it. Otherwise the logic is if I order a Pinot Noir I can be given a Malbec because they are both red wines, or if I order veal I can be served pork because they are both white meats.
Names mean something and the only people who benefit by blurring those meanings are cheats who want to pass off something cheaper or inferior at the price of the more expensive name.
Do you agree with Camilla or me? Discuss on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.