One of the many joys of a functional, successful, and patriotic national carrier must be the opportunity to showcase what your country is doing best and sharing it with travellers through the skies and across the world. One airline doing a remarkable job is British Airways (BA).
. Jackson brings with him a veritable encyclopaedia of vinous knowledge, being one of only 416 masters of wine around the world, along with a passion to highlight the often-overlooked category of English sparkling wine while celebrating the wines of BA destinations — including South Africa.
When it comes to English fizz, the areas Jackson is looking at are Kent, Hampshire, and Sussex — all of which straddle the same geological seam of chalk found in Champagne, France. This seam is the source of the distinctive chalky soils for which the Champagne and Burgundy regions are renowned. The (increasingly) warmer temperatures of the south of England are proving well suited to grape ripening. So, if, in France, the terroir can produce outstanding wine and the climate is suitable for grape ripening, why not in the UK too? At least, that’s what a handful of producers have bet on for the past 30-odd years, planting champagne-variety vineyards in these chalky soils.
For the expert, it’s a category that only really hit its stride in 2018. “That was the turning point for English sparkling wine. It was then that we began seeing the production of wines of both high quantity and quality,” says Jackson.
Five years on, the wine master has taken the reins at BA’s wine lists and is quite literally taking English sparkling wine to new heights. So successful has the move been that the most recent on-board offering was consumed well ahead of projections. “Enjoying a glass of fine bubbles in the air is a quintessential part of the first- and business-class flying experience, and we’re proud to include these true British originals on our lists,” he adds.
In terms of on-board offerings, he notes that he tends to look for wine with a bit more fruit — in the air, your olfactory senses are dulled, so a bit more sweetness is needed to get the same sensation as on the ground. As a result, he works closely with the wineries to ensure a product that tastes as good on board as it does on terra firma.
When it comes to Club World, the carrier’s long-haul luxury business-class offering, the menu will see a cycle of sparkling wines changing throughout the year. Where previously you’d find a second champagne on the list, now there’s an English sparkling. The master of wine has tapped five wineries for these prestigious spots.
Hattingley Valley, in Hampshire, which produced a blanc de noir in collaboration with the airline for its centenary, is one British sparkle you can expect in first class. The 2018 vintage, golden in colour with a slightly pink hue and a delicate mousse, offers red apple skins and summer fruit on the nose, along with aromas of freshly baked pastry. These follow on to the palate, where the notes are accompanied by a racy acidity, brightness, and crystalline nature.
Digby Fine English Brut NV is the product of a négociant-style winery that sourced grapes from Hampshire and Sussex to create the first wine for Club World. Golden and with a delicate mousse, the wine is a racy yet sophisticated expression of English sparkling. On the nose you can expect honeysuckle, baked apples, red stone fruit, and a touch of flint, followed by a generous palate with that signature English sparkling acidity, superb tension, and glorious salinity.
Balfour Winery on Hush Heath Estate in Kent was the first to produce an English sparkling rosé and it’s this that is showcased on board, with the dosage tailored for optimum enjoyment. A beautiful pale onion-skin colour, the wine has a fine mousse with aromas of delicate florals, red berry fruits, and mineral notes. The palate is equally expressive, delivering an abundance of raspberries and strawberries with cream, along with more savoury umami notes, a steely acidity, and a lovely texture.
Simpsons Wine Estate’s Chalklands Classic Cuvée is a non-vintage grown on the chalky terroir of Kent’s North Downs. Pale gold with notes of rich ripe orchard fruit, apple blossoms, and baked apple pie, the nose leads to a rich and complex palate with a beautiful mouthfeel and fresh, racy acidity. Wiston Estate, a vineyard on the South Down hills of Sussex, serves up a brut non-vintage. The beautiful estate (with South African roots by virtue of matriarch Pip Goring) has an elegant and expressive bubbly that mingles the freshness of green apple and ripe lemon with notes of freshly baked biscuits — a wonderful balance of zesty freshness and the complexity of maturity.
These are all stunning additions to the wine list, giving the world a taste of this emerging, proudly British wine category. So, next time you’re heading abroad with BA, raise a glass of the best of British.
• From the 2023/2024 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.