The new English sparkling wine for Saga's Britannia Club members

Ben Gibson / 02 June 2016

Move over champagne, there’s a new fizz popping up on Saga’s ships, and this one’s produced right here in Britain. Ben Gibson takes a look at – and sip of – this fruity pink beauty.

Members of the Britannia Club (a loyalty club for regular guests on Saga’s small ships) are used to getting a free bottle of champagne on every cruise. Waiting for them in their cabin on arrival, it’s the perfect way to settle in to life on the ocean waves.

But from now on, Club members will notice that the bubbly has changed colour, and even country, as instead of the famous French fizz, they can now pop the cork of a premium English sparkling wine – Balfour rosé. And it’s something really rather special.

Made by the Hush Heath Winery, which occupies a 400-acre estate in Staplehurst, Kent – right in the heart of the ‘Garden of England’ – it has a strong provenance. They’ve been producing wines and ciders for over a decade, using only fruit grown close to the winery, and are champions for the burgeoning British wine industry. In fact, I was surprised to learn that our own sparkling wines picked up 14 Gold medals in the renowned International Wine Challenge last year. Suddenly it seems British wines are earning the respect they deserve.

Saga are passionate about sourcing locally-produced food and beverages for their cruise ships, so the time seemed perfect to make the switch. And the wine joins other ‘Best of British’ products used on board such as English Tregothnan tea and an exclusive line of Citras toiletries, produced in London.

When it came to choosing the exact wine from the Hush Heath Winery, there was only one group of people Saga could trust with the job – the Britannia Club members themselves! And it was a sunny day last June when selected members enjoyed a tasting experience at the estate – walking through the apple orchards and ancient oak woodland was sure to work up a thirst! Saga Cruises’ own Hotel Operations Director, Horst Pint, was also there to talk about the company’s plans for promoting local produce. In the winery itself all the different blends were sampled, and there was a clear winner – the red-labelled bottles of Balfour 1503 Sparkling Pinot Noir.

And what a good choice it is. This very wine was the first English sparkling wine to be served to First Class passengers flying with British Airways, and is also enjoyed by rail travellers aboard Belmond British Pullman trains (formerly known as the Orient Express). Produced using 100% Pinot Noir grapes using the same method as champagne, it’s described by the makers as “fresh with hints of red fruits, raspberry and damson, with well-balanced acidity”, and is an unusual, fun and refreshing aperitif.

Terry Wiseman, purchasing manager of Saga Cruises said “Saga has developed its award-winning cruise business by listening to what our customers want – and the selection of wines is no exception. So we’re delighted to establish this partnership with the Hush Heath Estate. It’s what our loyal Club members wanted in their cabins – and we’re more than happy to deliver.”

To become a member of the Britannia Club, all you need to do is sail on Saga’s own ships for a minimum of 35 nights – something people can usually achieve after two or three cruises. Then membership is free, and lasts a lifetime. Just some of the benefits members enjoy include cocktail parties, a regular newsletter, exclusive discounts – and of course the free bubbly in your cabin on every cruise. We’ll say cheers to that!

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