Mention English wine and most people think of fizz. But still wine production in England has also come a long way in the last 20 years, particularly in Kent, Surrey and Essex.
“With time comes experience, and as our wine producers learn what the optimum conditions are for growing vines, they will plant more and therefore produce more,” says Oz Clarke, wine expert and co-chair of the International Wine Challenge. “Last year a million vines were planted, and we're expecting the same again this year.”
If you like the look of any wines we’ve included in this round-up, you’d be wise to snap them up quickly. “Because English yields are much smaller than the likes of big wine-producing regions like France, Spain and Italy, the supply of vintages will be smaller,” explains Clarke. Indeed, one of the best wines that we wanted to include in our round-up – Astley Veritas 2015 from Worcestershire – had already sold out by the time we published.
Although whites and rosés are the most commonly produced wines in England, don’t rule out reds (around 10 per cent of the wines made here are red). “There's probably half a dozen really outstanding pinot noirs,” Clarke points out.
When buying still English wine, look for something young and don't be frightened of strange names like Bacchus or Siegerrebe, says Clarke. And don’t expect them to be cheap – English wine producers don’t receive any tax breaks like their European counterparts. Finally, don’t rule out certain geographical areas. “You can find fantastic wines as far up as Yorkshire, all the way down to Cornwall,” Clarke says.
(And if you are in fact after something with a bit of fizz, our round-up of the best sparkling English wines is coming soon.)
1. Camel Valley Bacchus Dry, 2015: £12.95, Camel Valley
If you’re after the ultimate white wine to complement seafood (especially oysters and clams), then look no further. This zesty, dry and intense, with the character of a sauvignon blanc and fruity, nettle aromas, won a gold medal in last year’s English Wine of the Year competition and a silver at this year’s International Wine Challenge. Made in the heart of Cornwall by the Lindo family, we think it will fly off the shelves this summer.
2. Bolney Wine Estate Pinot Noir, 2015: £15.99, Waitrose Cellar
England isn’t the first country you’d think of for producing decent red wine, especially pinot noir, which is pretty hard to grow anywhere with great success. But this award-winning, fragrant, medium-bodied and complex offering from Sussex knocks the socks off many Burgundy-grown pinot noirs. Packed with cherry and toasted oak flavours, it is an ideal match for cheese (especially baked camembert), mushroom risotto or game.
3. Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Estate Chardonnay, 2014: £19.99, Chapel Down
Kit's Coty is a superb vineyard nestled into Kent's North Downs near Maidstone, producing crops of Chardonnay to rival those of Chablis, according to Oz Clarke. “It has a brilliant, bright freshness, wrapped up in a warm cocoon of smooth crème fraiche and newly-baked bread, slathered with ripe apple puree,” he says. Indeed. A single estate, award-winning wine now in its second vintage, we reckon it goes best with white fish or chicken.
4. Oxney Organic English Pinot Noir Rosé 2016: £15, Oxney
This delicate, copper-pink wine has aromas of classic English summer fruits including strawberry, raspberry and cherry, while the palate is dry, creamy and complex with a lovely, clean finish. It comes from an East Sussex vineyard, six miles from Rye, that’s received no shortage of awards and accolades since its beginnings in 2012, with the amazing summer and even better Indian summer of 2016 making it one of the best yet for producing rosé. Enjoy with salads, seafood, tagines and (not too spicy) curries.
5. Giffords Hall Rosé, 2015: £13.99, Waitrose Cellar
A so-called “field blend” (because it’s not blended afterwards or macerated), this delicate, pale pink wine is made from mature Suffolk vines, some of which are 25 years old, giving it characteristics of rose garden perfume and a distinctive taste of summer fruits and sherbet. There’s only a tiny score of residual sugar, which gives it a crisp acidity, and this particular vintage has white peach flavours, with a smooth and velvety feel in the mouth. It’s astonishingly good with shellfish and salmon, and it’s the only UK rosé also available as a magnum.
6. Denbies Noble Harvest, 2015: £24.95, Denbies
This rich, golden, award-winning wine from Surrey is made from hand-picked ortega grapes, which are gently de-stemmed and crushed, then macerated and delicately pressed before being slowly fermented partly in French oak. You get a sumptuous whiff of dried apricot on the nose, with a taste of nectarines, and an elegant crisp finish – the ideal match for any caramelised pud (think tarte tatin), blue cheeses or Asian cuisine such as pad thai. Or, even better, try it with a rich, course pate.
7. Lyme Bay Chardonnay, 2015: £16.69, Lyme Bay
This full-bodied and dry white wine from the maritime region of east Devon has wonderfully seasonal aromas of honey, pineapple and peach. On the mouth, you get stone fruit flavours coming through and a creamy, buttery texture that’s balanced by a touch of pineapple from the bacchus grapes. Only serve it lightly chilled so as not to kill off all the elegance. Pairing suggestions include chicken, salami, olives, mushrooms, truffles, calamari and soft or smoked cheese.
8. Halfpenny Green Tom Hill, 2014: £9.99, Waitrose Cellar
This well-rounded and elegant Staffordshire-produced dry white wine goes beautifully with poultry and seafood. With subtly tropical floral and fruity aromas, it has a slightly honeyed taste which is balanced with a crunchy acidity and lingering citrusy finish. It’s made in one of the largest vineyards in England, which boasts 30 acres of vines (plus a restaurant, deli and tea room), which is well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.
9. Sixteen Ridges Pinot Noir Early Red, 2015: £14, Once Upon a Tree
Roast a leg of lamb or cook a crispy duck and get out your best wine glasses for this well-rounded wine that has a great balance of fruitiness, earthiness and spiciness. You get black cherry, strawberry and vanilla both on the nose and palate, with a subtle, lingering oak finish. Made by innovative winemaker Simon Day, who was brought up on an English vineyard, this wine comes from his south-facing Sixteen Ridges vineyard in Worcestershire, which he planted in 2007. The 2014 vintage (pictured) has sold out, but the 2015 is on its way.
10. Danebury Madeleine Angevine, 2013: £12, Danebury
Angevine is an early-ripening grape that hails from the Loire Valley in France, but is becoming a firm favourite among British producers, thanks to the delicate and aromatic white wine that it produces. With this one, from Hampshire, there’s a floral and citrusy aroma and a zesty fruitiness – including grapefruit, lime and peach – on the palate that’s balanced with a fresh, clean elegance. It all combines to make this pale yellow wine a delicious aperitif and perfect pairing for seafood, charcuterie and salads.
11. Hush Heath Nannette’s English Rosé, 2016: £15, Hush Heath
Named after the Kent-based winemaker Richard Balfour-Lynn’s youngest daughter Nannette, this pale, salmon pink rosé is a blend of three-quarters pinot noir and meunier, with one quarter chardonnay, created in the same conditions as champagne. The upshot is a stunning, medium-bodied, crisp wine with lively notes of strawberries and apple on the nose and hints of pear and citrus fruits coming through in the mouth. Great for drinking on its own or with any summer cuisine, especially chicken, pork and fish.
12. Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc 2015: £11.50, The Wine Society
A classy, fresh and vibrant pinot blanc made by an ex-Formula 1 engineer, this wine has aromas of elderflower, pear, sherbet and a hint of pepper, with distinctive flavours of apple and lime in the mouth. From a small vineyard on the South Downs in west Sussex, it’s medium-bodied and goes a treat with crustacea and goat’s cheese.
13. Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve, 2015: £12.50, Sharpham
A good one for sauvignon blanc fans, this is light and crisp with hints of grass and citrus. The partial ageing in American oak gives it a nice roundedness that makes it good for drinking on its own or with foods such as pasta dishes, seafood and shell fish. If you like it, do try the other wines from this south Devon vineyard – and visit too if you can, especially for al fresco lunch in the summer.
14. Litmus Element 20, 2012: £16.99, Waitrose
The 20th element of the Periodic Table is calcium, which is a key nutrient when it comes to growing quality wine grapes - thus, the name of this wine. “What a fantastic idea to underline the abundance of marine fossils in the soil, and to highlight the silky flavours of this wine,” says Francesco Gabriele, wine director at the Chewton Glen hotel, who rates this as one of his top three still English wines. It combines chardonnay (“elegant and versatile”, says Gabriele), pinot gris (“the best wine for food pairing”) and bacchus (“clean and crisp to refresh and rinse the palate”). We’re equally impressed with the delicate fruit accompanied by a mineral feeling, which lingers beautifully and goes well with prawn dishes, mozzarella and aubergine.
The Verdict: English still wines
Camel Valley Bacchus Dry tops our recommendations for still English white wines for this summer, while our favourite rosé is Oxney Organic English Pinot Noir Rosé. The English red that gets our top vote is Bolney Wine Estate Pinot Noir.
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