The Best In English Wine

Posted on: 06 May 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

It’s English Wine Week between Saturday 26th May and Sunday 3rd June and there’s a lot to see and do to celebrate English wines across the country.


Look out for Devon Wine Week, where a host of activities are taking place in a number of the vineyards and outlets – with something going on every day during the week. Booths Supermarkets are hosting their own in store English Wine Week promotion. 

If you are in East Anglia, check out the Suffolk Show on Wednesday 30th and Thursday 31st May.  East Anglian vineyards will be out in force offering tastings and wine sales, accompanied by a sparkling wine and oyster bar. 

There are tastings and in store promotions galore at many outlets across the country. And of course – don’t forget the vineyards!  Many of them are opening their doors to welcome you, with special events, tours, tastings and offers on wines purchase.  A full listing is on the English Wine Week by region for easy reference.

Times have changed as the industry has matured, and today there's many a good English wine to be had.

Below, wine expert Theo Waugh runs you through the best of English wines.

English Wines

In the not so distant past when you were asked to describe English wines, a series of words beginning with the letter ‘e’ leapt instantly to mind.  Words such as ‘experimental’, ‘expensive’ and ‘extraordinary’ - and I don’t mean that in a good way! 

In fact about the only adjective beginning with e that you didn’t reach for, was the one you most wanted to use; ‘excellent’.  For a long time English wines were made on a small scale, from bizarre grape varieties by well-meaning amateurs who enthusiastically created wines that were, well, less than enthusiastically received.   These days however, with the benefit of serious investment, better site selection and a helping hand from global warming, English wines are getting to be seriously exciting.

Leading the English wine charge are the sparkling wines, many of which have got the Champenoise quaking in their silk-lined loafers.  Why?  Well because Sussex, Hampshire and swathes of Surrey and Kent lie on the same chalk as is found in Champagne.  Add to this a series of decent summers and, more importantly in this country, autumns, and you’ve perfect conditions for harvesting grapes that are just ripe, and thus full of the acidity that you need for any great sparkling wine. 

Top of this particular tree right now is the mighty Nyetimber 2000  Waitrose £24.69).  I would list this Sussex-stunner's awards, but frankly I haven’t enough space here!  At nearly £27 a bottle it isn't cheap, but when you consider the extraordinary (and I mean that in a good way!) quality of this wine and compare it to decent vintage Champagne at roughly double the money, it’s no surprise that it’s causing such a stir.

Somewhat more affordable and yet within an ace of being as good, is the lovely South Ridge 2005 (Laithwaites £14.99).  This has a touch more elegance in its styling, and the freshness puts one in mind of a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.  Packed with fresh tasting green apple, melon and white berry fruits, the South Ridge was sipped by the Queen and her guests on her eightieth birthday – high praise indeed!

English white wines have also made enormous strides of late.  Again this is largely to do with climate change which has allowed vineyard owners to move away from vines such as Seyval Blanc and Bacca 22a (a grape that tastes as lovely as its sounds!) to Chardonnay and Riesling.  Using grapes such as this, Three Choirs (Tesco £5.41) have created a lovely wine that oozes fruity notes of watermelon, citrus and apples and has a twist of herbs to the finish.  A brilliant summer wine, it makes for a refreshing change from Sauvignon or Chenin and will go down superbly with peppery salads, firm white fish and new season asparagus.

Denbies have long been regarded as the Godfathers of English wine and with their latest offering, the Cellarmaster’s Choice (Everywine £10.73) they’ve taken yet another leap forward.  Gloriously fragrant, the nose of honeysuckle and spice draws you into a wine that is packed with honey dipped melon, nectarine and tangy lemon tones.  Superb as a conversation-starting aperitif, it’ll partner all sorts of white meats wonderfully, and if you’re feeling indulgent, it would bring the nuances out in lobster.

English red wines are still, alas, thin on the ground and really, really good ones are rarer than an honest politician.  For exceptional reds, you need warmth and sun, and that we don’t quite have - yet!  That said there are some gems out there, ones made in select, well-exposed spots where the red skins can thicken and ripen. 

Just such a wine is the Bookers Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006  (Everywine £9.99).  Much of Bookers’ Pinot goes into their excellent fizz, but that which doesn’t goes into this wonderfully silken and refreshing red.  Loaded with blackberry and red currant fruit, this medium bodied cracker has a velvety texture and real complexity and interest.  Best served with food - anything from grilled salmon to roast lamb - it shows how much can be done in this country in the right spot, and gives an indication of how rosy the red future is looking.

Many vineyards in England are happy to accept visitors.  If you’d like to find out which are local to you, visit www.englishwineproducers.com/ukva.htm

Right, I’m off for another glass of Nyetimber.   

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