22.6.2022

4 Amazing English Wines

Written by Danielle Collard

White grapes

The British climate may not seem likely to produce the best wines and wineries on the Mediterranean or in other traditional wine-growing climes might feel like a safer bet. But with over five hundred growing vineyards in England and Wales, there is a healthy market with many award-winning products out there[1].

Is English wine any good? Opinions may vary, but experts have determined that some UK wines are world-beaters. So if some of these products are of indubitably high quality, then finding the right ones to enjoy is the trick.

Why is English wine so expensive?

There are a number of ways of answering this question. On the one hand, expensive can be interpreted as a product being poor value for money, and in this sense, English wine is not overpriced. There is some good quality wine in the English market, examples of which appear below.

However, many wine-lovers have been trained to judge value based on supermarket prices. Regular drinkers can expect to purchase a perfectly adequate wine bottle for the same price as a cheap restaurant meal, and few English wineries can match those prices.

The reason for this is the scale of English and Welsh operations. England produces a tiny fraction of the global supply, with much of the production coming from vineyards founded in the 21st century. These new enterprises cannot compete with the likes of the Italian wineries, which can grow and harvest on a far grander scale.

Where can I buy English wine?

Given that English wine will rarely be seen in supermarkets, this means specialist retailers are the go-to for those looking for English wines.

Camel Valley are a good example of an affordable vineyard with an online shop for their products[2]. However, there are also specialist retailers like Grape Brittanica which sells everything from white wine, reds, to the more popular sparkling, online and in-store[3].

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Is English sparkling wine as good as champagne?

It’s hardly worth delving into English wine without stressing that the majority of top-quality English vineyard produce will be sparkling. Of the 500 vineyards and 150 wineries, over 70% of grapes planted are of sparkling varieties, and 70% of those are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier[4].

Only recently has the world seen a rise in popularity and quality of English sparkling wine, despite its history being of similar length to the Champagne region. With some soils and climates in the country in a similar condition to Champagne, it’s not all too surprising. Perhaps, it’s more surprising that it’s taken this long for England’s sparkling product to appear on the map.

However, with some English bubbly coming out on top in blind tastings over Champagne, the verdict is certainly in: English sparkling wine can compete with its more famous French peers.

What is the best English sparkling wine?

With that settled, which of these British wines have distinguished themselves and solidified their position at the top? Here are some winners from the 2022 International Wine and Spirit Competition[5].

Hattingly Valley Wines Ltd

Growing in Hampshire by Emma Rice as recently as 2008, Hattingly Valley has swiftly risen to the top of the field (or rather vineyard), and have won produced numerous award-winning wines including a blanc de blancs brut and a classic reserve that took 90 and 92 points respectively from the IWSC[6]

Gusbourne Estate

Gusbourne are another English producer that only started out in the 21st century and have quickly risen to renown. Following their first planting in 2004, this Kentish vineyard have gone on to win multiple awards, including IWSC golds. Their Brut Reserve 2008 received a whopping 96 points from judges, and they continue to receive awards every year for both sparkling and still produce[7].

Langham Wine Estate

The Langham Estate 2018 Pinot Meunier Extra Brut took 93 points and silver placing from the IWSC 2022. The Langham Estate is in Dorset near Bingham Melcome, a listed estate that was acquired by the Langham family and in 2009 expanded its wine production into a commercial venture with excellent results.

Trends in English sparkling wine

These examples and the extended list of favoured sparkling wines do share a few things in common. The first is that they are all grown in Southern counties. This may not be a surprise, given that Southern England has the warmest climate in the UK, and very rich, chalky soil better suited to wine-growing than those further north.

Wine production has been taking place in Southern England for millennia, following its introduction when the Roman occupation of Britain began in 43 AD. Currently, over 85% of English wine production takes place in the South East and South West regions. 

Secondly, you’ll notice the prevalence of brut and extra brut among successful British bubblies. This trend is likely determined to the soil types more common in the English southern counties. The chalk, clay, and lime stone fruits soak-up nutrients though produce very different results depending on the type of wine being grown[8].

This has led to a strong tradition of dry English sparkling wine that will no doubt become the backbone of the industry as its reputation grows and the awards continue to flood in.

However, if you’re looking for a demi-sec or dolce to go with your English pudding (spotted dick, anyone?), there are perfectly respectable sweeter options out there.

Nyetimber Cuvée-Chérie demi-sec

Nyetimber of Sussex (another southern county), have a popular demi-sec, listed by Vivino as one of the hottest picks right now[9]. So some tropical fruit flavours are still available, though they may seem a little paradoxical when found in English wine.

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