Wine snobs who never took English wine seriously are now slowly but surely changing their minds. And how could they not? English sparkling wines are vividly fresh, full of enchanting flavours of orchard fruit and show a pronounced mineral character, so valued in the best Champagne.
It is no secret that part of the recent success of English wine is due to global warming. Another lucky card for the English winemakers is the soil. Ever seen the iconic white cliffs along the English coast line? Well, those are part of an ancient band of chalk that stretches down to France and into some of the world’s top winemaking regions. Believe it or not, Burgundy, Loire Valley and Champagne all share the same type of chalky limestone soil as Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. At the same time, local winemakers have gradually learnt to tackle the notorious English weather (still challenging, despite global warming). As a result, UK is becoming an exciting new destinations in the world of wine, while English sparkling is winning international awards and beating some major Champagne houses. Discover our range of English wines from award-winning producers.Browse English wines
ENGLISH WINE HISTORY
English Wine In The Roman Times
Even though modern English winemaking is a relatively new thing, wine has actually been produced in the British Isles since the 1st Century. The Romans, who conquered these lands in AD 43, brought and planted the first vines. And they sure liked their wine! In fact, wherever Roman villas and garrisons have been excavated, parts of wine amphorae and drinking cups have been discovered.
Decline Of The English Winemaking
In the 6th Century, with the spread of Christianity, monks established new vineyards – they needed wine for Church rituals. For a period of time, wine production was relatively stable. However, it all changed with the advent of the plague in the 14th Century when one third of the population was wiped out.
The next thing that hit the English winemaking was the Dissolution of Monasteries. In 1536 King Henry VIII disbanded Catholic monasteries priories, convents, and friaries and expropriated their income. Consequently, England’s viticulture fell into a sort of Dark Age.
English feast – Detail from Bayeux Tapestry, 11th Century.
At the same time, England’s trade with other regions grew. As a result, home produced wines faced, as they do today, considerable competition. From the mid-1300s, Great Britain became renowned not for winemaking, but for its expertise in selecting, importing and cellaring wine. In fact, many of the world’s finest wine regions, such as Bordeaux, Port, Madeira and Heres own their international fame to English merchants, sailors and, sometimes, pirates.
English Wine In The 20th Century
It wasn’t until post World War II in the mid-1950’s and 60’s that commercial viticulture in England showed the first signs of revival. In 1946, Ray Barrington Brock established a research station in Oxted, Surrey. The goal was to determine the most suitable grapes for local conditions. Brock brought and tested vine cuttings from all over the world and built up a collection of grape varieties that were to become the backbone of the English and Welsh wine industry.
In 1951, the first commercial vineyard of modern times was planted – Hambledon in Hampshire. However, the real English wine boom started in the late 1960s.
Today, with about 1,600 ha of vineyards and more than 450 producers, winemaking is the fastest growing agricultural sector in the country. Of course, growing grapes in England and Wales is still challenging. Nevertheless, with the winemakers’ expertise and the climate shift, UK-made wines, particularly English sparkling, have earned their place in the pantheon of the world’s finest.
English Sparkling Wine
Unsurprisingly, the most popular grape varieties grown in England and Wales are the same as the ones cultivated in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These are often blended together, just as they are in Champagne, to produce fine English sparkling.
Even the winemaking method is the same as the one used in Champagne. This involves a long and complex process of two fermentations, with the second one happening in the bottle – in order to obtain beautiful fine bubbles. The method is known as ‘Traditional’ or ‘Classic’. It is used to produce the highest quality sparkling wines in the world. Notably, an average bottle of Traditional Method sparkling wine will not be released for five years from the year the grapes were picked. That is how much work goes into it.
English sparkling wines receive constant praise for their vibrant palate and complex aromas of fruit, flowers, chalk, brioche and custard cream. However, some note-worthy still wines are also produced in the country. Particularly, the whites. Refreshing and aromatic they are a feast for the palate, especially when they are made of Bacchus, another signature grape of the English winemaking.
Conversely, reds are a more difficult case, as the red grapes generally need more sun to ripen properly. However, Pinot Noir grape seems to have adjusted to the local climate. In good vintage years, it makes juicy fresh red wines with an array of fruit aromas.
English WINE REGIONS
The best English wine regions are spread along the southern strip of England’s coast, from Cornwall to Kent. Here, the temperatures are slightly warmer and there is less rain. Wales has also considerably benefited from the climate change in recent years and boasts a growing number of boutique wineries.
Located in the southeastern part of England, Sussex is one of the sunniest regions in the whole country. With more than 700 hectares of vineyards, this county has the biggest concentration of vines in the United Kingdom. The landscape here is dominated by the iconic South Downs, but the limestone chalk soils stretch far beyond these white cliffs. Sussex wines are often described as chalky, flint and possessing a strong mineral character.
Kent is another sunny and warm (to English standards) part of the UK. This county has been long known as the “Garden of England” – due to many orchards and agricultural fields found here. The White Cliffs of Dover form the coastline of Kent, so, once again, here we find chalky soils and a pronounced mineral character in wines. In addition, Kent wines are known for aromas of apples, pears, and elderflower.
Surrey also receives enough sun and boasts soils made up of limestone chalk, with the remains of ancient marine fossils. Sheltered hills of this picturesque county have various microclimates and offer south-facing slopes for vines planting. As such, Surrey is home to England’s largest producers, as well as to a number of small family-run vineyards.
While not many may have tried Welsh wines, there has been a small wine revolution going on here in the last decade. The number of vineyards is rapidly growing and so is the quality of wines. There are now under 30 vineyards, from the island of Anglesey in the north, to the lush Vale of Glamorgan and the rolling hills of Monmouthshire in the south.
Bacchus is the signature white grape of English winemaking. It is often referred to as England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. This highly aromatic white grape makes bright and fresh wines with aromas of elderflowers, hedgerow and freshly cut grass… read more
Ortega grape was developed in Germany in 1948 by crossing two other local grapes, Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe. This white variety can withstand English weather and is capable of making charming aromatic still wines… read more
Pinot Noir is a red grape originating from Burgundy. There, this grape makes some of the greatest wines in the world. In addition, this acclaimed variety is one of the three main grapes used in Champagne. It is also the key grape for English sparkling wines… read more
Native to Burgundy, Chardonnay is one of the most popular and, perhaps, most loved grapes in the world. This noble variety is an important part of the Champagne blend. Similarly, Chardonnay constitutes the backbone of many English sparkling wines… read more
Pinot Meunier is a red grape originating from France. It is a mutation of the ancient Pinot variety. The latter also gave birth to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Meunier is the lesser known part of the sparkling blend in both Champagne and England… read more