English Wine Backstory
10 years ago, people had nothing but derogatory remarks to make about English wine. This reputation wasn’t unfair; it was generally a poorly-produced product of hobby wine-makers.
Astonishing progress has been made in the last decade. The area under vine has increased substantially, and there are now over 500 commercial vineyards run by industry professionals. English sparkling wines — which account for 70% of our wine production — are winning international awards; this has caught the attention of leading Champagne house Taittinger, who in 2015 bought farmland in Kent. Quite a compliment.
English Wine on the map
The best regions for viticulture are along the southern coast of England, stretching from Cornwall to Kent, where the climate is slightly warmer and drier. The continual rise of average annual temperatures, thanks to global warming, mean that issues with grapes ripening are far less prevalent and have lead to much better tasting wine. One positive out of our climate crisis at least.
Typical grape varieties (cool-climate suitable) grown in England
BACCHUS - Named after the Roman god of wine, this is England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. It’s typically aromatic and citrusy with hints of floral and herbaceous notes.
PINOT NOIR, PINOT MEUNIER, CHARDONNAY - The three primary grape varieties used for champagne produced using the traditional method, as well as English sparkling wine. Pure Chardonnay white wines are also good. Sadly, England still has much improvement to make on our Pinot Noir reds, which are generally poor quality as our climate is still too cold and inconsistent to sufficiently ripen the grapes.
REICHENSTEINER - The fifth most planted variety in England, Reichensteiner is a high-acid grape variety sometimes used as a component in our sparkling wines.
ORTEGA - An early-ripening white crossing of Muller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe developed in Germany, the grapes produce peach-like aromas and are typically made into orange and sweet wines.
5 recommended wineries
Visiting a winery (or several) makes for a great day out and its harvest season right now so there’s lots to see! Most wineries offer vineyard tours and tastings at the very least. Luckily, if you’re based in London it’s an easy trip to Surrey, Sussex or Kent, where many of England’s finest wineries are located. Here are my recommendations:
Tillingham, East Sussex — This is the only certified biodynamic winery in England and has a hugely progressive approach, yet still champions ancient wine-making traditions. They have just opened a beautiful wine shop, restaurant and hotel in a stunning location with views out to the fortified, hill-top town of Rye and the sea. Couldn’t praise more highly.
Harrow & Hope, Buckinghamshire — Dedicated to expressing the unique terroir of their single vineyard in the focussed production of solely Traditional Method Sparkling Wines
Chapel Down, Kent — One of England’s leading winemakers, Chapel Down produces a world-class range of sparkling and still wines. They have an innovative approach, creating England’s first Orange Bacchus and England’s first single varietal Albariño.
Forty Hall Vineyard, North London — London's only commercial-scale vineyard, certified organic, is a social enterprise in which profits from sales are put back into the project, enabling them to them to deliver health and wellbeing benefits to their local community.
Lyme Bay, Devon — A small, dedicated West Country company passionate about producing delicious and award-winning English wines, fruit wines, ciders, meads and liqueurs using secret blends of local ingredients and traditional recipes.
How can you get your hands on it?
Waitrose & Partners stock a limited but good selection.