If you live anywhere near a British vineyard, you may already be aware that it’s English Wine Week – you may even have been to visit one, given that there are now nearly 800 in the UK. And not just in the south-east, either. Although that region does account for almost two-thirds of all planting, grapes are grown all over the country these days – even as far north as Yorkshire.
The big story in English wine over the past few years has, of course, been sparkling wine, which accounts for 72% of all production, but thanks to an exceptionally good harvest in 2018, there are now also some remarkably good reds, pretty rosés, seriously burgundian chardonnays and even natural wines.
Kent, Sussex and Hampshire are the most feted English wine regions, but really good wines are also made in East Anglia (including Crouch Valley in Essex), Suffolk (I like Giffords Hall), the Chilterns (including my latest find, Harrow & Hope – see below), the Cotswolds and across the West Country. (In fact, the grapes for many English wines are sourced from more than one region: drier East Anglia provides ripe fruit for wineries as far away as Cornwall, for example.)
The main snag is they don’t come cheap. We’re talking champagne prices for most of the sparkling wines (such as Gusbourne) and burgundy prices for the better still wines (eg, Danbury Ridge), because English wine production is still comparatively small-scale, land is expensive and our climate is marginal. At least there isn’t quite the same premium on rosés: some of the most delicious English wines I’ve tasted this year have been sparkling rosés, including Camel Valley’s Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé (£29.95 The English Wine Collection, 12.5%), Digby Leander Pink (currently reduced to £22.50 at Waitrose, 12%) and Woodchester Valley’s Brut Rosé from the Cotswolds, which you can get for £28.95 from its website.
In terms of still wines, meanwhile, it’s hard to find much for less than a tenner. Aldi has a couple under its Bowler & Brolly label at £8.99 for which I can’t work up a great deal of enthusiasm, not least the harking-back-to-the-50s label, but if you like a light rosé, you might fancy giving them a whirl. And if you’re a fan of bacchus, England’s answer to sauvignon blanc, and are a member of the Wine Society, try the new Payford Bridge Single-Vineyard Bacchus from Three Choirs in Gloucestershire (£9.95), which I prefer to the Society’s own English white.
But without a doubt, the most enjoyable way by far to buy English wine is to do so direct from the vineyard, so do get out there, be that this week or over the summer. It’s not as if any of us will be travelling far from home this year, after all.
Five English wines to splash out on
Harrow & Hope Brut Rosé 2018
£31.99 Grape Britannia, £32 Laithwaites, 12%. Delectably fruity, pink fizz from the Chilterns, packed with delicious, red berry fruit. Their brut reserve is also excellent.
Danbury Ridge Chardonnay
£32.50 Grape Britannia, 14%. You’d have difficulty telling this from top white burgundy, even though the grapes are grown in Essex, of all places. Already on allocation. Definitely a winery to watch.
Giffords Hall Rosé 2020
£14.50 giffordshall.co.uk, 11.5%. Pretty, pale Provençal-style rosé from Suffolk. Fresh, with a nice touch of citrus.
Trevibban Mill Black Ram Cornish Red 2018
£20 Ellis Wharton, 12.5%. Surprisingly rich, cherry-flavoured red made from dornfelder and rondo. Would be great with grilled lamb.
Woodchester Valley Pinot Noir 2018
£24 from the website, 12.5%. Impressively rich Cotswolds pinot that could do with tucking away for a year or so. The vineyard’s bacchus is good, too.