English wine has been popping up in bars and wine-focussed restaurants for a while now, but in the last couple of years it has crept into the mainstream. Now found in bars and restaurants at all levels, pubs and even supermarkets, it is not just those in the know about wine that appreciate some of the excellent examples of English grapes.
During the Brexit debate English fizz found itself part of the Leave campaign’s arsenal, with some politicians claiming that our British wine could give French Champagne growers a run for their money. While this may not be the case in economic terms due to limits of scale and production, in terms of the quality of our homegrown fizz, the Eurosceptics were (perhaps accidentally) telling a truth.
English wine producers are one of the clear winners of the Brexit vote. At a time when mainstream customers are finding their feet with English wine and coming to terms with paying Champagne prices for brands dinner guests may not be familiar with — perhaps with the exception of Nyetimber, which is fast becoming a household name — bubbles from across the Channel are about to become pricer.
As the sterling remains low, Champagne — and at the better value end Prosecco, too — are more expensive to import meaning that English wine is becoming a better-value alternative for buyers both at home and abroad.
There has even been talk of a collective name for English wines, in the way that wines from Champagne are called, well Champagne, and Spanish fizz is known as Cava. Albion has been put forward by some in the wine industry, but we are yet to see if it will catch on.
There are some top-quality ‘Albions’ or sparkling wines coming out of vineyards such as Nyetimber, Chapel Down and Three Choirs. Here are some of our favourites.
Nyetimber, West Sussex
Sussex’s Nyetimber is top of the English wine pops. Vines were planted in 1988 and it was the first English sparkling wine producer to make wine exclusively from the three classic Champagne varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Twenty years later, and the result is England’s classic and best-known premium sparkling wine. Made from only its own grapes, it is creamy with classic brioche notes finished off with a citrus twist. Champagne who?
Chapel Down, Kent
Kent-based Chapel Down not only makes some excellent fizz, but some fantastic still whites too, like its 2014 Bacchus Reserve in all its tropical, freshly-cut-grass loveliness. The vineyard is open to the public, which is exciting too. There is talk of a post-Brexit boom in British vineyard visits, with some commentators predicting the arrival of high-end hotels and restaurants along a Napa Valley-style wine trail, following the launch of an English wine trail map last year. Chapel Down even dabbles in less-established red and orange skin-contact wines too; he who dares…
Three Choirs, Gloucestershire
Planted in 1973, Three Choirs is one of the most long-established vineyards in the country. It is also one of the largest and most innovative, regularly experimenting with new grape varieties: it grows an impressive twelve different grapes. Three choirs is also open to the public, putting this Gloucestershire wine destination firmly on the English wine map. For a 100 percent Bacchus you can’t go wrong with the elegance of the 2013 harvest. Dry, aromatic and herbaceous on the palate with gentle oak ageing. It’s not only fizz that the English wine world does well.
This Kent-based vineyard is exciting for those with an eye on the more-affordable fizz market. Its award-winning Pelegrim Brut NV caught the eyes of judges last year and is one of the few English sparkling wines not commanding Champagne prices. Produced not far from where Taittinger has put down vines, in the chalky slopes of the North Downs, Westwell Pelegrim takes its name from Pilgrim’s Way in Kent. The blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay (along with reserve wines from previous vintages) is bottle fermented, rather than tank, giving it a extra-dry non-vintage biscuity style. Prosecco watch out.
This really is just the beginning. There are lot’s of things to be excited about in English wine post-Brexit, with the higher-end set to become a more affordable option for export, while there are rumblings of similar successes at the all-important cheaper end.
Irrelevant of politics and votes, 2017 is looking like being a stellar year for English sparkling. Or should that be Albion? It’s actually starting to have a bit of a ring to it…