New investment, new skills and a snowballing knowledge of England’s terroirs have all contributed to a thriving English wine scene. Christian Lowe tells us which English wines to swap in this summer.
Who’d have thought that wine would be the biggest revelation in English agriculture since Raleigh bought home the humble spud and invented the Great British roastie? Well, maybe he didn’t. But no single person ‘invented’ English wine either. It’s been a long journey from those first tentative trellises slung on damp Sussex slopes to the Royal Wedding wine list. But the view in 2018 is undoubtedly a good one.
Still or sparkling: what’s the future for English wine?
These days, English wine is celebrated for its distinct and increasingly lauded style of sparkling wine and a burgeoning regiment of experienced winemakers that we should be proud of. While we definitely should be drinking more of it, there’s only so much English sparkling wine a market can buy. And as the industry continues to grow, ballast will have to be found in new, more everyday, quaffable wines. Wine without bubbles.
But this needn’t be a chore, or even a sacrifice. New investment, new skills and a snowballing knowledge of the intricacies of England’s terroirs have all contributed to a huge leap in the quality of still wines in recent years. A plethora of home-grown alternatives to our tried and trusted favourites are now available, with many producers bringing striking ambition and a discernible sense of ‘Englishness’ to these international templates.
Forget Sauvignon. Be bold with your Bacchus
Sauvignon Blanc has been the unimpeachable supergrape of the 21st century. Charmed by its easy expressiveness – both of fruit and of place – whole oceans of Marlborough, Chilean and cheaper French Sauvignon have washed through our glasses worldwide. But the credentials that make Sauvignon Blanc so appealing: namely, its approachability, its freshness, its exotically grassy, passion-fruity perfume can be found in English wines as well.
Bacchus in particular is a grape with a distinct likeness to Sauvignon, sharing many of the same lightly herbaceous notes, often with tonnes of citrus and elderflower and at times a subtle, match-struck smokiness (derived from certain winemaking techniques). Chapel Down, Albourne and Camel Valley make some benchmark examples. Many smaller producers are also lending their own spin to this increasingly anglicised grape.
Other widely-planted English varieties have similarly fragrant bouquets – a result of our cool-climate ripening season, cool fermentations and minimal use of oak. Heads-up to grapes such as Orion and Ortega. Organic producer Quoins in Wiltshire produce a finely fragrant Orion that combines herbaceousness with more tropical notes of kiwi and mango.
Pairing wine with food: English Chardonnay & Pinot Blanc
French wines, in particular, are renowned for their association with gastronomy, but the curious epicure needn’t look far for equally food-friendly wines. Critics of English wines in the past have snubbed their high, yet characteristic, levels of acidity (a result of wine-growing in such a cool, northerly climate). But when it comes to food and wine matching, this streak of freshness can be a real boon.
Why? Acidity prevents the wines from becoming short and cloying, sustaining the flavours through the mid-palate and into an enduring finish. When combined with suitable body and textural quality, the results can be stunning.
The range of wines made by producers such as Lyme Bay are crafted with food affinity in mind. English Chardonnay, hallmarked by its lack of oak ageing, gentle apple and stone fruit flavours and careful lees-stirring (lending creaminess and body to the palate), is increasingly seen as the perfect pairing with fresh seafood. Try a grassy Bacchus with soft English goat’s cheese, or a perfumed Pinot Blanc with a Thai curry, and you won’t be disappointed.
For the red wine drinkers out there, English varietal Pinot Noir is up-and-coming, with the characteristic stemmy freshness of the red wines of the Loire, and a real purity of fruit flavour. The Litmus Pinot Noir by John Worontschak is a true, wood-matured expression of premium English Pinot. And producers such as Gusbourne, Hush Heath and Furleigh Estate all offer excellent red wines for the curious drinker.
The new summer tipple: English rosé
Provence is synonymous with a certain style of rosé; not so much quaffable as practically chuggable, easy and light. English rosé, dare I say it, has this drinkability but with emphatically more flavour. The acidity that makes English wine so good with certain foods is the same that makes it so good pink. And the strawberry, rosehip and often rhubarb-esque flavours of many English rosés are simply not as sticky or confected as those of rosés from warmer climes. Typically made from Pinot Noir or the spicy Rondo grape, these are wines equally at home by the poolside as they are with an afternoon tea, with all the fruit and florals of an English hedgerow.
Ingrid Bates of Dunleavy Vineyards is at the forefront of English viticulture with her award-winning English rosé. Her Pinot Noir Rosé – which won silver at the UK Wine Awards – is exuberantly fresh, deliciously fruity (think strawberry and raspberry) and charmingly light.
English wine: the future’s rosé
There really is an English wine for every occasion. Twenty years ago you’d have been laughed out the house for saying it. Not anymore. With new skills, new markets and new money, the future is looking bright for English wine – we just need to keep drinking it.
Read more here on the wonderful English winemakers taking on mass-production.