England is a funny old place, its green and pleasant land beloved and despised in equal measure.
With its terrible history in imperialism and the more recent Brexit, it’s no surprise that England’s nearest neighbors have, to put it generously, mixed feelings. In Medieval times, Scotland famously buddied up with France to form the Auld Alliance in a bid to control England’s ever-expanding ego and there has long been a tradition of dissociation from the Emerald Isle next door. As Oscar Wilde once said: "I am Irish by race but the English have condemned me to talk the language of Shakespeare."
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In Shakespeare, however, England has perhaps one of its most fervent fans, who famously described the country as "precious stone set in the silver sea" and the country has returned the favor, frequently lauding the playwright and poet at each and every opportunity. When it comes to food and drink, however, the English reputation, much like it’s fanbase, is patchy at best. Although there are some delights, namely Stilton and the more divisive Marmite, the culinary wonders of fish and chips, spotted dick and mushy peas have yet to take the world by storm. In fact, England has long held a tradition of nicking the dishes of other nations – most notably Indian curries – and anglicizing the hell out of them.
When it comes to drinks, however, England really can shine. Traditionally, the country is at its best with beer and enjoys a long-standing tradition of making excellent bitters, lagers and ales alongside delicious ciders and gin. Wisely, however, England has typically left the tradition of winemaking to the continent, where both expertise and better weather abound. In fact, the last time any moderate production of English wine occurred was back in the ancient times when the Romans – after a victorious invasion – cultivated vineyards which, due to the more benevolent climate at the time, enjoyed a modicum of success.
However, as the climate took a turn for the worse, so did English vineyards but, aided by an entirely new climate change, they are only now starting to see a reversal of fortune. Global warming, although disastrous for most other countries on the planet, is proving a blessing for English winemakers who are quite happy to make hay while the sun shines – planet be damned. However, despite England’s sunny new climes, truly great reds and whites have yet to take off but sparkling, much to the chagrin of Champagne, is going just peachy.
Kicking off our case is the Classic Reserve Sparkling from Hattingley Valley in that well-known wine region, Hampshire. However, at an average price of $41 with a very respectable 90 points, it's a relative bargain. Hattingley Valley, whose tagline is "Unapologetically British", has picked up a slew of awards for its range of traditional method sparkling wines since being its first release in 2013. Fortunately, the Classic Reserve is reasonably easy to find, so if you're looking to kickstart your venture into English wine, the Classic Reserve is not a bad way to go.
Second in our case is another sparkling but this time from Sussex – a county famous for Brighton, Beachy Head and now sparkling wine. The Vintage Brut by Wiston Estate comes wrapped up in flamboyant turquoise packaging, making it hard to miss in a crowd. Widely available, the Vintage Brut has an average price tag of $45 and an aggregated critic score of 91 points, making it an extremely attractive option. Situated on upper cretaceous chalk – not too dissimilar from the soil of Champagne – the winery is also the proud owner of the only Coquard press in the UK. Winemaker Dermot Sugrue is becoming an icon of English winemaking.
In fact, third in the case is the wistfully named The Trouble With Dreams Cuvée Brut, again by Sugrue. Unlike the previous two, this one is a little harder to stumble upon, particularly in the US market, but if your curiosity is piqued various UK retailers do offer worldwide delivery. The Trouble With Dreams is perhaps Dermot Sugrue's most personal passion project. This mysterious little wine made in the South Downs is released only once a year but to repeatedly rave reviews and at $49 with 91 critic points, it's worth hunting down.
The next wine is again widely available in the US, the Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut. Ridgeview Wine Estate sits nestled in Sussex and is one of the most established of England's sparkling wine estates, having been founded in 1995. It was one of the key players in kickstarting the trend to focus on the traditional Champagne varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier – on English soils. The Bloomsbury is the estate's signature wine and was chosen to be served at the the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Our fifth sparkler is perhaps one of England’s best known – Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Sparkling. The sharply branded Nyetimber Estate has been growing vines in the South Downs since 1988, making it one of the UK's most established. Again, it's the classic Champagne varieties that are championed with the Classic Cuvée a multi-vintage blend of all three. Made using the traditional Champagne method, the Classic Cuvée than spends some time in the cellar and the resulting wine is said to have notes of toast, spice and honeyed almond. Although slightly more expensive than the other wines in this case, as a flagship for English wine, you're unlikely to be disappointed.
Moving onto the still whites, sixth in the case is a little-known wine, Bacchus by Lyme Bay Winery in Devon. Unfortunately production is small and this wine is hard to find, but for those you keen to give it a go, there are various UK merchants who offer worldwide deliver. Bacchus is a German white grape variety that lends itself well to the English climate, resulting in light, lemony wines with floral notes of elderflower. Although Lime Bay's output ranges from fruit wines to meads and ciders, their more serious straight-up wines are also exceedingly good and are swiftly gaining attention. With its big grapefruit profile, the Bacchus, or Bacchus Block as it's sometimes known, is a winner.
Rounding out our still whites is the Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc although this could happily be substituted for the Pinot Gris as both are superb. Like most of the still whites in this case, they tend to be trickier to find then their sparkling counterparts and the Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc is no different. However, there are plenty of UK-based merchants offering world-wide delivery. Stopham Vineyard is again based in West Sussex and unlike many of it’s British contemporaries, it specializes in still wine. Along with various other journalists and magazines, both Jancis Robinson and Matthew Jukes have heaped praise on both the Pinot Blanc and Gris as some of the finest still whites England has to offer.
Number eight in our case, and the first of the reds, is the Bolney Estate Pinot Noir. The Bolney Wine Estate is another Sussex pioneer with a family vibe, as at least three generations are involved in the handling of the estate. What makes the estate so unusual is that it is one of the few English wineries to focus on the production of red wine and, in particular, Pinot Noir. Going against both critic, consumer and climatic odds, Bolney Estate has managed to successfully deliver award-winning English Pinot Noir and although it is not yet widely available outside of the UK, several British merchants offer worldwide delivery.
The ninth wine and second red is the Red Miller by Hush Heath Estate, a family-run winery set in the heart of Kent. While most English estates focus on red wine grape varieties that can take to cooler climes successfully, the Red Miller is unusual in that it is 100 percent Pinot Meunier – a grape variety more often found in Champagne – and the resulting wine has been described as both elegant, complex and smoky. It has also taken the wine world by storm as it was the first English red to ever win a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge.
Number 10 in our case is the Boot Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir by Gusbourne Estate. Again set in the heart of Kent, the estate tends to be better known for its sparkling wines, but its Pinot Noir – not always known as Boot Hill – has been an extremely well-received addition. The wine carefully embodies everything cool-climate Pinot Noir has to offer from soft, jammy fruit to smoky herbal notes and provides a perfect accompaniment to local game meats and cheeses.
We return to bubbles for our 11th wine, this time a sparkling rosé from Chapel Down Winery situated again in Kent which truly does deserve its Garden of England moniker. Chapel Down prudes itself on delivering award-winning English wines, that have been championed by both Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver no less. The aptly named English Rose is a NV sparkling rosé made using the traditional Champagne varieties and is described as the "epitome of an English rose – delicate and feminine".
No case with an English twist would be complete without the inclusion of a gin, but deciding which one should make up our case was no easy feat. However, one look at the Best English Wines and Beers list on Wine-Searcher shows that one gin that had slipped its way into the top 10. Martin Miller’s Gin has won avalanche of awards for its careful blending and distillation using pristine Icelandic water.
The man behind it, Martin Miller – a flamboyant traditionalist – took it upon himself to create the world's first super premium’ gin and the Westbourne Strength soon followed. Voted the world's best gin by the Drinks Report in 2016, the Westbourne was designed to be a more old-school traditional counterpart to the original gin. On the palate, the gin is said to exhibit notes of nutmeg, cassia along with higher alcohol and has become a firm favorite of bar tenders.
Surely somewhere it’s six o' clock?