English Sparkling Wine

Hambledon Vineyard Classic Cuvee Sparkling Hampshire, England

Hambledon Vineyard Classic Cuvee Sparkling
Hampshire, England

English sparkling wine has seen a remarkable rise in the last 10 or so years – undoubtedly a result of the warming temperatures in the United Kingdom. The English climate is yet to be truly conducive to create world-class still whites and reds, but it is proving ideal for the production of top-quality, award-winning sparkling wines.

Part of England’s suitability for sparkling wine is down to its cooler climate, which is ideal for producing the base wine. The other is down to its terroir, which shares strong similarities with Champagne – the same chalk soils are found not just in Champagne but also in the regions of Chablis and Sancerre.

Most of the best English sparkling wine producers use the traditional Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir – as well as the traditional method of production, fermenting in the bottle with extended lees aging.

However, other grape varieties, often Germanic, are used for the production of still wines. Varieties like Bacchus, Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner and Schönburger have gained popularity in recent years, some of these are used to make fruitier, simpler styles of wine.

As the English wine industry has developed, certain areas have become well-established as key English wine producing regions; these include East Anglia, Surrey, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire

England’s Key Winemaking Regions & Award-winning Sparkling Wines

Kent

Bordering both Surrey and Sussex, Kent boasts a considerable chunk of the English coastline which gives it a naturally cool, maritime climate while being slightly warmer and drier than much of the country. The county’s reputation as prime growing territory for fruit and vegetables has long earned it the nickname of the “garden of England” so it is no surprise grape vines do well here too.

The main soil types found in Kent are the chalky Kimmeridgian limestone similar to those found in Champagne, and as a result, French Champagne house Taittinger has even invested in vineyards.

The sparkling wines tend to be highly acidic with complex notes of rich apple and pear, as well as a strong mineral streak. Key producers include Gusborne Estate, Chapel Down and Biddenden.


Award-winning Sparkling Wine

Gusbourne Estate Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Kent, England

Gusbourne Estate Sparkling Blanc de Blancs
Kent, England

Gusbourne Estate Sparkling Blanc de Blancs

Style: Sparkling Wine – Complex and Traditional
Grape: Chardonnay
Producer: Gusbourne Estate

This wine has received more awards than any other wine from the region: the 2014 vintage was awarded Gold from the International Wine Challenge, and the 2013 vintage was awarded Gold from the Japan Wine Challenge.





  • Master – Award, The Global Masters
  • 2015 Vintage – Awarded: 2020

Sussex

The counties of West and East Sussex are noted for the being both the sunniest and driest counties in England. Home to the South Downs, the premium limestone and chalk soils are ideal for sparkling wine production.

The region has become home to over 30 different producers with many garnering critical acclaim. The resulting wines tend to be highly acidic and aromatic with a strong, sophisticated mineral character. The fruit profile tends to focus on rich apple and citrus and can sometimes have a creamy and toasty element to it. Key producers include Ridgeview, Rathfinny and Court Garden.


Award-winning Sparkling Wine

Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard Sparkling, Sussex, England

Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard Sparkling
Sussex, England

Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard Sparkling

Style: Sparkling Wine – Complex and Traditional
Grape: Chardonnay – Pinot Noir
Producer: Nyetimber

This is the second most highly rated British wine (based on critic scores): the 2013 vintage was given a score of 92 by The Wine Advocate.




  • Gold, Gold_Points_95 – Wine Competition, International Wine Challenge
  • 2010 Vintage – Awarded: 2018

Surrey

Historically thought of as shire country, the county of Surrey is one of the few landlocked counties that produce sparkling wine. The Surrey Hills form part of the North Downs and have the limestone and chalky soils loved by winemakers. The main grape varieties grown here are the traditional Champagne Blend varieties, however, other varieties like Bacchus, Ortega, Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc and Pinot Gris are also grown for still wine production.

In general, the wines from Surrey are known for their bright zingy acidity and aromatic character. Key producers include Denbies Wine Estate, High Clandon and Albury Vineyard.


Award-winning Sparkling Wine

Greyfriars Vineyard Classic Cuvee Brut, Surrey, England

Greyfriars Vineyard Classic Cuvee Brut
Surrey, England

Greyfriars Vineyard Classic Cuvee Brut

Style: Sparkling Wine – Fresh and Youthful
Grape:
Champagne Blend
Producer:
Greyfriars Vineyard

This wine has won many prizes: Silver from the International Wine Challenge was awarded as well as Silver, Silver_Points_90 from the International Wine Challenge.





Hampshire

The county of Hampshire straddles the coastline between West Sussex and Dorset and the soils are again similar to Champagne being a mixture of free-draining limestone, chalk and greensand.

The resulting sparkling wines tend to be highly acidic, fresh and aromatic and sophisticated notes of citrus, green apple and pear as well as almond. The wines also tend to have a strong minerality as well as herbal and floral notes of white wayside flowers.

The region is home to several old and award-winning wineries and key producers include Hambledon Vineyard, Jenkyn Place and Hattingley Valley Wines.


Award-winning Sparkling Wine

Hattingley Valley Sparkling Rose, Hampshire, England

Hattingley Valley Sparkling Rose
Hampshire, England

Hattingley Valley Sparkling Rose

Style: Sparkling Wine – Berries and Cream
Grape:
Rare Rose Blend
Producer:
Hattingley Valley

This England wine has received good scores from various critics: the 2014 vintage was given a score of 90 by The Wine Advocate.


  • Trophy – Wine Competition, International Wine Challenge
  • 2015 Vintage – Awarded: 2020



Dorset, Devon and Cornwall

Although neither Dorset, Devon or Cornwall have garnered the same reputation for sparkling wine as some other counties, all three are home to premium producers of sparkling wine.

Dorset, which continues along the coastline from Hampshire, shares much of the same soil type as well as enjoying a warmer climate than most other counties in England. The county is now home to several important wineries like Furleigh Estate and Langham Wine Estate, which won the International Wine & Spirit Competition Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2020, beating several serious Champagne producers to the prize.

Along the Jurassic Coast from Dorset, lies Devon which shares much of the same climate and terroir. The county is also home to several key producers like Sharpham Estate and Lyme Bay Winery.

The West Country naturally ends in Cornwall which, like Dorset and Devon, has the same mild climate and soils conducive for winemaking. Perhaps the most famous winery in Cornwall is Camel Valley, which produces premium award-winning sparkling wines and was the first English wine producer to receive a Royal Warrant.


Award-winning Sparkling Wine

Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs, Dorset, England

Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs
Dorset, England

Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs

Style: Sparkling Wine – Complex and Traditional
Grape:
Chardonnay
Producer:
Bride Valley Vineyard

This England wine has received good scores from various critics: the 2014 vintage was given a score of 94 by Wine Enthusiast.


A History of Winemaking in England

An English vineyard
An English vineyard

The history of winemaking in England is surprisingly old, considering it is only really recently that England is beginning to be considered a serious wine region. The first instances of grape growing date back to Roman times and most acknowledge it was the Romans who brought the vine.

The successful invasion in 1066 of the Normans – who were also accomplished winemakers – led to the establishment of various vineyards throughout the country, as Europe was roughly one degree warmer than the present. The Domesday Book, an in-depth land survey commissioned by William the Conqueror, detailed 46 vineyards spread through the southern counties of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire.

In more modern times, with most of demand for wine in England easily met by the wines of mainland Europe, there was little motivation for England to grow its own wine. Although a few eccentrics like Lord Bute the third Marquess of Bute at Castel Coch and his son pursued winemaking for a time, by 1911 most viticultural activity in the country had all but dried up.

It was the 1950s when interest in winemaking stirred again as pioneers like Ray Barrington Brock researched Germanic grape varieties Müller-Thurgau and Seyval Blanc with the intention of planting them in Britain. Other pioneers included Major Sir Guy Salisbury Jones who established Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire, Britain’s oldest commercial vineyard.

The initial surge of interest spiked again in 1960s when the English Vineyards Association was established, but it was only in the 1970s that viticulture began in earnest. Since the 1990s, the warming effects of climate change have come into play and, blessed with soils similar to Champagne, the southern counties have become key regions for the production of premium sparkling wine.

The evolution of English sparkling wine can be credited in huge part to Nyetimber who were the first to focus purely on the Champagne varieties to make their wines which subsequently won awards. Currently there are close to 200 operating wineries and around 500 or more vineyards in production today.

Although England has always been and will continue to be known as a wine-trading and consuming nation, it is now beginning to be known as a wine-producing nation as well.

England’s Challenging Climate

Bolney Wine Estate, West Sussex
Bolney Wine Estate, West Sussex
? Bolney Wine Estate

The majority of English vineyards lie in the south and southeast, which are noticeably warmer and drier than the rest of the country, although vineyards can be found throughout.

While England is well known for its wet weather and climate change is making weather patterns more volatile, temperatures have also warmed up making ripening grapes less problematic. Despite the rising temperatures, however, rot and frost still cause issues in the vineyard.

The main viticultural regions in the south and south east tend to hug the coastline and include East Anglia, Hampshire, Kent, Sussex and Surrey. The climate is largely cool and maritime with long, cold, wet winters and short warm summers.

The best regions tend to have chalky, free-draining soils with the remnants of ancient marine fossils embedded in them, similar to the Kimmeridgian soils found in Champagne.

English Sparking Wine on the Palate

Food pairings:

Fresh and Youthful sparkling wine
Fresh and Youthful sparkling wine

English sparkling wine is typically green and zesty with some complexity and capacity to age. The wines tend to exhibit notes of freshly cut orchard fruit and make ideal food matches for citrusy salads, seafood and chicken dishes, as well as light roast dinners.

Tasting notes:

Visually, English sparkling tends to range from pale to deep gold with fine bubbles.

The wines tend to exhibit strong citrus notes of lemon, lime and sometimes grapefruit, alongside freshly cut apple, pear and other orchard fruit. The cool climate ensures plenty of acid is retained, this sometimes has a green, tart, malic nature.

Although the flavor profile tends to veer towards green fruit like apple, gooseberry and pear, occasionally riper, more yellow stone-fruit like peach, apricot, golden and plum can shine through along with more tropical notes of melon and mandarin.

Alongside the fruit, there can be strong floral notes of elderflower, lily and rose as well as other meadow and wayside flowers. A certain minerality and chalkiness like flint, wet stone and even struck match can also make its presence known.

Complex, buttery notes of yeast, toast and brioche and nuttier notes like hazelnut, macadamia, and biscuit are sometimes noted as a result of time spent on the lees. More artificial nuances like sherbet alongside creamier notes like custard and lemon curd can also appear.




Most Popular England Champagne Blend Wine

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