All of a sudden, everyone seems to be talking about English wine. Even the French, who traditionally regarded our vino with the same contempt as they did our national cuisine, have started investing here, prompted by climate change and the realisation that we appear to be onto something special in these islands.
We’re a tiny producer by global standards, with 2,000 hectares of vineyards. But there are now 135 wineries in England and Wales and the quality can be outstanding.
Two-thirds of what we make is bubbly, most of it made from the same grapes as Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Our climate and chalky soils are better suited to sparkling than still wines. There are one or two dry whites produced from the zesty, aromatic Bacchus grape that are perfectly drinkable, but you get much better value from, say, the Loire Valley than England.
At around £25, the fizzes aren’t cheap, but they can more than hold their own against bubbles from other parts of the world, including similarly priced Champagne. So this is a great time to drink English wine or Welsh wine. Just don’t confuse it with British wine, which is made from water and imported grape concentrate, and is invariably pretty nasty. The French definitely wouldn’t like that.
1. Balfour 1503 Rosé
Using the three Champagne grapes – red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay – this comes from the Hush Heath Estate in Kent. Very pale pink, yet surprisingly rich on the palate with notes of toast and wild strawberry.
Available from Majestic, £19.99 (11.5%)
2. 2011 Berry Bros & Rudd
Berrys’ posh-looking fizz is supplied by Gusbourne, one of the rising stars of the English sparkling wine scene. It’s a perfumed Blanc de Blancs with a creamy texture and the finesse and poise of a really good Champagne.
Available from Berry Bros & Rudd, £24.95 (12%)
3. 2009 Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs
Nyetimber is one of England’s best and largest sparkling wine producers, and this is its top bubbly, made entirely from Chardonnay. Fine pinhead bubbles, notes of citrus and fresh pastry and a long, complex aftertaste.
Available from Harrods, Harvey Nicols and Lay & Wheeler, £45 (12%)
4. Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut Rosé
Made by Sam Lindo, whose Cornwall winery has won more gold medals than Olympian Michael Phelps, this is a cherry and raspberry scented delight, with a fine thread of bubbles and a long, dry tapering finish.
Available from Waitrose, £29.99 (12.5%)
5. 2011 Ridgeview Marksman Blanc de Blancs
Produced for M&S by the well-respected Ridgeview winery, this pure Chardonnay spends three years on its lees before release, giving it notes of brioche and hazelnut. This acidity is thrillingly refreshing here.
Available from M&S, £26 (12%)
6. Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut
Made from a quartet of grape varieties – Chardonnay with Pinots Blanc, Noir and Meunier – this is one of the most widely available English sparklers, showing lots of biscuity, red berry flavours and a rich mouthfeel.
Available from Morrisons, £20 (11.5%)