English Wine Week is back – and there’s some sparkling bottles on your doorstep
Sometimes what you’re looking for is right under your nose. Take English wines for example; in a short space of time, Britain’s verdant vineyards have become a wine lovers’ paradise – and it’s all on our doorstep.
And if you’re not quite convinced Dorset is the new Douro, with its rolling hills, riverside views and premium wineries, Langham Wine Estate – which is situated in the southern England county – was crowned Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2020, lifting the title from French champagne house, Veuve Clicquot.
Winning medals across the range, including gold for their Blanc de Blancs 2015 (£36, Langham Wine), head winemaker Tommy Grimshaw, says: “We’ve had it [the title] for about six months now, so another six months of holding it before we can try and retain it.”
One to watch, Grimshaw is among the youngest viticulturists in the UK – he recently turned 25 – and encourages everyone to consider some English fizz when they want to celebrate. “We’ve these incredibly good quality wines on people’s doorsteps, and now they aren’t able to travel abroad as much, I think they should be travelling to their local vineyard and supporting us.”
Which of course is what English Wine Week (June 19- 27) is all about, with wineries throwing open their cellar doors with ‘wine-filled’ experiences, summer wine tours, picnics in the vineyard and exciting new releases to celebrate their success.
Wondering where to start? What would be more appropriate than Grimshaw’s current favourite, Langham Pinot Meunier 2018 (£44, Langham Wine), which they’re releasing for English Wine Week. “It’s just incredible. Very well rounded, great structure, nice fruit, some floral notes in there, and really nice and rich for such a young wine. I think it offers everything.”
Elsewhere, Mark Driver, co-founder of Rathfinny Wine Estate in East Sussex, says they’ve received an incredible response since lockdown restrictions eased. “We took something like 7,000 bookings in the first two weeks when we opened the online booking system. People really want to come out, they want to celebrate and they want to celebrate with English wines, which are increasingly winning awards and offer terrific value.”
The reopening also coincides with two new releases: “The Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs 2017 (£39.50, Rathfinny) has had an amazing reception, with people saying it’s our best yet,” says Driver.
“I think that just sums up 2017, it was such a fantastic year to make wine in England, so we’re really pleased. And our Classic Cuvée 2017 (£29.50, Rathfinny) has had an incredible reception. It’s showing all these lovely tropical fruit characteristics, papaya, pineapple, it’s really quite delightful.”
Similar to Rathfinny, there’re a host of vineyards with fantastic restaurants, winemaker dinners, great tours and accommodation. As Driver puts it: “Come and visit the ‘Napa Valley of the South Downs’, because we’ve got amazing vineyards across Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and as far west as Cornwall.”
Indeed, Nyetimber, one of the pioneers of English sparkling wine with vineyards across West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent, have teamed up with the South Downs National Park to release 1,000 limited-edition bottles of their Nyetimber Classic Cuvée (£36.99, Nyetimber, available from June 4).
“There’s a saying in our industry – ‘What grows together, goes together’ – and some of the flavours in our Classic Cuvée are reminiscent of the summer fruits growing wild in orchards around the South Downs. Think apples, strawberries, raspberries, etc,” says Brad Greatrix, winemaker at Nyetimber.
Each limited-edition bottle represents a tree to be planted as part of this year’s ‘Trees for the Downs’ initiative, demonstrating their commitment to developing a sustainable and holistic approach to our land, through their wines as well. “At Nyetimber, we’re dedicated to giving back to nature in this way, nurturing both the land we cultivate and the surrounding areas of the South Downs we call home,” says Greatrix.
Another champion of biodiversity, Champagne Pommery were the first champagne house to produce an English sparkling wine. Clément Pierlot, Champagne Pommery chef de cave and head of winemaking for Louis Pommery England (£35.99, Majestic), says one aspect he’s particularly proud of is signing up for the ‘Sustainable Wine GB’ certification at the beginning of the year.
“The Estate’s run with the greatest respect for the environment. We don’t use any herbicides or insecticides and we like to protect the local wildlife. We even have our own bees that create great biodiversity,” says Pierlot.
According to Wine GB, there were 750 vineyards at the last count with more than 1m vines being planted each year – mainly the champagne trio of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, made in the traditional method, same as its French equivalent.
Naturally, it’s tempting to compare the two, but as Pierlot notes: “Champagne is rich from centuries of history; its terroirs have been defined and cultivated for a very long time. For English sparkling wine, this is still under development, however we have a profound respect for the Hampshire terroir; the wine’s intrinsic characteristics, its frame, its texture, its aromatic signature.”
And with a young wine industry committed to sustainability, a growing reputation for excellence and wine tourism offering a vibrant wine and food culture, there’s plenty out there to satisfy your thirst.
Even more so for rosé lovers, with Roebuck’s success for Sussex at The International Wine Challenge (IWC) 2021, and scooping the English Vintage Sparkling Rosé Trophy top spot for its Rosé de Noirs 2016 (£40, Roebuck Estates), which scored 95 out of 100 points as well as being awarded gold.
“We’re obviously delighted to win another superb trophy, this time for the debut vintage release of our Rosé de Noirs,” says James Mead, general manager, Roebuck Estates. “Our 2016 has gorgeous notes of wild strawberries, white peach and a hint of honeysuckle. With summer just around the corner, and life returning to something a little more normal, it’s the perfect fizz to enjoy with friends and family.”
The judges were also out in force at the Good Housekeeping Institute Taste Test, with Morrisons The Best English Sparkling Brut Vintage 2010 (£18, Morrisons) winning Best English Sparkling Wine Under £35.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of this wine,” says Mark Jarman, senior wine sourcing manager at Morrisons. “English sparkling has really made a name for itself in recent years and this version exemplifies what’s great about the category; classic apple aromas, with biscuity flavours derived from extended ageing, give wonderful richness combined with exceptional elegance.”
Another retailer that’s serious about their still and sparkling English wines, Waitrose is launching a new mixed case of six English wines (£90, Waitrose, launching June 2) to champion English Wine Week. Highlights include a chardonnay from Kent, a pinot noir from Sussex, a red blend from the Norfolk Broads and a fabulous fizz from Dorset – plugging into everything we love about English wine with a variety of styles to discover, and a showcase for the winemaking potential still waiting to be uncorked. Cheers!