With Made in England bubbly racking up international wine awards, we tell you where to go and what to try
On your next visit to London, step out of the city for a change of pace and visit some of England’s award-winning wineries. For English sparkling wine is grabbing the headlines, beating some of the world’s top sparkling wines in international competitions, and that includes champagne. English sparkling has scooped a whopping 74 medals and trophies in the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards, and another 14 gold medals at the recent International Wine Challenge.
So what makes English sparkling wine special, even though little is known about it outside the world of wine? For one, England’s foray into making sparkling wines is relatively recent, even though it has been making huge strides lately. It still lives in the shadow of its famous cousin, Champagne, which continues to rule the world of luxury wines. Noted English sparkling wine estates in the news include Ridgeview Wine Estate, Bolney Estate, Denbies Wine Estate, Gusbourne Estate, Chapel Down, Hush Heath, Nyetimber and Camel Valley. A majority of the most prominent vineyards are situated in Kent or Sussex separated from mainland France by only the English Channel, with the perfect climate and geography for growing the very grapes that have made Champagne so famous. Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, as well as Bacchus and Ortega are used to make English sparkling wines.
An English sparkling wine trail can be planned with help from the English Wine Producers (englishwineproducers.co.uk) which can help with maps, tips and appointments. Here are a few well-known English wine producers to visit for a sparkling day in the English vineyards, all within a short distance of London.
Three Choirs Vineyard, Gloucestershire
One of England’s oldest vineyards planted in 1973, Three Choirs is an hour’s drive from Bristol in South-West England, situated in the picturesque Cotswolds. It is known for its range of still as well as sparkling wines, and was the first ever English vineyard to win a medal at VinExpo Bordeaux in 1992. Three Choirs has the additional draw of 11 rustic cottages and rooms situated within the vineyards for overnight stays making it a popular weekend and honeymoon getaway. It also offers tastings, vineyard and winery tours and has a fine dining restaurant known for its quality British food on its premises.
200 km from London. Winery tours and tastings from £12.50 per person. Rooms available from £140. Details: three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk
Ridgeview Wine Estate, Sussex
One of England’s most famous sparkling wine producers, the family-owned Ridgeview Estate has been sweeping international awards since 2009. It is also frequently the English sparkling wine of choice at Buckingham Palace state dinners. Ridgeview is situated on the picturesque Sussex Downs in the quaint village of Ditchling, a short distance from Brighton. Champagne is a mere 88 miles to the south of their vineyards, which is why Ridgeview makes its sparkling with the time-tested grapes of Champagne – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Ridgeview hit the headlines in 2010 when they won the trophy for best sparkling wine in the Decanter World Wine Awards beatings famous champagnes like Taittinger and Charles Heidsieck. This was the first time this award was given to a producer outside Champagne. Ridgeview’s achievements are setting the ball rolling for the worldwide recognition of English sparkling wine.
80 km from London. A two-hour tour costs £15 per person. Details: ridgeview.co.uk
Bolney Estate, Sussex
Bolney is a 16 hectare wine estate on the edge of the Sussex Downs and is one of England’s earliest planted vineyards. It specialises in still red wines, though its wide range includes five different sparkling wines, including a blanc de blanc, blanc de noir and two rosés made by the traditional method. Bolney recently made news as the first official English wine to be served at Wimbledon and in British Airways first class. The estate offers wine tours, tutored tastings and wine paired lunches, as well as traditional English afternoon teas at its quaint on-site café and wine shop.
68 km from London. Wine tours from £16 onwards with prior bookings. Details: bolneywineestate.com
Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey
Denbies is an enormous award-winning wine estate – the largest wine estate in the UK (265 acres) and very popular to visit owing to its proximity to London. Denbies offers a wide variety of wine experiences including a ride around its vineyards on an electric train, tours of its state of the art winery and a 360 degree cinema viewing experience which takes visitors on a visual tour through its vineyards and seasons. It is also very popular for its large conservatory restaurant and gift shop, selling a range of Denbies wines and gift items. Wine, cheese and food tasting experiences are other offerings. Denbies also offer facilities for corporate functions such as team building through wine-centric events, and wedding receptions.
40 km from London. Tours from £10 onwards (can be customized for groups on request). Details: denbiesvineyard.co.uk
- By the numbersSixty six per cent of English wine produced is sparkling wine and the numbers are increasing every year
In the last 16 years English sparkling wines have won eight trophies for Best International Sparkling Wine and six trophies for Best Sparkling Rosé in Global Competitions – something no other country has achieved.
Number of English vineyards in 2014 was 470, number of wineries, 135. Of this, most recent plantings are for sparkling wine production (traditional champagne grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier account for over 50 per cent of total varietal plantings).
(Details courtesy: englishwineproducers.co.uk)