A Pint of Lager. Cider with Rosie. Pale ales and sturdy stouts. From a picnic Pimms to ‘binge-drinking Britain’: the English are notorious producers and consumers of alcoholic beverages. But few people realise that the British Isles produce some excellent wines too. In fact, the English have been producing wine since the Roman era. But until relatively recently English wine suffered a poor reputation and remained strictly off wine enthusiasts’ radar. It was probably a fair reputation at one time.
Lately, though, there has been a renaissance in English wine production and over the last decade, wine production has spread as far north as Yorkshire and western Wales. And why not? The British Isles are climatically moderate and stable thanks to the Gulf Stream, which means our mild winters and (usually!) fairly dry summers are perfectly suitable for growing the sort of grapes we usually associate with German and Austrian vines. Add to that the fact that England’s southern coast has virtually identical growing conditions to France’s Champagne region and the enormous potential for English wine becomes apparent. So go on, give English plonk a try! Here are some of our picks to get you started:
Chapel Down: English Rose 2010
One of the best known and most widely available English producers, Chapel Down vineyard produces a range of wines that should please most palates. Feeling inspired by a faint glimmer of sunlight penetrating the rainclouds, I picked up their rosé (‘English Rose’: how perfect is that?!) with a barbeque in mind. With a lower alcohol content (11%) than many New World wines it’s a good choice for summer barbeques, pairing nicely with salty meat and fish, English Rose is an easy-to-drink and versatile wine that shouldn’t be sniffed at just because it’s pink.
Why not pair with: We drank ours with chicken Sunday roast, but try it with any number of traditional English fish dishes like fresh rainbow trout. Alternatively, why not just pair with a bowl of English strawberries to bring out the sweet and sharp flavours.
Provenance: Chapel Down in Kent. Buy online here. Also available at Waitrose, Marks & Spencer’s and Tesco.
May Hill (2010) Medium Sweet White Wine
The Three Choirs vineyard produces over a dozen styles of wine, from dry whites to a light red. I picked this off-dry wine to remind myself that it isn’t compulsory to demand a “dry white wine” at the Dog and Duck. Don’t be deterred by the medium sweet label – May Hill is a light wine with a delicate sweetness, reminiscent of honeysuckle. With an alcohol content of only 10.5%, it is a superb choice for a daytime affair like a summer picnic (and for wine drinkers who are fed up of the increasingly common New World 15% liquid-assault on mental faculties).
Why not pair with: We drank ours with fresh Cornish mackerel, as the slight sweetness cuts through fatty and salty flavours beautifully. For an all-out Brit-fest, though, I can’t think of anything more perfect than enjoying a glass or two at a picnic with a generous chunk of Melton Mowbray pork pie.
Provenance: Three Choirs in Gloucestershire. Buy online here. Also available at Waitrose and selected wine sellers.
Brightwells Oxford Flint 2009
I admit it, this one made the list in part because I had the great pleasure of taking part in last year’s grape picking – there’s nothing quite like having cut the grapes directly from the vines to make you feel connected with a wine. Conveniently, it’s also delicious! Brightwells Oxford Flintis a lovely and bright white wine that is bursting with dry citrus flavours that is well suited to fish and white meat dishes. Again, as with most English wines the alcohol content is relatively low (11.5%), and the flinty soil on which it grows seems to come across in its mouth-watering acidity.
Why not pair with:Try this alongside some English cockles or with anything drenched in fresh lemon, like a griddled asparagus salad or a lovely piece of lemon sole.
Provenance: Brightwells in Oxfordshire. Available at Waitrose and selected wine sellers.
Ridgeview Bloomsbury Sparkling Wine
This is indisputably HRH of English bubbly. Ridgeview’s success keeps on growing and the accolades continue to pour in. Ridgeview sparkling wines were recipients of 2010 and 2011 Decanter World Wine award for best sparkling vintages (including Champagne), and the IWSC award for best English wine producer for the past three consecutive years. Ridgeview sparkling wines represent excellent value for money, and should be considered a genuine contender to traditional French Champagnes. The Bloomsbury bubbly is citrusy and dry, but retains a light and delicate feel, with a slightly toasty taste.
Why not pair with: Fish and chips. Ideally, wrapped in newspaper and eaten with a wooden fork. Hey, the French might like to drink their bubbly with an elaborate amuse bouche – but while England’s southern terroir might be virtually identical to Champagne, we do things English style around here – so bring out the bunting, forget the wine-buff posturing, and have some fun with it. Cheers!
Provenance: The Ridgeview Estate in Kent. Available at Waitrose and Marks and Spencer’s.