Looking for the best English sparkling wine? Want to know our pick of English sparkling wine producers? Read our expert guide then check out our favourite vineyards in the UK for tours, tastings and overnight stays among the vines.
About English sparkling wine
A generation ago, the idea that English wine could hold its own against that of continual Europe was laughable. A few mavericks were making wine, more for interest than acclaim, but when, in 1998, Nyetimber won the trophy for Best Sparkling Wine in the World, the game changed completely.
Massive investment in plantings and wineries followed, concentrated in the South East whose chalk-rich soils are formed from the same geological strata found in the Champagne region of France. Aided by rising temperatures, production of English wine boomed in the following 20 years.
There are now 164 wineries in England, using grapes from some 500 vineyards scattered from Cornwall to Yorkshire, producing millions of bottles a year; 70% of this is sparkling wine, most of which should be properly termed ‘English Quality Sparkling Wine’, a badge guaranteeing it is made in the champagne style, from the classic champagne grapes (pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) using the méthode champenoise. These are the wines that have garnered the most attention, frequently beating fine champagne into a cocked beret in blind tastings – my current favourites include Hambledon, Black Chalk and Simpson’s. But this is not the whole story: there’s a new wave of great English sparkling wines that are most definitely not wannabe champagnes.
While producers of the most famous English fizz are backed by big bucks, others have smaller budgets so adapt accordingly. Some grow grapes on rented land and use local wineries to make their wine in rural idylls; others buy in grapes from trusted growers and make wine in their urban wineries, a trend from the US that’s taking off here.
Many are taking a leaf out of the natural wine movement’s book, using organic or biodynamic fruit and aiming for minimal intervention in the vineyards and the winery. While some are using the méthode champenoise, others are making pétillant naturel, known as ‘pét nat’ and beloved by natural-wine fans, when the wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, producing carbon dioxide in the bottle. These wines tend to be cloudy, but don’t be alarmed – this comes from harmless yeast sediments that haven’t been removed as they would with méthode champenoise wines. Others use the charmat method, the same as prosecco, when the wine is carbonated in steel tanks before bottling to add the bubbles, giving fresh and frothy, affordable fizz.
Fair play to the pristine EQSWs that have put the English wine industry on the map, but there now are other English bubbles to which we should also raise a toast. Cheers!
Best new English sparkling wines to try
Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019 (£22.87, amazon.co.uk)
With its notes of elderflower and juicy tropical fruit, the bacchus grape will appeal to fans of new-world sauvignon blanc. This is just off-dry so suits a little gentle spice – serve it with the falafel fritters.
GMF Sparkling 2017 (£23.50, corkingwines.co.uk)
Made in a railway arch in Battersea from seyval grapes grown in Oxfordshire. Crunchy elderflower, lemon and white pepper.
Tillingham Pétillant Rosé 2018 (£24, tillingham.com)
A pink pét nat made from pinot noir, with a little skin-contact wine from ortega grapes. Far-out and funky, in a good way.
Dunleavy Sparkling Red 2017 (£29.50, vinoteca.co.uk)
A rare English sparkling red, made from 100% rondo grapes. Crunchy redcurrant with a hint of rhubarb: great for a barbecue.
Lyme Bay Winery Brut Reserve (£22.99, lymebaywinery.co.uk)
Award-winning Devon bubbles with a gentle, honeyed richness.
Albourne Estate Bacchus Frizzante 2018 (£14.95, albourneestate.co.uk)
The aromatic bacchus grape given breezy bubbles via the charmat method. Drink with summery seafood.
The Uncommon Peggy Rosé Spritzer (£4.49, Selfridges)
This smart can is infused with hawthorn berries, rose and lavender, and weighs in at a modest 5.5% abv. Perfect for a picnic.
For more information on English wine, check out English Wine by Oz Clarke (£16.99, amazon.co.uk)
Oz Clarke is a longtime champion of English wine and his latest book covers the subject brilliantly in his indomitable, approachable style. Packed with useful info, it’s also a great bedtime read.