English wine: everything you need to know
Wine expert Kate Hawkings on everything you need to know about English wine including what makes it so good, where to buy it and how to drink it
Looking for the best English wine to buy? Read our expert guide, then check out our guides to the best Greek wine, best German wine, best Hungarian wine, plus the lowdown on oaked wine, Italian sparkling wine and madeira wines.
About English wines
Vines have been grown in England since Roman times but our chilly climate, more suited to grain and apples than to grapes, mean beer and cider became the booze of Britain and winemaking was left to our cousins across the Channel. But things have changed in recent years thanks to warmer summers, improved winemaking techniques and serious investment.
Our English wine is now enjoying a boom, with production and sales soaring. There are now more than 500 wineries in England and Wales, and some of their wines are serious contenders – the best of them compares well to the quality of some champagnes (and often come with price tags to match).
The chalky soils of southern Britain are cut from the same geological cloth as those of Champagne, so it’s no surprise that sparkling wine is where the English shine. Still wines tend to be trickier as the high acidity of grapes grown in cool climates can be hard to balance with their lack of ripe fruit, which is why whites and rosés generally fare better than reds. But quality overall is improving.
English wines, however, will never be able to compete on price with the pocket-friendly everyday wines we import. Making wine is not a quick or cheap thing to do, especially in a country with high wine duties, no modern wine-making heritage, and where the erratic weather means yields of grapes are lower than in warmer climes.
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- Looking for an English vineyard break? Check out our favourite vineyards in the UK for tours, tastings and overnight stays among the vines
Many a hedge fund manager has started a second career as a wine-estate owner, because very deep pockets are required – it can take 10 years or more to produce a bottle that’s worth drinking; longer than that to see any sort of return on your investment.
Far rarer are those working on a more modest scale, such as Dunleavy's Ingrid Bates, a biologist living in Bristol who rents the land for her vineyards in neighbouring Somerset and makes her wine at a local winery also used by other growers. You are unlikely to find the wines of such small producers on supermarket shelves but they are often found at local restaurants, farm shops and wine merchants, or direct from the winery.
English Wine Week runs from 17 to 25 June and is a chance to discover wines made in your area – vineyards are found in Yorkshire and all points south. Check out winegb.co.uk for more details.
The best English wines to try 2023
Hambledon Classic Cuvée
- Available from Ocado (£32)
Hambledon was the first commercial vineyard in the UK, planted in 1952 by an English diplomat who noticed the similarity of the soils here with those in Champagne. Today, it produces some of our very best fizz and this (cuvée means a specific blend, or batch, of wine) is always a winner. Toasty notes along with crisp apple fruit and a sharp, clean finish.
Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rose
- Available from Waitrose (£35)
This was served by the Queen to Barack Obama at a Buckingham Palace banquet, which is surely the highest of praises for this acclaimed winery in Sussex. Delicate salmon colour with crunchy redcurrant fruit, it goes as well with smoked salmon as it does with a bowl of strawberries.
Litmus Orange Bacchus
- Available from Grape Britannia (£17.49)
English grapes are used to make this nutty, herbaceous wine that’s tinged with a little white pepper. White bacchus grapes are fermented on their skins, then a little oak-aged pinot noir with no skin contact is added to the blend. Generous fruit with a little grippy astringency adds complexity to this really drinkable wine. Great with roast pork or dishes with some gentle spice.
Grape Britannia (£17.49)
Ortega Late Harvest 2018
- Available from Biddenden Vineyards (£122)
This rare wine has a whopping 122g per litre of natural sugars, the highest level recorded in England. Aged in oak, this has layers of jasmine, dried apricots, tangerine peel and white pepper. Really special.
Biddenden Vineyards (£122)
Where to buy English wines
Although supermarkets are slowly catching on to it, sourcing English wine can be tricky. Check out the shelves of your local independent wine merchant or, better still, visit your nearest winery and buy the wines direct. Most vineyards are open to visitors and will let you taste before you buy, and most do mail order. Find more information at winegb.co.uk.
Check out more wine guides here:
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Best Hungarian wine
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