Read wine expert Kate Hawkings' guide to urban wineries and the best bottles to buy, then learn the basics of wine tasting and browse our essential guide to UK wine.

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About urban wineries

England is now firmly established as a wine country to be reckoned with. While most of the limelight is on its sparkling wines, its still wines are improving and the most exciting are coming from urban wineries.

As their name suggests, urban wineries are not set in rolling countryside surrounded by their own vineyards but are found in quirky urban spaces and run by creative people who lack the funds and/or the inclination to set themselves up for large production in state-of-the-art rural estates.

London Cru was the UK’s first urban winery, established in an old Victorian gin distillery in west London in 2013 by maverick wine merchant Cliff Roberson. He began by importing grapes from France and Italy but now, like most other English urban wineries, only uses grapes grown in England, whose quality has improved hugely over recent years, largely due to climate change with warmer temperatures meaning grapes are able to ripen fully.

Some are one-man bands – former journalist Chris Wilson makes his wonderful wines in the basement of a disused windmill in Cambridge, while Sergio Verrillo works his magic in an old railway arch in Battersea.

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Others have grown from humble beginnings. Based in London’s Battersea Power Station since 2017, Vagabond now makes nine different wines, and has 11 wine bars across the city, each serving around 100 wines by the glass. It makes sense that most urban wineries are in London as it’s so close to the major growing regions in the South East. Grapes can reach the wineries within a few of hours of being picked, so they arrive in peak condition.

You won’t find these wines on supermarket shelves – they are small-scale operations with limited production but their distinctive, carefully crafted wines make for interesting drinking and are worth splashing out on for a special treat.


Urban wines to buy

Gutter & Stars Rage Against the Dying of the Light Rosé 2022

Bottle of Gutters & Stars Rage Against the Dying of the Light Rosé 2022

This is made by bringing together two partly fermented wines – one made with bacchus, the other a pinot noir – then completing the fermentation in barrels, where it then ages for five months. The result is a stunning rosé with herby, elderflower notes alongside bright red cherry and strawberry fruit, and a touch of warm spice. Try it with our pork and lemongrass meatballs.


London Cru Pinot Noir 2022

Bottle of London Cru Pinot Noir 2022

Very pretty, very pale and very, very delicious, this is made with a delicate touch by Australian winemaker Alex Hurley using pinot noir précoce, an early-ripening strain of pinot noir and one well suited to England’s cool climate. This special wine has notes of fresh and crunchy red berries with a whisper of wood smoke. Serve slightly chilled.


Blackbook Pygmalion Chardonnay 2020

Bottle of Blackbook Pygmalion Chardonnay 2020

This is a memorable chardonnay that deserves serious attention. Made from prime Essex grapes fermented with native yeasts in used Burgundy barrels, then aged for 20 months, there’s a lot going on here – baked apples, bay leaves, hazelnuts and preserved lemons with a gentle buttery richness cut with a saline tang. Perfect with roast chicken or whole roast cauliflower shawarma.


Speedy serve

Beetroot vodka martini

Graphic drawing of a beetroot vodka martini

For something a bit different, here's a riff on a dirty vodka martini using the juice from a jar of pickled beetroots which gives a lovely pink colour and a sweet, earthy balance to the booze. It’s best made with a creamy vodka (I like Dima’s) and a classic dry vermouth such as Noilly Prat. You can make it in the traditional way – put 60ml of vodka in a cocktail shaker with 1 tbsp each of vermouth and beetroot juice and a few cubes of ice, shake well and strain into a cocktail glass – but it works just as well simply pouring the ingredients into a tumbler over ice.


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Authors

Kate HawkingsWine Columnist

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