Annual celebration of top English wines

Blackdown Ridge vineyard.

Blackdown Ridge vineyard. - Credit: Archant

English Wine Week, which runs from May 27 to June 4, is a national marketing campaign, designed to raise awareness and availability of English wine.

English wines.

English wines. - Credit: Archant

Sales of English wines, both still and sparkling are growing very rapidly and to match the increased demand wine producers in the UK will plant a record 1m vines over the next 12 months. This will allow growers to produce two million more bottles of wine a year in the south of a country not historically known for its viticulture.

Investment in the UK by Champagne producers is evidenced by the recent purchase of land in Kent by Taittinger with the aim of producing wine to be drunk in 2023. It is the first time a grande marque champagne house has planted a vineyard in the UK with the aim of producing a top quality English sparkling wine. The wine will be called Domaine Evremond, named after Charles de Saint-Évremond, the French writer who is credited with helping introduce 17th-century London to the habit of quaffing champagne.

We were very impressed by the quality of English sparkling wine already produced here,” said Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, the champagne house’s president, who helped plant the vines. They believe that terroir of the site is ideal for producing quality sparkling wine as they are similar to that in Champagne.

The supermarkets are selling a wide range of English wines and Waitrose have their own vineyard, Leckford Estate, producing a brut sparkling wine. Marks and Spencer are also taking advantage of this trend adding many new English wines to their range.

English sparkling wines have built a reputation for themselves and their continued success in world-wide tasting competitions when pitted against some of the world’s best Champagnes. Their success is based on dedication to producing the best possible wines despite our inhospitable climate that saw one of the biggest producers, Nyetimber, discard their entire 2012 harvest equivalent to 400,000 bottles due to poor quality grapes.

Vines have been grown in England from the South Downs to Yorkshire for generations though the vineyards producing some of the more consistent wines were in the South and included names such as Denbies, Camel Valley, Biddenden, Nyetimber and Ridgeview and there are now more than 400 vineyards producing English wine.

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Quality English wines can be recognised by a new system of labelling developed in the EU to protect the reputation of regionally produced foods. Protected status has been introduced for wines and they are labelled with ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ or Protected Geographic Indication.and will have passed certain taste or analytical parameters.

Many of the good quality English sparkling wines such as those from Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Jenkyn Place and Gusborne are all made from the grapes used to produce Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and make a quality sparkling wine by the ‘methode traditionelle’. Wines made by some of the better known producers listed above are now beginning to be found in some of the other vineyards such as Sharpham, Shawsgate and Frithsden are gaining a reputation for consistently good wines too as is Blackdown Ridge which is just south of Haslemere in Sussex.

This is a very young vineyard, developed from scratch by Martin Cook after an Italian winemaker friend visited a few years ago and thought it would be perfect for growing vines.

It is the highest point in the South Downs attracts a large number of visitors who are now able to taste and buy their first commercial vintage from 2013.

Martin oversaw the planting of Bacchus, the white grape for good English wines that seems to enjoy the chalky soil of the Downs and copes with the climate making dry yet aromatic and fruity wines. The red is from Rondo and Triomphe d’Alsace and is softly fruity with a lovely aroma and a perfumed rose also from Triomphe d’Alsace.

Explore English wines during English Wines week when many wines will be available for tasting and many restaurants may well pair them with great English food!

If you’re trying to find something to do after this extended Bank Holiday weekend most vineyards welcome visitors and you can taste before you buy!