The State of English Wine


Over the past decade the UK has been developing a reputation for its sparkling wines. Over here in the US, people tend to snort at the thought of British wine, at first, but then after considering the relative latitudes and the weather to that of Champagne start to see its potential. Throw global warming into the mix and suddenly the UK seems a sure bet for the next great region.

In reality the terroir is not the same, the soils tend to be different and the weather is too. What I learned was that the UK does best when embracing its own style, and not merely emulating that of its more famous neighbors.
For all the noise over British sparkling wines a few things were apparent:

- Firstly, wine in the UK is still a niche industry. With a nationwide annual production of around 2.5 million bottles, it would take decades to for each British citizen to enjoy just a single bottle.

- Secondly, and this follows from the above, retail and restaurant support/presence is meager. With such low production I can understand why the large supermarket chains are unable to sell local wines, but I struggled endlessly to find a single store that sold British wine (final thanks went to Sainsbury's, but the experience was hardly pleasant, as we found the bottle after 30 minutes of searching the shelves), and the only restaurant I went to that had British wines had a French Sommelier who tried to advise me against buying local!

- Thirdly, if you're fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try British sparkling wine, you may be very impressed. Try a white, they are interesting, pair well with food and some are very good. However, skip the reds. A major generalization, of course, but the ones I tried were disjointed, green, very woody and not to my liking. The UK simply does not have the weather for the grapes o achieve sufficient ripeness to produce good reds.

Some of my favorites:

Camel Valley Ltd Brut Cornwall 2006, £19 ($30)
“Camel's flagship sparkler. Made with Seyval, this sparkling wine exhibits firm acidity and a fine bead, which swells into an excellent mousse of bubbles in the mouth. There's a slight almond character which plays well with the peach and biscuit notes. Smooth mid-palate with a light summery strawberry finish. Light hay on the nose. Very nice.”

Chapel Down Sainsbury's English Sparkling Wine Rose NV, £30 ($47)

“British sparkling wine - almost as rare as a 4 leafed clover. Obviously i had to try it…Pale salmon color, large bubbles, light berry and yeasty nose, low acid but not flabby. Nice fruits with a medium finish. Also, an interesting selection of grapes.”

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Andrew - thanks for commenting. I'm also a British subject, although as a Celt (true Cornish), I bristle under any mention of the monarchy!

    Thanks for the links - I've watched with anticipation the English wines gain repute and renown.

    I went to Roast near London Bridge - great place - but it was there that the French Som warned me off English wines. It was also there that I tried the Chapel Down Pinot/Rondo NV, which really want that great. I'll make sure to seek out the Brightwell when I'm next back home.

    Jul 13, 2009 at 3:10 AM

  • Snooth User: penguinoid
    Hand of Snooth
    148296 1,216

    This would seem worth a read, if you've not had a look at it yet -

    Oz Clarke's pick of the best British vineyards

    He seems more keen on the sparkling and white wines than the red ones too. I'm keen to try all three, but since I'm currently overseas that will have to wait…

    There's a few others I've read about that sound good too, but Oz Clarke hasn't mentioned — I guess you can't list them all. Of course, they may not be as good in real life — hopefully I'll get to test this!

    Jul 13, 2009 at 7:33 AM

  • Andrew

    Hi Chap, can I be more than a little pedantic? Firstly us Brits are 'subjects' not ‘citizens' and secondly the sparkling stuff is more likely to be found in supermarkets etc than the still stuff! Oh and there is a third. It should be English (and Welsh) wine; British wine is made from imported juice (and really is to be avoided).

    The reputation of English wine is being made with the sparkling wines and is thus more readily available than the still wines. My local supermarket offers three or four different bottles and I'm in a small country market town.

    I have to agree on the reds not being as good as the whites. But this is a generalisation; the Brightwell Red myself and a bunch of food/wine bloggers sampled recently was superb. The vineyards whites are good too - decent enough for a top London wine bar to stock them at any rate.

    OK to give some links?
    The Wine Bar -

    Brightwell Vineyard -

    English Wine and Cheese Tasting -

    Jul 13, 2009 at 12:17 PM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Great, thanks Penguin. I notice that he talks about Camel Valley as well - I'm about to write a second post focussed on them specifically

    Jul 14, 2009 at 9:16 AM

  • Snooth User: penguinoid
    Hand of Snooth
    148296 1,216

    That's fine. I had a bit of a half-hearted look for English wines last time I was back there, but didn't really manage to find any. I think next time I'm back there I'll have to try looking properly, maybe go and visit a few of the vineyards if I can manage. Camel Valley would seem to be a must-see!

    Jul 16, 2009 at 8:17 AM

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