British Bubbles – The rise of English sparking wine

In Andi's Reviews by Classtoglass

Aside from Christmas and all the family stuff that goes along with it, one of the thing I was most excited to do on my recent trip to the UK was review some English sparking wine. Yes – English sparking wine. Wine actually grown and produced in the UK. The news that Great Britain produces any wine of note may be a surprise to you, but something marvellous is going on in Blighty!

English sparkling viticulture

An increasingly warm climate and chalky soil, as it turns out, actually produces grapes of excellent quality. Though still considered to be a cool climate growing region, the long growing season in southern England produces well balanced wines with a great acidity. The most celebrated of British wines are the sparkling wines from the counties of  Kent and Sussex. So celebrated in fact, that in April some of them even beat Champagne in a blind tasting in France. Stephen Skelton recently described English wines as ‘undervalued’ in an article for Decanter magazine. I noticed on my return to the UK that many of the supermarkets have commandeered some of the best of the British vineyards to produce special blends for them.

In 2016, the UK had approximately five thousand acres under vine across 450 vineyards. That amount is around five million bottles of sparkling, which is estimated to rise to ten million by 2020. The main grape varieties grown are those also found in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These wines are becoming big business and some of the big Champagne houses have started to take notice; the Champagne giant Tattinger recently acquired some of that lovely land for themselves.

Some of my favourites:


Chalk Valley Sparkling wine from the Denbies Estate, Surrey UKChalk Valley Sparkling wine from the Denbies Estate, Surrey UK

This great value bottle comes from the Denbies Estate, family run since 1984. Lots of medium sized bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass from the first splash. Pale golden with a clear complexion, this wine does not give much away at first. Slowly notes of orchard fruits and toasted nuts develop. Though quoted at being full of citrus flavours, I got more of a granny smith vibe, though a little lemon on the palate. A really well balanced wine which was not as dry as we expected, it has a creamy texture with a fresh finish. Delicious. This wine is great value at around £14 a bottle, a similar price to the cheaper champagnes in the UK. Champagnes at this price, in my humble opinion, are not nearly as delightful.

Chapel Down English Sparking Reserve, Kent UKChapel Down English Sparking Reserve, Kent UK

Chapel Down has been my favourite British winery for a couple of years now. Indeed, it was this wine that drew my attention to the growing industry in the first place. Unfortunately during this visit I learnt that I am not the only one to have discovered the merits of this wine and we found it very hard to track down. Eventually I found this non-vintage that had been specially produced for a popular supermarket. As always, I was not disappointed.

Palest lemon in colour with short-lived bubbles, this fizz had a particular inviting bouquet. Fresh, floral and citrus notes abound first, closely followed by subtle hints of quince and toast. On the palate, this wine is well balanced with a creamy texture and crisp apple finish. Overall a delightful wine, made by the traditional bottle fermented method of Champagne. At £22 a bottle, it is worth every penny and my only regret is that we only found one on our visit. This wine would be just as welcome at a celebration as the real French deal – though the lack of long lasting bubbles give it away a bit.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, Sussex UKNyetimber Classic Cuvee, Sussex UK

Recommended to me by a fellow British wine lover, this wine is very special indeed. It is clear to see from its plethora of awards why it also carries a hefty price tag at £32 a bottle. Indeed in April 2016, The Telegraph documented an international wine competition where nine of the fourteen judges preferred Nyetimber to Billecart Salmon Grand Cru Champagne (£65 per bottle.) Nyetimber were the first winemakers to really put British bubbles on the market from their single estate in Sussex.

The pale straw with a hint of peach colour is notably darker and more effervescent that the previous two wines. Indeed this wine looks far more like a traditional Champagne. It smells absolutely gorgeous, much more so than some of the mustier French wines. Notes of mushroom, citrus and stone fruits are really enticing. It feels delicate but long lasting on the pallet. Flavours of lemon tart result in a smooth texture with a zesty fresh finish. In my humble opinion, this sparking wine is much more delicious that Champagnes in the same price bracket and would be perfect for any important celebration.

Battle of the bubbles

Having now had the privilege to sample some of the best sparkling wine on offer from Australia and France, I wondered if my opinion on British bubbles would have changed since my last visit. I am glad to write that I am very excited about the wine being produced in the South of England. What will happen next with the growing industry back home? British sparking wine deserves a spot at anyone’s party and there are a wide range to suit a variety of budgets.

Though not as complex as the finer Champagnes like Dom Perignon, or as fruit driven as their Aussie counterparts, I think that sparking wines from the UK are a contender to any other similarly priced rivals.