I’ve been an English wine nut since I was in shorts. I studied History and Geography at Uni and the title for my dissertation in 1993 was … wait for it …. 
‘The Future of English Wine and it’s Potential With Global Warming’ 
... and here we are … Full on global warming, vineyards springing up everywhere, foreign money pouring into our fledgling industry and awards being dished out to some very, very good wines. Yes, awards; proper awards; like the ones real wines get from real wine places, like Champagne and Burgundy. 
 
There’s a whole library of content you can binge on English wine but the very short summary of where we are now is this …. 
We are very good at making bottle fermented, Champagne method sparkling wine from the traditional Champagne grape varietals – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The two key drivers here are climate and soil. We have acres of well drained, vine friendly, deep chalk soils in Southern England, very similar to Champagne and our climate, as we all know, is getting warmer all the time.  
On a recent walk around Hundred Hills winery in Stonor Valley, owner and founder, Stephen Duckett told me about temperature studies of his estate that showed a five year average exactly mirroring Champagne in the 1970’s … and it’s only going one way. 
Caution however! Much as we really do have some world class wines being made in this country by super talented, dedicated, passionate individuals we are still a fledgling industry, with very little structure in place to help us consumers work out what’s good and what’s not. There’s nothing as sophisticated as the AOC system in France to let us know that all Champagne is generally going to be good and taste more or less in one style, or that Chablis is going to be made from Chardonnay and taste more or less like we expect Chablis to taste. Although great progress is being made, it’s a minefield, and sadly there are still some mines to step on. 
 
I started life out as a winemaker, taking my first job after Uni at Thames Valley Vineyards near Reading, Berkshire in 1993. Back then it was all experimentation. English sparkling wine was just about palatable, and the still wines were quite a long way off that; well certainly the ones that I was helping make. English wine was synonymous with barrel fermented Seyval Blanc, lees aged Reichensteiner, Madeleine Angevine. Grapes that can’t legally be used to make wine in France were combined with traditional, grown-up wine making techniques by us pioneers in the UK. Many wineries were trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear … added to which they wines were packaged and sent to market in revolting looking bottles at prices that only the winemaker didn’t wince at. 
 
We’ve come a long, long way since then with the good wine estates really understanding balance. They’ve finished trying to replicate what’s being done in other countries and, instead, are seeking out a style that really represents England (and Wales) and their unique land and microclimate. 
 
I’ve picked out a few wines that really tell the story of how far we’ve come and where we might be going with English and Welsh wines. They’re split in to ‘wines to try’ that tell our story and show us the way, and ‘wines to buy,’ the ‘we’ve made it section.’ 

So … here below are 5 WINES TO TRY: 

These are all still wines. We’re famed for our sparkling wines but not yet for our still. There’s no red recommended here. I think we’re 10 years or so away from being able to really recommend a red that’s not ludicrously priced for its quality. These below are not ludicrously priced and their quality is right up there. They’re really very very good and are only going to get better … 
I put this in to a blind tasting for very good French Sommeliers recently. The theme was crisp, refreshing, picnic whites and it was among Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Vouvray and other big names. It won. Bachus is our flagship still white grape variety that typifies all that is great about English and Welsh white wine and the long lazy summer days we (sometimes) have. Think Sauvignon Blanc but with even more crispness and energy and tad less alcohol. 
A ‘wine made with precision and passion.’ Owner, Simon, used to design for McLaren before he got bitten by the English wine bug. This Pinot Gris was the first wine that convinced me that we could make really good still white wine in this country. It’s a difficult grape to ripe consistently in the UK but here in Sussex it seems to work well. Off dry with a mesmerising hedgerow, floral scent and beautifully fruity to taste. 
This is as grown up as English white wine gets and I love it because it retains incredible balance. It’s our take on a tip top Meursault or Puligny but it’s different – it has that freshness and vitality that our climate gives our wines and balances the white peach and apple fruit beautifully with a touch of hazelnut and butter coming from the old oak barrel fermentation using wild yeasts. This is pushing the boundaries and, whilst some might think it's a touch on the pricey side, it’s very good. Bravo Chapel Down. 
I first came across this wine in one of my favourite restaurants, Sams Riverside. Owner Sam Harrison is a champion of English wine and suggested this wine with a wild seabass and samphire dish. It was a match made in heaven. Very Burgundian in style and closest perhaps to a Premier Cru Chablis, with all the racy acidity sometimes found in these wines and enough peach like flesh to make it a very gluggable mouthful. 
 
and here's a bit about Sams Riverside 
 
Charles and Ruth Simpson learned and perfected their wine making talents in the South of France at Domaine Saint Rose. I knew them then and they’re now making stunning wines here in Kent. Note that I have yet to recommend you trying a red in this list above but I won’t hesitate with this Rosé. It’s proof that we can challenge Provence on style, elegance and of course flavour. Again, it’s not cheap but it is very very good. 
 
and here's a bit about Domaine Saint Rose 

And here are 5 WINES TO BUY 

I’d recommend buying these. This is what we do best in this country – world class Sparkling wine with its own identity and uniqueness. Each one of these: 
1. Is well worth the money 
2. Is different 
3. Showcases, in my humble opinion, the very best that each of these brilliant wineries produce: 
Nyetimber are the pioneers of world class English sparkling wine and they’re vintage Blanc de Blancs is completely … WOW. I last served it at a reception before I began pouring guests Chateau Lafite and Chateau d’Yquem … it’s that good. Nutty, Citrusy and floral. It’s so fine and complex whilst at the same time, totally hedonistic. I LOOOVE IT. 
A more beautiful setting you’d be hard to find and the wines here at Hundred Hills are nothing but first class. Like all their wines, their 2018 tells the story of the vintage – 100 days of ripening over a long, fair summer, producing a wine with wonderful subtlety and vitality. Founder Stephen Duckett knows more about Champagne than most winemakers from Champagne and his expertise shines through. 
Camel Valleys sparkling Rosé is a party in a glass. It’s so pretty in colour and refreshing in fruit. It’s a Summer meadow and a plate of strawberries all rolled in to one to make for one of the most delicious sparkling pinks I have tried. 
Blanc de Noirs is the product of only black skinned grapes, in this case Pinot Noir and this is Rathfinnys flagship wine. Mark Driver and his family have put everything in to creating this wonderful estate with the intention of creating the best sparkling wines that we can possibly produce here in the UK … and particularly in Sussex … and they are doing just that. 
I love this wine for so many reasons but principally because it is not showy or trying to be anything that it is not … and it’s very very good. Consistently good as well. Hambledon is one of the oldest working vineyards in this country and they make beautifully pure, elegant sparkling wines. This always come top five in any sparkling wine tasting I either attend or put on, regardless of the competition. 
 
 
 
 
 
If you’ve read this far, I’d love you to go one step further and buy/try a bottle/glass or two of the above. 
For the second step further please let me/us know what you make of the wines and for the third step further, please let us know any English/Welsh wine that you think should have been on this list above and I’ll make sure we taste it!  
 
#alwayslearning 
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