Best English Grapes
Published by Simon Huntington on 07/03/2019
Looking to get into English wine, but not sure what grapes to be looking out for? Head of Consumer Sales Simon Huntington checks out some of the most delicious options.
England, in recent years, has become acclaimed as one of the world’s best producers of sparkling wines, and English fizz has beaten French Champagnes at a number of blind tastings. Yet the rise in quality of English still wines has been just as remarkable, if not as headline-grabbing.
Some grapes like Bacchus actually seem to work better in English terroir than anywhere else. Others like Chardonnay aren’t better – just different – with distinctive flinty characteristics when grown in England’s chalky soils.
The modern English wine industry is still so young that it’s a time of incredible learning, growth and change. The famous wine regions of continental Europe have had centuries to work out the best terroirs for growing grapes, and the best varieties to have planted. England’s just getting started – so while there are exquisite wines being made, there are also plenty of wines out there that have… room for improvement.
So to save you the trouble of sorting the wheat from the chaff, we’ve outlined England’s best grapes:
If you love Chablis, but hate buttery Chardonnays from the southern hemisphere, then English Chardonnay is for you. Like Chablis, good English Chardonnays have delicate structure and rounded mouthfeel from ageing on lees, yet they add a flinty mineral character from being grown on England’s chalky soils.
Two superb examples are London Cru Chancery Lane Chardonnay, which is fresh, delicate and incredibly gluggable, and Simpson Estate Gravel Castle Chardonnay, which shows wonderful apple and nashi pear character, with creamy texture and a finely mineral finish.
Not just for sparkling
England’s Pinot Noir is principally grown for sparkling wine production – as one of the three authorised varieties in Champagne, it’s a crucial component of most Traditional Method English sparkling wines.
Many sparkling wine producers also make a still wine with some of their left over Pinot, but these can lack body and fruit intensity, since grapes for sparkling wines are typically picked too early for optimum still wine production.
The best examples – like Simpson Estate Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir – are made from Burgundian Pinot Noir clones – specifically intended for still wine production and farmed separately to sparkling wine grapes. In this case, they can show the body and ripe fruit of a good red Burgundy, with a distinctive mineral character from England’s chalky soils.
As a sideline, English Pinot Noir can also make exceptionally pure, delicate rosé. For a superb, Provence-like example from Kent, check out Simpson Estate Railway Hill Rosé, or for bashfully pale Pinot rosé from Surrey, try London Cru Rosaville Rd Rosé.
The Queen of England
Bacchus loves the English climate. Like a typical northern-European who gets burnt the second the sun comes out, Bacchus suffers when the climate gets too warm, and its wines can lack vibrancy, acidity and aromatic profile.
Of course too much sunshine is rarely a problem in England, and Bacchus grapes ripen perfectly, yet maintain a wonderfully zingy, citrus character, to match with aromas of elderflower and freshly-mown meadow. Top examples like London Cru Baker St Bacchus are utterly evocative of the English countryside – and there really isn’t a better match with a plate of freshly-shucked Whitstable oysters.
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