12 best English still wines celebrating homegrown grapes, from bacchus to chardonnay
Think it’s all about the fizz? These bottles are here to convince you otherwise
England now has more than 500 vineyards and while our reputation for making some of the best sparkling wines around keeps growing, we’re also proving to be pretty adept at producing excellent still wines.
It’s a reputation that took a major leap forward last year when a heatwave produced ideal growing conditions and the promise that the 2018 vintage could be the biggest and best enjoyed by English winemakers.
Bacchus, a German hybrid grape suited to more temperate climates, is rapidly becoming the grape of choice for many English white wines, although red wines are making a small but steady inroad into the market too, with gamay and pinot noir on the rise.
So along with some earlier vintages which have already proven their worth, we bring you the pick of last year’s extraordinary crop.
Bolney Lychgate Bacchus 2018, 75cl, 12%: £12.99, Bolney
There’s no getting away from the fact that bacchus, a grape designed for more temperate climes, is proving a winner in the 2018 English wine stakes. This example from a South Downs vineyard overseen by three generations of the same family has that freshness and vigour you expect from bacchus along with tantalising notes of elderflower and green fruit. A summer stunner.
Lyme Block Signature White Cuvée 2018, 75cl, 12.5%: £9.99, Aldi
Proving that there’s more to Devon than cream teas, Aldi has gone into partnership with the Lyme Bay winery, not far from Lyme Regis in East Devon. It’s head winemaker Liam Idzikowski has produced this crisp and well-balanced blend of bacchus and pinot blanc grapes. Clean and refreshing, with hints of apple and melon and notes of lemon and lime, it’s an ideal partner for any fresh fish dish, and another example of a good English wine for under £10.
Plumpton Estate Bacchus 2015, 75cl, 11%: £16.95, South Downs Cellars
Plumpton College in Sussex is the UK’s viticulture and oenology education centre where students learn all about the wine business and, with professional help, make their own wines including this impressive white made from the bacchus grape. First appearing in Germany before the war as a cross between riesling-silvaner and muller-thurgau, bacchus has becoming increasingly popular in English vineyards in recent years. Similar in some ways to sauvignon blanc, this example has apple and citrus flavours along with notes of newly mown hay and elderflower.
Blackdown Ridge 2016 Triomphe, 75cl, 11.5%: £10, Winebuyers
This red wine is from Blackdown Ridge, a winery which takes its name from highest point of the South Downs, where medical professor Martin Cook established a south-facing vineyard in 2010. Production may be small but the wines are big in value and in taste. This easy-drinking red, made from the established triomphe d’alsace grape, has a real depth of red and dark fruit flavours with notes of spice and pepper. And it’s great value for only a tenner.
Denbies Brokes Botrytis Ortega 2016, 37.5cl, 10%: £60, Denbies
At £60 for a half-bottle this is probably the most expensive English wine around. But what you’re paying for is a taste of an exquisite dessert wine made from ortega grapes that have been attacked by noble rot (botrytis). That may sound nasty but the infection, if carefully managed, can produce some of the finest sweet wines in the world. Rich but never cloying, you can almost chew on the vanilla and candied and preserved fruit flavours here, balanced as they are by notes of citrus and spice.
Camel Valley Atlantic Dry 2018, 75cl, 12.5%: £13.95, Camel Valley
An aptly named white wine from vineyards above the River Camel in Cornwall, midway between the Atlantic and the south coast. Bob Lindo and his family have been producing award-winning English wines there for more than 25 years and this blend of 67 per cent pinot blanc and 33 per cent bacchus has full-on citrus and green fruit flavours and a beautifully crisp and dry finish. It’s perfect with any Cornish fish dish.
Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2016, 75cl, 12.5%: £30 (£180 for case of 6), Chapel Down
An outstanding rich, textured and intensely flavoured single-vineyard chardonnay from the North Downs of Kent and a deserved trophy winner at this year’s International Wine Challenge (IWC) awards. Matured on the lees in French oak for nine months, this gold-medal wine has orchard and nutty notes which, combined with the chardonnay grape’s distinctive buttery charm, results in a wine that’s great on its own or is superb accompaniment to a light fish dish.
London Cru Baker St Bacchus 2018, 75cl, 12%: £15, Roberson Wine
There’s a touch of Gerry Rafferty in the name of this wine from pioneering metropolitan winery London Cru. Overlooking the fact that the subject of the Rafferty song had decided “give up the booze and the one-night stands”, this is another splendid wine made from this year’s go-to grape, bacchus. Apple and orchard flavours combine with elderflower and gooseberry to produce a wine that really zings. Good on its own but great with another and slighter older English staple, fish and chips.
Biddenden Gamay Noir 2018, 75cl, 12.5%: £15.50, Biddenden
We’re now seeing more English red wines on the market, including this new addition by a famous Kent vineyard that’s been making wine since the early 1970s. This light-bodied, easy-drinking gamay noir is similar in style to pinot noir, with its cherry and plum flavours and light floral notes. It will go with everything from roast chicken to pork belly and on a warm day can be enjoyed lightly chilled.
Westwell The Philosopher Late Harvest Ortega 2016, 37.5cl, 8.5%: £19.95, Winebuyers
Ortega is a German grape variety developed in 1948 which can withstand hard winters and has an inbuilt sweetness. That makes it ideal for growing in more temperate areas and creating dessert wines such as this late-harvest gem from the family-run Westwell Wines on the North Downs of Kent, close to the Pilgrim’s Way. Sweet without being overpowering and with a sherbet-like intensity, it would bring a crowning touch to the end of any meal. It’s a limited edition, so get it while you can.
Stopham Estate Pinot Gris 2017, 75cl, 11.5%: £16, Winebuyers
Winemaker Stopham says it’s its job to translate the diverse weather of the South Downs – cool breezes and rain one day, sunshine and sun cream the next – into every bottle of wine they produce. And there’s certainly a touch of West Sussex terroir in this admirable pinot gris with its aromatic peach and citrus notes and lengthy and refreshing finish.
Blackbook Tamesis Bacchus 2018, 75cl, 12%: £19, Blackbook
The first London-grown, London-made wine to have appeared since Roman times. Made from bacchus grapes grown at the Forty Hall vineyard in Enfield, north London, and made at Blackbook’s Battersea winery, it is, says Blackbook co-founder and winemaker Sergio Verrillo, “proof that world-class wine can be produced in an urban winery”. With layers of peach, citrus and elderflower and a fruity and textured palate, it’s a wine that any centurion would have been proud of.
The verdict: English still wines
It’s not just the quality of English wines that impresses, it’s the range too – from the award-winning single-vineyard chardonnay from Kit’s Coty to pinot gris from Stopham and the ever-persuasive bacchus from producers such as Blackbook and London Cru. Our best buy is the Bolney Lychgate Bacchus 2018, a superb example of how the bacchus grape is proving the ideal companion to what may prove to be another record-breaking summer and another milestone in the development of English wine.
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