Bottles of Dear Old Blighty: A Deep Tasting of English Wine

For the longest time, my British friends have been bragging about their wines. Not the wines they’ve been drinking, mind you, but the wines that their countrymen and women have been growing. I’ve had the occasion to sample a bottle of Nyetimber here and a bottle of Bride Valley or Ridgeview there, but until recently I’ve lacked the opportunity to taste a lot of English wine side-by-side.

When I decided to take a quick trip to London for a celebration recently, I realized it might be my chance to rectify this lack. Thankfully, the folks at Wines of Great Britain were kind enough to assist me in my quest, putting together a broad tasting of both sparkling and still wines from recent vintages that I was able to spend the good part of a day exploring.

A Short Explanation of a Long History

For even the most well-informed American wine lovers, English wine has seemingly appeared on the scene almost overnight. Certainly, when I started writing about wine seriously in 2004, it was so far off the radar as to be non-existent. But the modern UK wine industry has a history comparable to that of the American wine industry in post-prohibition times, and a much longer origin story that stretches back nearly two thousand years.

Vines were likely planted in England during the Roman occupation going as far back as the first century AD, up until the departure of the Romans from the British Isles in AD 410. For the next 400 years or so, it was presumably tough for resident Britons to maintain much of a wine industry while fending off waves of invasion from the likes of Saxons, Vandals, and Vikings, especially when these barbarians’ favorite things to do included torching monasteries, the frequent home of both wine knowledge and production.

Gusborne Vineyards on a misty morning

But thanks to some particularly anal-retentive recordkeeping by William the Conqueror, we know that by 1066 there were at least 42 vineyards in England (mostly to the west of London). William’s so-called Norman Conquest brought with it French knowledge of viticulture that fueled a resurgence of winegrowing on the isle which peaked just in time for the 14th Century’s Black Death to wipe out the vineyard workforce (and presumably a large portion of the clientele, as well).

With the exception of a scattered few vineyard plantings in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries, things didn’t really pick back up again until after the Second World War, when Ray Barrington Brock established his own private research station and nursery dedicated to vitis vinifera grapes. This unprecedented work ensured that when Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones decided to plant England’s first modern commercial vineyard in 1952 (the Hambledon Vineyard, shown in the featured image at top) the knowledge and the grape stock required to do so were readily available.

The minuscule UK wine industry grew in relatively tiny fits and starts for the next 15 years. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay didn’t really appear on the scene much until the late 1980s. Shortly thereafter, at least in part if not significantly due to the warming weather that accompanied climate change, the industry really took off.

Simpsons Wine Estate © Thomas Alexander Photography

The British Bubbly Boom

Despite warming global temperatures, England is still pretty damn chilly. The weather is variable, the yields small, and ripening a challenge. This climatological reality, combined with the fact that parts of southern England are made up of exactly the same Cretaceous chalk formation as the grand cru sites of Avize and Cramant in Champagne, pushed most producers to focus on sparkling wines (even though many, including Salisbury-Jones, initially thought to produce still wines).

It should be noted that while the chalk congruence with Champagne is incredibly obvious, many of the early vineyards, and bunches of recent vineyards (including some of the top producers in the UK) are not, in fact, planted on chalk at all, lessening the argument that the industry’s success is geologically based (other soil types include sandy loam and something called greensand, which is the porous layer underneath all that chalk). All reasonably-well-drained soils being somewhat equal, so to speak, climate has really been the thing shaping the nature of English wines thus far.

But the industry has seen great success. Just as when California began to show real promise in bubbly wine production, the giants of sparkling have swooped in to purchase land or estates. Taittinger Champagne purchased 170 acres in Kent in 2015. Vranken-Pommery Champagne purchased about 100 acres around the same time, and recently Henkell-Freixenet (owners of sparkling estates in Cava, Champagne, and Prosecco) announced the purchase of the Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex.

Ashling Park from above

The UK wine industry is in what you might describe as explosive-growth mode. Visits to UK wineries were up 57% in 2021 despite the pandemic, and sales were up 30%. Impressively, a full 50% of the industry’s sales are apparently now direct to consumers.

There are just under 10,000 acres of vineyards in England, Wales, and Scotland at the moment. That’s a 70% increase over the past 5 years and a two-fold increase in the past 8 years. This acreage is shared across approximately 800 vineyards and around 178 wineries.

The majority of acreage (over 60%) remains dedicated to the holy trinity of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but a full 8.5% of the plantings are Bacchus, the early-ripening German cross between Silvaner, Riesling, and Müller-Thurgau. Another 4.5% are Seyval Blanc, a French hybrid grape that does well in colder climates.

Historically much of UK wine production has been sparkling wine, but still wines are quickly gaining ground. In 2021, still wines made up 36% of the country’s production, up from 28% just a couple of years ago.

Distant vineyard at Hush Heath estate

Because many newer producers have a focus on sparkling wine (and therefore longer lees aging in the bottle), we’re seeing a bit of a lag between vineyard plantings and wine brands (and bottlings) hitting the market.

In other words, if you think there’s a boom now, just wait a couple of years.

My Thoughts on What I Tasted

I had a grand time tasting through the roughly 70 or so wines that had been generously gathered for me by Wines of Great Britain. There’s nothing quite so satisfying for wine writers as a deep tasting dive into unknown territory.

I’ll be honest, though, I expected to be more impressed. Maybe it was all my British friends and colleagues driving up my expectations, but I had the idea that some of these wines were going to blow me away. That definitely didn’t happen.

There were a number of excellent sparkling wines in the lineup, to be sure, but even while most of the wines were high quality, none yet sang of greatness, so to speak. As for the still wines, well, let’s just say after a few decent ones, the remainder of the pack lagged pretty far behind.

But let’s return to the bubbles for a moment. In general, it seems, British bubbly is… lean. By that I mean the wines are very steely, with heavy malic (i.e. green apple) and citrus qualities driven by high acidity. Tasted blind with a bunch of Champagnes, it strikes me that many could easily be mistaken for brut nature, or zero-dosage wines, even though most do have dosage at the fairly standard level of 6 to 8 grams per liter of sugar. I’m guessing some of the top examples will age extremely well in the bottle, and reward some cellaring. I would dearly love to taste a number of these wines with some significant bottle age one day.

When done well, the racy, angular quality of these wines is commendable and even attractive (to this acid-loving taster), but when not shaped properly through some combination of excellent fruit, proper pressing, longer lees aging, and proper dosage, just to select a few crucial factors in the making of bubbles, the results can be somewhat shrill or at the very least, lacking in subtlety.

Squerryes Vineyard

That said, only a few of the wines I tasted felt entirely disjointed or searing. Most were straightforwardly well-made (if extremely high-acid) sparkling wines that would be easy to drink without too much thought.

Easy to drink provided, of course, that you’re buying them in the UK and paying with British Pounds. Unfortunately, those few wines that manage to get to the US (by the time you figure in the exchange rate, transport costs, customs duties, and Three-Tier markups) often end up feeling a bit pricey, especially in comparison with domestic options or theoretically comparable Champagnes. As an illustration, the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, which clocks in at a reasonable-sounding (if it were in USD) £37.50, ends up being between $55 and $60 a bottle in the shops where I can find it, compared to say the non-vintage equivalent Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs bottling which would cost $37, or the Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reservée Blanc de Blancs Champagne which would cost me $59.

Nonetheless, I encourage you to explore English wine at every opportunity. It is clearly a young category, with a lot of potential ahead.

I have reviewed the entire set of wines provided to me at this tasting (as opposed to providing you with only the highlights) and I have included the suggested retail price in Pounds as provided to me by the producers. Where possible, I have included links to purchase the best of these wines in the US but, as you can see, there’s pretty slim pickings.

Some of my tasting lineup

White Sparkling Wines

Wines With A Score Between 9 And 9.5

2015 Wiston Estate Winery Blanc de Blancs, Sussex, England
Light yellow-gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of fresh and baked apples, sea air, and a hint of crushed nuts and butterscotch. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers wonderfully bright flavors of lemon pith, fuji apples, toasted sourdough, and pomelo. There’s a lovely faint salinity in the finish. 100% Chardonnay aged 50% in mature Burgundy barrels and 50% in stainless steel. Bottled in the summer of 2016. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £85.00. This is the one wine in my writeup I have found a serious deal on. It can be found for $50 online at the time of writing. click to buy.

NV Hambledon Vineyard “Classic Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze and fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, melted butter, and citrus pith. In the mouth, a wonderfully soft mousse delivers salty, rich toasty flavors of lemon pith, buttered brioche, and seawater across the palate as lemon oil and juicy brightness linger in the finish. Outstanding. A blend of 56% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 17% Pinot Meunier. Based on the 2016 vintage with 20% tank-aged reserve wine added in. A tiny (6%) amount of the wine was barrel-fermented. Spends 35 months on the lees. 4.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £30.00

NV Hambledon Vineyard “Premiere Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet stone, baked apples, and nougat. In the mouth, a voluminous, silky mousse delivers flavors of baked apples, lemon zest, grapefruit, and a hint of raspberries. Lovely salty notes combine with the berry elements through the finish. Excellent acidity and brightness. A blend of 67% Chardonnay, 11% Pinot Noir, and 22% Pinot Meunier. The base wine is 2014 and 18% of the blend is barrel-aged reserve wine. 4% of the base wine is barrel fermented. Spends 62 months on the lees. 2.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £45.00

NV Ashling Park Estate “Cuvée NV” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A light-to-medium gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of marzipan and baked apples. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers salty flavors of buttered sourdough toast, lemon peel, poached apples, and butterscotch. A wonderful lemon pith flavor lingers in the finish along with toasted nuts. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% Meunier. The base wine is from the 2013 vintage. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £31.50

Wines With A Score Around 9

2015 Stonyfield Brut Seyval Blanc, Northamptonshire, England
Pale straw in the glass with gold highlights and fine bubbles, this wine smells of chopped apples and white flowers. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse carries mouthwatering flavors of green apple and cider apples mixed with white flowers and lemon peel. Fantastically bright, acidity gives a sour lemon zip to the wine, which finishes with lemon pith and juice and just the tiniest hint of sweetness. 8 g/l dosage. A blend of 80% Seyval Blanc and 20% Pinot Noir from a tiny 1-acre vineyard in Northamptonshire. 12% alcohol. Price: £45

2017 Bride Valley Blanc de Blancs, Dorset, England
Pale gold in color, with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of lemon pith, orange oil, and a hint of sea air. In the mouth, a muscular, expansive mousse delivers flavors of bright lemon pith, pomelo, and a hint of toasted sourdough bread are shot through with seawater and citrus oil. Bright and juicy, with mouthwatering acidity and quite delicious. 100% Chardonnay. 7.1 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.95. click to buy.

NV Nyetimber “Classic Cuvee” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze and medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, pastry cream, and lemon pith. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers faintly saline flavors of pastry cream, linalool, white flowers, and Asian pear across the palate. Notes of green apple and white flowers linger in the finish. Quite clean and pretty. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier most likely from the 2018 vintage, though that wasn’t 100% verifiable in the moment. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £37.50. click to buy.

2018 Busi Jacobsohn Wine Estate “Cuvée Brut” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light gold in the glass, with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of apples and white flowers. In the mouth, salty flavors of buttered toast, fuji apples, lemon pith, and white flowers have a nice plush mousse and a wonderfully clean quality to them. Salty notes of lemon zest linger in the finish. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier. 6.1 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £38.00

2017 The Squerryes Partnership “Squerryes – Exclusive Vintage Reserve” Brut Champagne Blend, Kent, England
Light gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of pastry cream, apples, and a hint of dried citrus peel. In the mouth, a rather robust mousse delivers flavors of pastry cream, fresh ripe apples, citrus peel, and a hint of white flowers. Crisp and balanced with just a hint of salinity in the finish. Excellent acidity. A blend of 48% Pinot noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 22% Pinot Meunier. 6.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £32.00

2014 Artelium Wine Estate “Curators Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of marmalade and a hint of toffee and shaved balsawood. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of cooked apple, sarsaparilla, lemon rind, and a touch of kelp. Lovely filigreed acidity and overall elegance. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, and 15% Meunier. Spends 60 months on the lees. 6.7 g/l dosage. 11.4% alcohol. Price: £32.00

Wines With A Score Between 8.5 And 9

2015 Chapel Down “Kit’s Coty Coeur de Cuvée” Blanc de Blancs, Kent, England
Pale greenish gold in the glass with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of slightly yeasty fresh chopped apples. In the mouth, A slightly coarse mousse delivers flavors of apple, lemon pith, and a faint salinity. 100% Chardonnay. Not particularly complex. 6 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. 1600 bottles produced. Price: £100.00

NV Exton Park Vineyard “RB28 Reserve Blend” Blanc de Noirs, Hampshire, England
Pale gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles and a rather frothy mousse, this wine smells of plum and warm bread. In the mouth, lemon, berries, and apple flavors have a SweetTart sourness to them and mouthwatering acidity. A softer mousse caresses the palate with faintly saline notes along with the lemon pith that lingers in the finish. It’s kind of amazing how tart this wine is even after 10.1 g/l of dosage. 100% Pinot Noir. Spends 36 months on the lees. 11.5% alcohol. Price: £43.00

2015 Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs Champagne Blend, Buckinghamshire, England
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples, toasted bread, raspberries, and pomegranate seeds. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers wonderful lemon pith and grapefruit flesh flavors mixed with raspberries and apples. Excellent acidity. There’s a faint yogurty creaminess in the finish. A blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier that spends 40 months on the lees in bottle. 8.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £38.00

2017 Black Chalk Wine “Classic” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze and medium bubbles, this wine smells of lemon pith and chopped apples. In the mouth, salty apple and lemon peel mix with a hint of toasted nuts and a whiff of white flowers. Moderately full mousse. A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Meunier. Spends 28 months on the lees. 9 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.99

Wines With A Score Around 8.5

2016 Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs, Kent, England
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples and Fuji apples with a hint of citrus pith. In the mouth, a soft but voluminous mousse delivers green apple and saltine cracker flavors with a nice bright acidity. 100% Chardonnay, with all the wine put through malolactic conversion. Spends 42 months on the lees. 8.3 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £59.00

2016 Raimes English Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Hampshire, England
Pale straw gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of green apple and a touch of kiwifruit. In the mouth, a moderately coarse mousse delivers quite clean and green flavors of green apple, cucumber, lime, and grapefruit. Serious acidity. 100% Chardonnay spends 42 months on the lees. 7 g/l dosage. 11.5% alcohol. Price: £35.00

2018 Balfour Hush Heath Blanc de Noirs Champagne Blend, Kent, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of raspberries and orange peel. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of raspberry, orange peel, and citrus juice have a lean acidity to them and a zesty note in the finish. A blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Meunier. 12 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £40.00

NV Langham Wine Estate “Corallian Classic Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Dorset, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and a hint of toffee. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers salty flavors of toffee, a touch of marzipan, apple, and lemon pith with hints of berries and lingering notes of green apple skin in the finish. 75% Chardonnay with 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier. Spends 18 months on the lees. 1.5g.l dosage Mostly made of 2018, but with 17% reserve wines blended in. 12% alcohol. Price: £27.50

NV Grange Estate Wines LLP “The Grange CLASSIC” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
A light bronze-gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples, wet chalkboard, a hint of berries. In the mouth, lemon zest, unripe blackberries, and quite pretty saline notes are lifted on an airy mousse, with hints of citrus peel lingering in the finish. and A blend of 65% Chardonnay 20% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir, mostly from the 2017 vintage. Spends 37 months on the lees. 9.1 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £34.00

NV Vranken-Pommery Monopole “Louis Pommery England” Champagne Blend, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of apples and pastry cream. In the mouth, a soft, velvety mousse delivers creamy flavors of vanilla, apples, and white flowers with a hint of lemon. Softer acidity and quite creamy. A blend of 62% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 11% Pinot Meunier. Primarily 2017 wine with 10% reserve wines blended in. 10 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.99

NV Digby Fine English “Brut” Champagne Blend, England
Light gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of dried citrus peel and cooked apples. In the mouth, crisp cooked-apple and citrus notes mix with fresher Fuji apple flavors as a faint mousse moves across the palate. Good acidity and an interesting toasty nougat flavor lingering in the finish. A blend of 40% Pinot, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Meunier that spends 24 months on the lees. 12 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Contains 20% reserve wines. Price: £32.00

2016 High Clandon Estate Vineyard “Euphoria Cuvée Brut” Brut Champagne Blend, Surrey, England
Pale greenish gold in the glass with fine bubbles this wine smells of wet chalkboard and green apple. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of salty lemon peel, green apple, and a hint of orange peel. Good acidity and the salinity in the finish make the mouth water, but the flavors seem like they lack a little intensity. A blend of 57% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 13% Meunier. Comes from a single acre of vineyard. 7 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £39.00

2015 Greyfriars Vineyard “Cuvée Royale” Champagne Blend, Surrey, England
Light to medium gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of honey-roasted nuts, wet leaves, and baked apples. In the mouth, baked apples, lemon rind, and salty roasted nuts have a nice lemony kick in the finish along with a hint of nut skin. A 50/5 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fermented and aged in old oak barrels. All the wine was put through malolactic conversion. 6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. 2400 bottles made. Price: £32.00

Wines With A Score Around 8

2015 Sugrue South Downs “Cuvée Boz” Brut Blanc de Blancs, Sussex/Hampshire, England
Pale yellow-gold in color with medium bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and brown sugar. In the mouth, a coarse and robust mousse delivers flavors of lemon, pink grapefruit, green apple, and green apple skin in particular. Most of the flavors are front-loaded leaving the finish sort of airy and empty. Excellent acidity. 100% Chardonnay fermented and aged in steel, with no oak used. 9 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Price: £59.00

Wines With A Score Between 7.5 And 8

2018 Biddenden Vineyards Demi-Sec Ortega, Kent, England
Pale greenish gold in the glass with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, vanilla, and pastry cream. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of Asian pear, white flowers, and melon mix with a hint of wet dog, with a touch of bitterness in the finish. 48.3 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Price: £24.80

Pink Sparkling Wines

2018 Camel Valley Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir, Cornwall, England
Palest peachy pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries in sweet cream. In the mouth, bright berry flavors mix with citrus on the back of a soft mousse. Bright citrusy notes linger in the finish with a hint of sweet white flowers. Spends 12 months on the lees. 1 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Price: £36.00

2016 Ridgeview “Rosé de Noirs” Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A bright coppery pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, white flowers and berries, and some dried herbs. In the mouth, bright notes of raspberry and citrus peel mix with white flowers across a lovely crisp chalky backbone. Clean and somewhat crystalline in aspect. Nicely balanced. A saignee of 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier. 10 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Price: £50.00

NV Henners Vineyard Brut Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light peachy pink in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of berries and peaches. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers flavors of peach, strawberry, and a touch of honey. Excellent acidity and just a hint of aromatic sweetness as peach notes linger in the finish. A blend of 65% Pinot Meunier and 35% Pinot Noir. Spends 18 months on the lees. 6.5 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £29.95

2018 Tinwood Estate Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A bright baby pink or pale ruby in color with just a hint of copper to it, this wine has moderately fine bubbles and aromas of berries and flowers. In the mouth, bright and crisp notes of strawberries and raspberries mix with citrus peel and a moderately coarse mousse. Good acidity. Clean and crisp. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Meunier, and 10% Chardonnay. 10 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £31.00

2016 Roebuck Estates “Rosé de Noirs” Rosé Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
Light peachy pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet leaves and orange peel. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse carries flavors of orange peel, raspberry, and a bit of redcurrant across the palate. Hints of more savory notes linger in the finish along with a nice sourish cherry quality. Contains 5% Pinot Précoce, also known as Fruhburgunder, and is partially fermented in oak. Ages for 36 months on the lees. 6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £40.00

2018 Bolney Wine Estate “Cuvée Rosé” Champagne Blend, Sussex, England
A light to medium coppery pink in color with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of strawberry jam and stone fruit. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of berries, a touch of citrus peel, and a hint of bubble gum are borne on a soft mousse. A blend of 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinot Meunier, and 5% Chardonnay. 8.6 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Price: £38.00

2017 White Castle Vineyard “Esmae” Sparkling Rosé of Seyval Blanc, Wales, England
A light peachy color in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of sweet berries and passionfruit. In the mouth, a mouth-filling mousse delivers faintly sweet flavors of passionfruit and white flowers across the palate with a hint of citrus peel lingering in the finish. Slightly candied in aspect, and likely appealing to many, it is a bit confection-like for me, with its powdered sugar note in the finish. A blend of 88% Seyval Blanc and 12% Regent. Spends 36 months on the lees. 7.6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8. Price: £30.00

Still White Wines

Wines With A Score Between 8.5 And 9

2020 Burn Valley Vineyard Pinot Blanc, Norfolk, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, wonderfully bright and zesty lemon and grapefruit flavors have a nice pithy, chalky grip to them and a lovely almost saline quality to the excellent acidity. Quite tasty. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £18.99

2018 Balfour Hush Heath “Springfield” Chardonnay, Kent, England
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon zest, lemon oil, and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon and grapefruit pith have a nice mouthwatering acidity and chalky minerality. Excellent acidity and zippiness. Fermented in steel with 20% aged in a mixture of French and American oak barrels for 5 months before bottling. 12% alcohol. Price: £35.00

Wines With A Score Around 8.5

2019 Davenport Vineyards “Horsmonden Dry White” White Blend, Sussex, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, wet chalkboard, and a hint of herbs. In the mouth, the wine is very fresh with bright acidity and a nice crisp white floral, Asian pear, and very faint melon quality to it. Lovely stony minerality. A blend of 33% Ortega 33% Bacchus 14% Sigerrebe and 20% Huxelrebe fermented with native yeasts. 10% of the blend is aged in oak foudres. 11.45% alcohol. Price: £15.95

2018 Stopham Vineyard Pinot Gris, Sussex, England
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and unripe pear. In the mouth, cut grass, green apple, pear, and a touch of white flowers have a nice chalky minerality and crisp acidity. Lean and quite zippy. Contains 10% Bacchus. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £15.95

2020 Bolney Wine Estate “Estate” Chardonnay, Sussex, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon blossom cut with just the barest hint of green grass. In the mouth, flavors of lemon pith, cut grass, Asian pear, and white flowers have a nice crisp brightness to them and a lovely underlying minerality. 10% of the wine was fermented in new French oak, with a few months on the lees before blending and filtering. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £25.00

2020 Hattingley Valley Wines Chardonnay, Hampshire, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of slightly grassy lemon pith and unripe apples. In the mouth, crisp unripe apples, lemon pith, and a touch of pink grapefruit have a lean, bracing acidity and nice crisp minerality. 12.6% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £19.50

2019 Vagabond Wines Chardonnay, England
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of toasted oak, vanilla, and citrus pith. In the mouth, toasty oak mixes with lemon pith and lemon oil with a nice acidity and stony minerality. I wish the wood were a bit less prominent because the fruit is quite nice in its lean citrus aspects. Aged in 20% new French oak. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. 125 cases made. Price: £15.00

Wines With A Score Between 8 And 8.5


2019 Chapel Down “Kit’s Coty Estate” Bacchus, Kent, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of lemon balm and white flowers, and a touch of other herbs. In the mouth, a hint of oak mixes with lime flower, wet pavement, and herbs. Excellent acidity. Fermented with native yeasts in French oak for 9 months. 12.6% alcohol. Price: £25.00

2019 Woodchester Vineyards “Culver Hill” White Blend, Gloucestershire, England
Palest gold, almost colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, lime zest, and green bell pepper. In the mouth, lime zest, green bell pepper, green apple, and a touch of floral notes have a nice crisp acidity and faint tannic, mineral backbone. A blend of 34% Ortega, 33% Bacchus, and 33% Seybal Blanc. 50% of the wine is barrel fermented. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £12.95

2020 Heppington Vineyard Pinot Gris, Kent, England
Nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, pears, and a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, pomelo pith and Asian pear are somewhat chalky and austere, with racy acidity and lean fruit qualities. Crisp, but could be a little more balanced. 12.3% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £15.00

2020 LBW Drinks “Lyme Bay” Chardonnay, England
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemongrass, lime zest, and a touch of oak. In the mouth, faint notes of oak mix with crisp lime, cut grass, lemon pith, and a hint of vanilla. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £23.49

2019 Gusbourne “Bottom Camp Vineyard” Chardonnay, Kent, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of oak and white flowers. In the mouth, notes of candied green apple and white flowers have a nice crisp brightness and clean stony quality. The oak, which sticks out a bit on the nose is less prominent on the palate other than the faint grippy texture. Fermented in barrel and then aged for 10 months in 80% new French oak. Price: £20.00-£29.99

2019 Westwell Wine Estates “Amphora” Ortega, Kent, England
A cloudy light-to-medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of nothing so much as fresh horse dung at first. Shockingly so. Then with some air fruit begins to emerge from the deeply herbal, earthy blanket of aromas to give you orange peel and wet leaves. In the mouth, earthy wet leaf and damp soil flavors have hints of citrus peel and herbs, with a deeply stony character. Quite unusual. Fermented with wild yeasts on skins and aged in custom terracotta amphorae for 10 months before being bottled without filtration. Price: £25.00

Wines With A Score Around 8

2020 Itasca Wines/Penn Croft Bacchus, Hampshire, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and tinned green beans. In the mouth, white flowers, cut grass, and a touch of capsicum have a nice acidity and minerality but not much excitement. Contains 7% Chardonnay. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £10.00-£19.00

2019 Nutbourne Vineyards Bacchus, Sussex, England
Basically colorless, this wine smells of green bell pepper, green beans, and white flowers. In the mouth, green apple, white flowers, and green bean flavors have a crisp, dry mineral quality to them as wet chalkboard pervades the finish along with lime zest and green bell pepper. Very green. 12% alcohol. Price: £13.50

2018 Danbury Ridge Vineyards “Octagon Block” Chardonnay, Essex, England
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of toasted oak and lemon curd. In the mouth, lemon curd and toasted oak flavors battle for your attention on the palate, with the wood eventually winning. Notes of vanilla and lemon curd linger in the finish along with a woody sensation. Overdone. Fermented in barrels and left on the lees for 18 months, plus another 12 months of aging before bottling. 14% alcohol. Comes in a specially made fluted glass bottle that weighs much more than it needs to. Price: £52.00

Wines With A Score Between 7.5 And 8

2020 Freedom of the Press Bacchus, Oxfordshire, England
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green bell pepper. In the mouth, lime zest, green bell pepper, and crushed stones have a brisk, if slightly dilute quality to them. Hints of lime pith and a touch of grapefruit linger with the capsicum note in the finish. Good acidity. Partially fermented in amphora. 12% alcohol. Price: £15.50

2020 LBW Drinks “Lyme Bay Winery Bacchus Block” Bacchus, Devon, England
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, passionfruit, and capsicum. In the mouth, faintly sweet white flowers, green bell pepper, and green apple flavors are crisp and clean with a nice mineral backbone. Decent acidity. A bit too vegetal. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £17.00

2019 Vagabond Wines Bacchus, England
Essentially colorless in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, capsicum, and white flowers. In the mouth, faint floral notes mix with green apple and green herbs. Delicate acidity. Less vegetal than some other renditions of this grape but also somewhat dilute. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Price: £15.00

2020 Hattingley Valley Wines “Entice” Bacchus, Hampshire, England
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet white grapes. In the mouth, bright acidity accompanies too-achingly sweet flavors of white grapes, white flowers, sultanas, and candied oranges. 4 tons of Bacchus grapes are put in a walk-in freezer where they stay at minus 10 degrees for two weeks. The grapes are then gently pressed and fermented to essentially make an icewine. 126.18 g/l residual sugar. 10% alcohol. Price: £22.50

Wines With A Score Around 7.5

2020 Sandridge Barton Wines “Sharpham Bacchus – Stop Ferment” Bacchus, Devon, England
Essentially colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green bell pepper. In the mouth, faintly sweet and slightly vegetal notes of bell pepper, candied green apple, and white flowers have a faint tannic grip to them. Good acidity with notes of lime. Too vegetal. 10% alcohol. Price:??

Still Pink Wines

2020 Off The Line Vineyard “Hip Rosé” of Pinot Noir, Sussex, England
Pale pink in the glass with hints of orange, this wine smells of sappy orange peel and a hint of marijuana resin. In the mouth, juicy berry and citrus notes mix with some herbal notes and lovely bright acidity. Fermented in steel with lees stirring. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Price: £15.00

2020 Albury Organic Vineyard “Silent Pool” Rosé Blend, Surrey, England
A shiny coppery pink in color, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon with hints of citrus peel. In the mouth, berries and orange peel have a nice crips brightness with just a hint of sweetness. Crisp and juicy, with a touch of tannic texture and a hint of dried herbs on the finish. Made with organic grapes. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Pinot Meunier. 2 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Price: £18.95

2020 Yotes Court Vineyard “Best Turned Out” Rosé of Pinot Meunier, Kent, England
Palest pink in the glass, this wine smells of sweet berries and citrus peel. In the mouth, bright berry and citrus flavors have a nice crispness to them and excellent acidity. There’s little sense of the purportedly 5.6 g/l residual sugar. Clean and bright. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Price: ??

2020 Folc Rosé Blend, England
A bright baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and herbs, with red berries. In the mouth, bright berries and citrus peel flavors have a hint of chalky texture to them and a touch of herbal qualities that linger in the finish. Good acidity. A blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 23% Meunier, 8% Chardonnay, 6% Bacchus, 6% Reichensteiner, 3% Schonburger, and 1% Dornfelder. 3 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Price: £15.99

2018 Bluebell Vineyard Estates “Ashdown” Rosé, Sussex, England
A bright orange-pink in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves and dried citrus peel. In the mouth, that earthy, wet leaves quality continues with hints of citrus peel and dried herbs. Ends up being rather savory, with a faint tannic texture. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Merlot. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8. Price: £15.95

Still Red Wines

2020 Simpsons Wine Estate “Rabbit Hole” Pinot Noir, Kent, England
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and red berries with a hint of vegetal green herbs. In the mouth, a lovely bright and pure raspberry and cranberry fruit are tinged new oak, but the fruit shines through, as does a nice herbal undertone. Good acidity, faint, velvety tannins. Ages for three months in 2-year-old French barrels. 1.7 g/l residual sugar. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Price: £26.00

2020 Biddenden Vineyards “Gribble Bridge” Dornfelder, Kent, England
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oiled leather, a touch of barnyard, and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry fruit has a soft tannic backbone and less acidity than I would like. There’s a hint of citrus along with the berries, and a faint note of earth in the finish. Ultimately a little flabby. 6.1 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: between 7.5 and 8. Price: £10.00-£19.99

2018 Chartham Vineyard Pinot Noir, Kent, England
A light ruby in the glass, light enough to almost be a rosé, this wine smells of tinned vegetables and wet earth. In the mouth, tart raspberry notes have at once a candied quality as well as an herbal savory note. Faint tannins. A bit too vegetal. Good acidity. 2.5 g/l residual sugar. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 7.5. Price: £16.95

2018 Danbury Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Essex, England
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of a touch of struck match and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry fruit is wrapped in a rather muscular fist of tannins, but the wood is better integrated here than the Octogon bottling below. Nonetheless, it seems to dampen the expression of the fruit, which comes across as more savory than bright. Aged for 12 months in oak. 13.5% alcohol. Comes in a fluted, custom-designed bottle much heavier than it needs to be. Score: around 7.5. Price: £34.00

2019 Gusbourne Pinot Noir, Kent, England
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells slightly of struck match and red fruits. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry flavors are shot through with the flavors and tannins of oak, which turn somewhat aggressive in the end. Decent acidity, but feels heavy-handed. 828 and 777 clones fermented on their skins in steel, with 10 months spent in barrel. 0.5 g/l residual sugar. 12% alcohol. Score: between 7 and 7.5. Price: £33.00

2018 Divergent Drinks “Sov’ran” Cabernet Noir, England
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raisins and licorice root. In the mouth, sawdust and brown sugar mix with raisins and licorice root with hints of incense. Leathery tannins, decent acidity. An odd flavor profile, however. 12% alcohol. Score: around 7. Price: £10.00-£19.99

2018 Whitehall Vineyard “Nethercote Hill” Red Blend, Wiltshire, England
Dark garnet in color this wine smells of blueberries and oak. In the mouth, somewhat syrupy notes of blue and black fruits are shot through with camphorwood and oak. Good acidity. A blend of 60% Rondo and 40% Pinot Noir. 3.6 g/l residual sugar.12.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 7. Price: £17.99

2020 Balfour Hush Heath “Luke’s” Pinot Noir, Kent, England
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and red berries. In the mouth, both the flavor and texture of oak are dominant, with grippy tannins surrounding a core of raspberry and cranberry fruit. Too heavy-handed with wood for my taste. Decent acidity. 777 and 667 clones aged in a combination of French and American oak for 5 months. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 7. Price: £30.00

2018 Danbury Ridge Vineyards “Octagon Block” Pinot Noir, Essex, England
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and cranberry, and brown sugar. In the mouth, bright cranberry and raspberry fruit are unfortunately wedged between two slabs of insistent wood, whose tannins grab hold of the tongue and don’t let go. Decent acidity. Aged for 18 months in oak. 13.5% alcohol. Comes in a fluted, custom-designed bottle much heavier than it needs to be. Score: around 7. Price: £55.00

2017 Sixteen Ridges Vineyard “Early Red” Pinot Noir Precoce, Worcestershire, England
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of incense and sawdust and mulling spices. In the mouth, flavors of brown sugar and mulling spices mix with forest floor and a touch of licorice along with dried cranberries. Lackluster. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 6.5 and 7. Price: £16.00

Featured image of Hambledon House vineyard at top courtesy of Hambledon House. All other images courtesy of Wines of Great Britain and their respective vineyards and noted copyright holders.