Is English wine becoming hip? | Fiona Beckett on wine

May 17, 2019 Off By readly

Over the past few years, I have written about English wine more out of duty than any great enthusiasm. True, there has been some excellent fizz (which now makes up 71% of English wine sales) but, with a few honourable exceptions, the still wines have been underwhelming. But, aided by an excellent vintage in 2018 and an innovative new band of winemakers, things are suddenly looking up. In fact, I would even go so far as to say English wine is becoming hip.

I’ve recently tasted an orange albariño (from Welsh producer Ancre Hill), a pet nat (by Westwell), an on-trend field blend (a wine made from different grape varieties grown in the same vineyard), as well as the lushest of chardonnays that could be easily mistaken for a top white burgundy. Wines are being bottled with wacky names and labels – a good example being Black Book winery’s funky Mix-Up (11.5%) now stocked, amazingly, by the Wine Society at £22. There are rosés and reds and other white varieties apart from the ubiquitous bacchus (look out for pinot gris), there are wines from Wales and vineyards being planted in Scotland, which finally makes sense of the industry’s promotional body’s recent rebranding as Wine GB.

The downside for most of us is the price. With the odd exception, such as the Aldi Exquisite Collection Lyme Block English Wine I recommended last month, we pay for our marginal climate. Not every year is a bumper year, or even a year in which you get any crop at all. Land is expensive, set-up costs are high (although winemakers are increasingly sharing facilities), and it remains the case that you can buy comparable wine from outside the UK for less than you’ll have to pay for the home-grown version. You may or may not mind about that.

It’s also worth noting that many of the 2018s were bottled only relatively recently, and could therefore do with a couple of months, at least, before you dip into them. I tasted both the 2017 and 2018 vintages of Chapel Down’s Flint Dry White over the last couple of weeks, and the former (£14 Morrisons, 12%) is much more enjoyable at the moment.

The other issue is availability. Some of the most interesting English wines are made in tiny quantities and sell out quickly. So if you find something you like – and English Wine Week the week after next, is a good opportunity to prospect – snap it up.

Four English wines that might surprise you

Montgomery Rondo 2017

£17.95 Cheers Wine Merchants, 11%.

Rondo may be the UK’s great red hope; this one’s wild, wonderful and Welsh. Decant it, though.

Westwell Field 2018

£19.50 Urchin Wines, Margate, and direct from, 12%.

Another exciting red – a field blend of pinot noir and chardonnay that’s the colour of peonies and redolent of wild cherries and pomegranate.

Albury Organic Silent Pool Rosé 2018

£18.95 from the winery, 11%.

For fans of Provence rosé, but made in Surrey – pale pink, delicately fruity.

Gusbourne Guinevere 2016

£29.80 Hedonism or direct from the cellar door in Appledore for £25, 12%.

An opulent, creamy chardonnay that’s really classy.

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