English wines: the ones to watch

England’s sparkling wines are in the ascendant. Can its vineyards pull the same trick with still?

Image: Chris Burke

English sparkling wine has come on in leaps and bounds in the past few years – that was plain to anyone attending this year’s WineGB trade tasting at London’s Royal Horticultural Halls. The likes of Gusbourne, Nyetimber, Hambledon, Rathfinny and Exton Park are now producing sparkling wines fit to rival many better-known champagnes.

The thing that really struck me at WineGB 2019, though, was the number of still wines on show. I used to approach English still wines with fear in my heart; I’d choke them down every now and again to please a host keen to show off their local winery. But on this occasion I tasted several that were delightful – and one or two that were downright excellent.

The real standout was the trophy-winning 2016 Boot Hill Pinot Noir from Gusbourne in Kent – a single-vineyard wine with lifted red fruit and a light earthiness that made me think of a young Gevrey-Chambertin. I liked it so much I included it in the tasting I led at the FT Weekend Festival back in September – if you were there, I hope you enjoyed it too. The 2016 is now sold out, but the newly bottled 2018 is available from March 2020 nd by all accounts it’s even better.

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Another winery that’s doing some great still wines is Tillingham Wines in East Sussex (selection available from harveynichols.com). A proponent of natural and biodynamic winemaking, Tillingham combines snappy contemporary design with ancient techniques such as ageing in amphorae-like earthenware qvevri. I like its 100 per cent Pinot Noir 2018 Qvevri Tinop, a wine that marries juicy black and redcurrants with a mineral, almost minty freshness. Tillingham also makes a nice, tangy white blend using Bacchus – a varietal with an elderflower-y, Sauvignon Blanc character that’s increasingly being championed by English still winemakers. Drink nice and cold, as an aperitif.

The white wines of Burgundy were clearly an inspiration for Kentish winery Chapel Down when it came to making the single-vineyard Kit’s Coty Chardonnay (£180 for six; not to be confused with Kit’s Coty Coeur de Cuvée, which is sparkling). The buttery, apple-y, toasty notes of the 2016 – which also won a trophy at WineGB this year – would go very well with the Christmas turkey.

It may come as a surprise to learn that London now boasts several “urban wineries” that make still wines using fruit grown in and around the capital (or, sometimes, imported from abroad, an approach I find a bit harder to square). The Blackbook Winery in Battersea uses grapes from Essex to make its 2018 Painter of Light Chardonnay – a charismatic white with luscious, slightly tropical fruit and a zippy, elegant finish (£19). Even if you don’t live down the road, this is one wine you could press on your guests with pride.

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Alice Lascelles is Fortum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.

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