England is a country with a long history in the world of wine, and for years England’s wine production all but ceased.
The past few decades have seen major strides in the English wine scene, and today the future is bright for wine in England.
There are three key English wine regions leading the way today, and most specialize in five major wine grapes.
While England is better known for the consumption of alcohol compared to production, there are many domestic and foreign winemakers investing heavily in bringing quality to the wines of England.
A Guide to the Wines of England
English Wine History
There is evidence of wine production in England dating all the way back to when the Romans took control of the area in the first century.
Wine production and consumption were a very important part of the Roman culture, and everyone from slaves to royalty drank wine daily.
While the Romans left the region sometime around the year 409 AD, wine continued to play an important role in everyday life.
There was a time when the now French Bordeaux wine region was controlled by the English empire.
England has long been considered to be an important trendsetter in the world of wine. Bordeaux earned its famous reputation of high quality early on due to the fact that it was the preferred red wine of many different English Kings and other royalty.
This was one of the most effective and impactful examples of early global wine marketing. Once a member of English royalty was rumored to favor a certain style of wine, winemakers would use the opportunity to market their wines as the “wines of royalty”.
The devastating plague of 1348 had a lasting effect on everyday English life, including the wine economy. Wine production struggled to rebound for many years, as the entire country struggled to rebuild after the devastating plague.
In the 16th century, it was ordered that England’s remaining Catholic monasteries be disbanded, signaling a critical final blow for the early era of English wine.
A “dark age” of English wine followed until dedicated winemakers worked to bring back the beverage in the 1950s.
Wine Regions of England
While there are more than a half dozen regions in England producing wine today, the majority of the country’s wine production takes place in three key regions.
Sussex, Kent, and Surrey not only produce the most wine in England but also those of the highest quality.
Some of the best and most highly regarded English wine producers are located in the Sussex area. The region was awarded PDO status in the year 2016, the UK’s highest designation intended to highlight wine regions of high quality.
Sussex is also responsible for educating the next generations of English winemakers, as it is home to one of the top Viticulture education programs in all of Europe. Plumpton College offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Viticulture as well as Oenology.
Sparkling wine is the most important style in Sussex, accounting for over one-third of all of the region’s production today.
For this reason, the sparkling wines produced in Sussex are often referred to as “Champagne Blends” or “Champagne Style Blends”.
These traditional sparkling blends have brought international attention to the area, and many consider them to be the best English wines.
The minimum alcohol content for these wines is 11 percent, and bottles labeled with a specific vintage must contain 85 percent of grapes harvested during the stated year.
Certain sparkling wines are also single varietal releases, which must contain 90 percent of the listed grape.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvee Sparkling is one of the best and most famous representations of Essex’s Champagne-style blend.
A regular medal winner at the International Wine Challenge, this bright and dry sparkling wine showcases the best of what Sussex has to offer.
Kent is England’s other top wine-producing region, boasting around 50 different individual wineries scattered throughout the area.
Kent is a long-established agricultural region in England, and wine grapes make up only a fraction of total agriculture production.
Kent is located northeast of Sussex, and is predominantly known on an international level for the same “Champagne Style” sparkling wines. While traditional “noble grapes” make up a considerable portion of the area’s production, German wine grapes also thrive in Kent.
German wine grapes like Bacchus and Ortega make up a significant amount of Kent’s wine production today and are the primary grapes used in the region’s most popular single varietal bottles of wine.
This region is so well suited for producing traditional French wine grapes that winemakers from the Champagne region have begun investing in Kent.
The general consensus among the wine community is that this region is perfectly situated for wine production as the environment warms.
Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve is an extremely popular and readily available representation of a high-quality Champagne-style blend from the Kent region.
It offers suburb balance and drinkability along with the signature crisp flavor of a properly blended Cuvee.
Surrey is another English wine region that has seen foreign investment from established French Champagne houses.
Conditions for growing high-quality wine grapes have improved as a whole in this region over the years as the summers become gradually warmer.
The chalky soils and moderate climate make this another English region that is perfectly situated to grow traditional French wine grapes. Debbie’s Estate is located in Surrey and is one of the largest wine producers in the entire country.
The wine grapes and styles of wine produced in Surrey are very similar to those of Kent and Sussex.
The traditional grapes used to make Champagne-style blends thrive in Surrey, along with a handful of cold weather German white wine grapes.
Albury Vineyard Classic Cuvee is a favorite among both critics and wine enthusiasts when it comes to English sparkling wine. This traditional Champagne-style blend is perfectly balanced and has won multiple international wine competitions.
Wine Grapes of England
There are three key traditional French grape varietals grown in England that make up the signature “Champagne Style” blends that the country is known for.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier all thrive in this region, drawing outside investment from French producers.
Chardonnay is the most popular and widely planted white wine grape in the entire world.
It is often the primary grape used in many different sparkling wine cuvees, and there are a growing number of single varietal bottles hitting the market every year in England.
Danbury Ridge Octagon Block Chardonnay is one of the more high-end bottles of single varietal English wine, and it is produced in the Essex region. It is one of the most popular and most sought-after locally produced bottles of Chardonnay in all of England.
While Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned red wine grape, it is most often used in the production of white sparkling wine in England.
Single varietal bottles of Pinot Noir are increasing in popularity, and it is the most common red wine grape in all of England.
Fox & Fox Mayfield ‘Tradition’ Blanc de Noirs Brut is a unique bottle of single varietal sparkling white wine made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape.
It is a yearly competitor and regular winner at many international wine competitions.
The Pinot Meunier grape is thick-skinned and dark in pigment, and it is rarely used in English single varietal red wine production.
It is a far less famous or recognizable wine grape compared to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, though its depth of complexity is essential to a balanced blend.
Single varietal bottles of wine featuring the Pinot Meunier grape are hard to come by, making Hush Heath Estate The Red Miller one of the most unique high-quality bottles of red wine in all of England.
It offers fantastic value and can often be found at under $50 per bottle.
German Grape Varietals
While the three Champagne-style wine grapes account for the vast majority of English production, there are two German wine grape varietals that make fantastic white wine.
Bacchus and Ortega have both long thrived in England due to their moderate to cold climate.
While the Bacchus grape comes from the country of Germany, it is most famous today for its use in high-quality white wines.
England now accounts for about 40 percent of all worldwide Bacchus plantings, second only to its home country of Germany.
Albourne Estate Bacchus is produced in the region of Sussex and is one of the most popular bottles of Bacchus wine produced in England.
This is one of the best white wine values in all of England, as a bottle costs under $25 while tasting more like a $50 bottle.
While the majority of Ortega plantings in the world remain in Germany today, cool climate wine-growing regions like England and Canada have fully embraced the grape to produce a high-quality white wine with floral notes and low levels of acidity.
Westwell Classic Ferment Ortega is a fantastic white wine produced in the Kent wine region of England.
One of the things that makes this wine unique is the application of unique winemaking techniques such as stainless steel tanks and larger-than-average oak barrels.
Wines of England – Conclusion
While wine production in England all but stopped for hundreds of years, the country is in the midst of a “wine revival” today.
The most popular and successful wineries are located in Sussex, Kent, and Surrey, and most focus on a “Champagne Style Blend”.