8 best English wines to have on your radar, from chardonnay to pinot noir

·10-min read
A particularly successful harvest in warm 2018 saw UK wine production double (iStock/The Independent)
A particularly successful harvest in warm 2018 saw UK wine production double (iStock/The Independent)

English sparkling wine has taken the world by storm in recent years. Compared favourably to champagne, its sales are booming and the best-known bubbles have won a host of international awards.

But it’s not the only homegrown vino worth your time. Though unpredictable English weather usually means still wine plays second fiddle to sparkling, there are now several excellent examples well worth raising a glass to.

Grapes have been grown in the UK since Roman times but a warm 2018 led to a particularly successful harvest that saw wine production double. In 2021, Majestic Wine even reported a 99 per cent growth in still English wines during the previous year.

The most successful wines tend to be made from grapes that flourish in cooler climates including chardonnay and pinot noir, though new grapes and styles emerge all the time.

Increasingly warm summers combined with British winemakers’ considerable expertise mean the ever-growing complexity and quality of English still wines should soon attract just as much attention as their sparkling sibling. We’ll definitely drink to that.

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How we tested

We tested all these wines at the recommended temperature, sipping and savouring each one on its own so we could really judge its aromas, colour and flavours. We also paired each one with foods we thought it would complement, then tested all the whites alongside each other before doing the same with both the rosés and reds to find the exceptional English still wines we’d gladly drink again and again. These are the tipples that came out on top.

The best English still wines for 2022 are:

Bolney Wine Estate pinot gris

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

  • ABV: 12.5%

  • Size: 75cl

If you’re new to English still wine, there’s no better one to sample than this pinot gris from Bolney Wine Estate. Tucked away in rural Sussex, the vineyards are some of England’s oldest and the estate itself is celebrating 50 years of winemaking in 2022, now as a three-generation family business. It now includes five unique Sussex vineyard sites on the edge of the South Downs, around 14 miles from the South Coast. Bolney also leads the way in UK wine tourism, with extensive tours and tastings, a shop, vineyard trail and café with live music events.

The wine is an utter delight to drink too. There’s red, rosé and of course sparkling to savour, but we love this pinot gris, made with grapes fermented in stainless steel tanks. It’s already picked up silver status at last year’s Wine GB Awards and the Decanter World Wine Awards and was even the first English wine to be served at Wimbledon. Smooth and fruity, its pear aromas, citrus zing and hint of spice works perfectly with Asian dishes but we’d be thrilled with a large glass all on its own.

Buy now £20.00, Bolneywineestate.com

Denbies pinot noir 2019

Best: Fruity red

Rating: 8/10

  • ABV: 12%

  • Size: 75cl

When Denbies produce a straight pinot noir, you know it’s a corker. The estate in Dorking in the North Downs only make one in excellent years and 2019 was particularly good. Grown on one of the Estate’s finest blocks, the bunches were handpicked in a single morning then evolved in oak barrels before finally being bottled in 2021. The wine is made by Australian-born winemaker John Worontschak, who has worked in Napa and Burgundy but has been based in the UK for 25 years.

If you shy away from heavy reds, this is a particularly great choice, bursting with juicy strawberry and raspberries to make this a red we’d happily sip through summer. Yet, the surprise addition of vanilla and the spicy cinnamon finish give this pinot noir a delightfully unexpected depth that would go down a treat with lamb served with sweet root vegetables. For even more 2019 goodies, we’d also recommend trying Denbies Chardonnay from the same year (£23, Azurewebsites.net).

Buy now £23.00, Azurewebsites.net

Chapel Down English rosé 2021

Best: Rosé

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 75cl

  • Size: 11%

You don’t need to look to Provence to find a rosé you’ll drink all summer long (and beyond). Chapel Down is already renowned for its knockout sparkling wines as its vineyards, which are located in the North Downs of Kent, have a similar terroir to those in Champagne, with south facing chalk soil and warm sea air. However, it is now blazing a trail with its still offerings too.

It has already won considerable praise (and awards) for its exceptional chardonnay but this rosé is also a winner in our eyes. Deliciously delicate, its blend of a range of grapes is dominated by pinot noir and pinot meunier which bring a rush of red fruits on the nose and even a hint of citrus. Crisply acidic and refreshing, it’s like strawberries and cream in a glass and is our new go-to when the sun’s out.

Buy now £90.00, Chapeldown.com

Sharpham estate selection 2021

Best: Grape to try

Rating: 7/10

  • ABV: 11.5%

  • Size: 75cl

English whites are often chardonnays, but the lesser-known madeline angevine is an unsung hero now used by a handful of wine producers. The early-ripening grape originated in France’s Loire Valley and grows well in cooler climates so can flourish in England. Though it’s surprisingly versatile, it tends to make bright floral wine with a citrus bite.

This version was only bottled in March and is made from 100 per cent madeline angevine grapes from the Sandridge Barton vineyard, harvested in early October. Free run juice alone was fermented spontaneously in stainless steel then two tanks were selected as the “Estate Selection” style and had time on lees to bring a trace of salinity to the palette. Packed with lemon and floral characters, this clean, dry wine tastes just like an English summer’s day and would make any seafood sing.

Buy now £17.20, Sandridgebarton.com

Hattingley Valley reserve still white 2020

Best: Chardonnay

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 12%

  • Size: 75cl

If you swerve chardonnay for fear of facing a creamy, oak-heavy example, this could be the wine to try. Hattingley Valley is already one of the UK’s most successful wineries, winning over 100 medals for its stunning sparkling wines. Now the subtle use of oak barrels that make its bubbles so brilliant has been applied to this reserve version of its still white.

It’s made with 100 per cent hand-picked chardonnay grapes that reached exceptional levels of ripeness in the unusually warm weather of 2020. The wine was then aged for six months in older barrels to add a gentle creaminess that cuts through – but doesn’t over-power – its fresh, lively flavours. Pale golden with a natural lip-smacking acidity, it has evocative aromas of orchard fruit and a long dry finish that would even turn bog-standard roast chicken into a special occasion.

If you’d rather opt for red, Hattingley Valley’s still pinot noir (£25, Hattingleyvalley.com) is another 2020 wonder, with only 2,000 bottles made to mark this unusually sunny year.

Buy now £25.00, Hattingleyvalley.com

Simpsons Estate chardonnay

Best: White for summer

Rating: 8/10

  • ABV: 11.5%

  • Size: 75cl

Charles and Ruth Simpson had been making award-winning wine at their vineyard in southern France for a decade when they decided to return to the UK in 2012 to establish Simpsons’ Wine Estate. The weather here may not quite match up to France, but this dreamy chardonnay still tastes like it was produced with a summer’s day in mind.

It was made on the estate’s beautiful vineyards in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where sunny slopes are protected by ancient woodland and overlook the chocolate box village of Barham. The estate thrums with history too, with the first vineyards planted alongside the route the Romans first marched when invading England in AD 43, bringing the very first vines to these shores.

Despite its quintessentially English background, this moreish chardonnay has a tantalizing tropical twist with flavours of orange, grapefruit and even lime spicing up the smooth, textured palette. Savour it in the garden on a summer afternoon for instant holiday vibes.

Buy now £16.99, Waitrosecellar.com

Gusbourne pinot meunier 2020

Best: Classic red

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 12%

  • Size: 75cl

It’s not always easy to deliver a decent red in the UK thanks to our cool climate which makes it tricky for red grapes to ripen sufficiently. However, some vineyards have come up trumps and Gusbourne’s example is one of the best. Based in West Sussex and Kent, its vineyards enjoy a favourably moderate microclimate with coastal breezes to help intensely flavoured fruit to flourish. Despite that, Gusbourne’s single-vineyard still wines are only crafted in outstanding years so you can guarantee top quality with every bottle.

This pinot meunier 2020 is the first of its kind from the estate and is the result of mild spring temperatures and prolonged dry spells, plus eight months in French oak barrels. Typically for an English red, it’s pleasingly light, with pops of cherry, cranberry and raspberry on the nose. Yet soft tannins, a warming note of spice and a lingering minerality make it a great year-round red you can rely on.

Buy now £29.00, Gusbourne.com

Balfour cinque ports 2019

Best: Special occasion wine

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 12%

  • Size: 75cl

When only the very best will do, the Winemakers’ Collection from Balfour Winery in Kent is unbeatable. Featuring a red, rosé and white, the trio launched in April 2022 and showcases the small batch winemaking philosophy of father and son team Owen and Fergus Elias. Together, they identify small parcels of high-quality fruit to create unique wines, exploring how the use of oak can create English still wines with noticeable texture and weight. Better still, the bottles also look great out on the dinner table, with labels designed by contemporary British artist, Henry Hudson.

We struggled to choose our favourite from the three but were smitten by this elegant white. It’s made using a blend of the five varieties of Champagne – chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbanne and petit meslier – and was aged for nine months in French Fontainebleau barrels. Perfumed and elegant, its floral nose gives way to tropical flavours and brioche notes that are heavenly with chicken dishes.

If you’re dining on red meat, go straight for the Balfour Gatehouse 2020 instead (£60, Balfourwinery.com), a robust and flavour-packed pinot noir that will impress anyone.

Buy now £40.00, Balfourwinery.com

The verdict: English still wines

Don’t rule out English still wine until you’ve tried these bottles which are all fantastic examples of homegrown grapes. Generally, whites are more commonly available and our favourite, Bolney Wine Estate’s pinot gris, is a beautifully balanced bottle we’d always have room in the fridge for.

However, reds should no longer be overlooked and we were wowed by the Gusbourne pinot meunier 2020. But if you really want to splash out, choose any bottle from Balfour Winery’s Winemakers’ Collection and you won’t be disappointed.

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