• Jess Lamb

Five Fabulously Festive Reasons to Drink English Wine This Christmas

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Although 2020 has certainly presented its own set of unique and often rather alarming challenges, it’s not ALL Covid-19 related doom and gloom. Despite a year of truly extraordinary circumstances, there are countless examples of amazing businesses and industries across the UK who have quickly and successfully adapted to the ‘new normal’. It just so happens that one of the very best examples of this is English wine.

The English wine industry has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with a huge increase in outstanding quality wines both still and sparkling coming from all corners of the country from Cornwall to the Scottish Borders. Nevertheless, 2020 came as a bit of a shock (let’s face it, we were all hoping this year would turn out a little differently!) and the industry was presented with some huge challenges, with the closure of vineyards, hospitality venues and cellar doors to visitors putting English and Welsh winemakers under some serious financial pressure. However, our winemakers have risen to this new challenge with the same spirit that has helped English wine evolve so quickly over the last few years, using all of their creativity, expertise and innovative spirit to make sure their wonderful wines reach the top of every wine lover’s list.

I really could list a million reasons why English wine should be your beverage of choice this festive season – well, maybe not a million, but a LOT – but for the sake of brevity and in full-on festive spirit, I’ve shortlisted five fabulous reasons to make sure that your Christmas table is graced with a bottle or two of England’s best this year!

1. It’s truly one of the world’s most exciting new wine regions

There aren’t many wine regions left in the world now who measure their history in decades, rather than centuries or even millenia … but England is one of them. Our oldest commercial vineyard is the glorious Hambledon, who have been producing wine in their bucolic Hampshire surroundings since 1952; but compared with the ancient regions of Europe who can claim 8000 years of winemaking heritage, even producers such as Hambledon are barely out of their infancy. However, what this means is that we have one of the most dynamic and exciting growing wine regions on earth developing right on our doorstep. Winemakers enjoy the freedom to innovate and experiment to their heart’s content with everything from natural wine to the super-cool ‘English wine on tap’ project recently launched by Tommy Grimshaw, the dynamic young winemaker at Dorset’s Langham Wine Estate, giving us drinkers a whole plethora of new things to try.

An additional plus point of all this growth is that no matter where you are in the country you’ve now got a pretty decent chance of finding a passionate winemaker or a cosy cellar door not too far away – this handy map from industry body WineGB can help you track down your friendly local vineyard in no time.

2. You really are supporting local business

We’re all more aware than ever before of the need to shop local and support our country’s small independent businesses – this also applies to our wine industry. The UK now produces nearly 11 million bottles of wine per year with the industry as a whole employing over 11,000 people at every stage of the process from vine to bottle. It’s a lovely bonus that we are in fact producing some truly world-beating wine, with sparkling wines to rival the best of France and more and more extraordinarily good still wines popping up each year. Add to that all the thousands of fabulous independent wine merchants up and down the country who are championing all this good stuff … every time you buy a bottle of English sparkling, whether from the cellar door, online or your local independent wine shop, you’re supporting the entire supply chain and helping us guarantee a bright future for English wine.

3. It’s really, really good

REALLY good. And I’m not just saying that. The quality of English wine is overall excellent and improving all the time, winning more and more prestigious accolades in wine competitions all over the world. In this year’s International Wine & Spirit Competition judging (IWSC), Dorset’s Langham Vineyards – remember I mentioned winemaker Tommy Grimshaw earlier? - beat various Champagnes and other top sparkling wines from around the world to take the trophy for Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year.

It’s worth taking a look at this article by wine critic Jamie Goode on a recent blind tasting competition between English sparkling wine and Champagne, in which England achieved a very respectable 4 entries in the top 10 up against some seriously big hitters of Champagne, such as Veuve Clicquot and Pol Roger. 72% of all English wine production is dedicated to sparkling wine, by and large made using the same traditional method as Champagne, so the fact that we are able to compete against the world’s most famous region for fizz is HUGE, something to be really proud of. In fact, a number of Champagne houses are even starting to invest in English land with the aim of producing their own English sparkling wine.

That’s not to mention all the other praise that English wine is collecting from some of the world’s most respected wine critics; the inimitable Oz Clarke MBE describes English wine, both still and sparkling, as having ‘delicacy, fragrance, beauty and irresistible flavours that are unique in the world of wine’.

4. There’s something for everyone

The vast majority of English wine production focuses on sparkling wine made using the traditional method, usually also with the same grapes as you’d find in Champagne (Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay). However, the beauty of being such a young wine industry is that our winemakers have huge freedom to innovate and experiment, in the process coming up with all kinds of intriguing, exciting bottles. When it comes to sparkling, producers are experimenting with all kinds of different varieties from Bacchus to Seyval Blanc, whilst all kinds of things are happening with still and natural wines, canned wine, urban wineries … the list continues and it’s all going on within our tiny island nation. Basically, no matter what your wine preferences may be, there’s an English wine out there for you.

5. Actually, we got there first …

Okay so this final point is more of a fun fact that a real reason to drink English at Christmas, but I am the queen of trivia and I always enjoy divulging this little snippet of information. We all acknowledge Champagne as the biggest and best sparkling wine producer on earth … but did you know that actually it all started right here in England?

The art of creating that beautiful sparkle in fizzy wine by adding sugar to the bottle was documented by Britain’s Dr Christopher Merrett and presented to the Royal Society in December 1662 – over 50 years before the first Champagne house was founded! This discovery was partly thanks to the fact that at the time, the UK was at the forefront of the glass making industry thanks to the fact that they had transitioned from wood to coal fires for industrial production. Coal burns much hotter than wood, and this change meant that the English could make glass thick and strong enough to withstand the pressure of the bubbles inside the bottle – whereas the French, with their cooler wood fires, were plagued with exploding bottles as the pressure got too much for the thinner, weaker glass.

So, there we have it. Five fabulously festive reasons to drink English sparkling wine this Christmas. Whether it be a warming still red or a celebratory bottle of fizz, the diversity and quality of English wine means that you’re guaranteed to find something that you love. I’m feeling particularly festive as I write, so to conclude, I want to share with you five English wines that I’ve tried, tested and loved in 2020 – all available online direct from the producers or your friendly local wine merchant. Cheers!

Five of my Favourites...

Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2014

Widely acknowledged as one of England’s leading producers, in my mind it takes a lot to beat Gusbourne. This Kent winery produces a small but perfectly formed portfolio of wines that really do give the Champenoise a run for their money.

This Blanc de Blancs 2014 (100% Chardonnay) is pure and precise, with notes of white slate and fresh green apple on the nose, beautifully creamy bubbles and a long finish imbued with that lovely fresh apple tart character that comes with time aging on the lees. This is in fact the wine that is served to visiting Heads of State at Buckingham Palace … if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Rathfinny Rosé 2016

A lovely glass of Sussex from one of English wine’s leading names. A Pinot Noir dominant blend, the 2016 vintage was only Rathfinny’s second sparkling rosé but nevertheless a bit of a tour de force of pink fizz. Crisp, crunchy cranberry and raspberry with a twist of lime zest, cracking acidity giving all that red fruit some more zing, and a ripe red cherry and shortbread character on the palate. Yum. Yum yum yum.

Hambledon Premiere Cuvée

Made only from the best grapes from England’s oldest commercial wine producer, the Hambledon Premiere Cuvée just makes me really happy. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both aged for a significant time on lees, this is an unctuous, appealing number that you’d struggle to differentiate against a great Champagne. Think orange blossom and tarte tatin, apricot and nectarine, fresh toast oozing with butter, and you’re about there. Yes, it really is that decadent.

Davenport Diamond Fields Pinot Noir 2017

As well as making some truly excellent wines, Davenport are notable as one of the relatively few wine producers in England who are 100% certified organic. Their 2017 still Pinot Noir was, in my opinion, exceptional. Initially quite energetic and fruit forward with lots of cherry and mulberry, opening up into that lovely forest floor, mushroom-y, earthy quality that is one of the hallmarks of great Pinot. The kind of wine that makes you think that Burgundy better keep a close eye on the competition …

Flint Vineyard Bacchus 2018

Despite its status as one of the most prolific grapes in England, I can sometimes find it a bit hard to get on board with Bacchus. However, this fabulous example from my home county of Norfolk goes against that grain and demonstrates everything that an excellent Bacchus (I think) should be. White blossom, just-ripe peach, a little bit of elderflower and a lovely saline quality on the palate that recalls the beautiful Norfolk coastline and to me is just so expressive of the environment in which the grapes were grown. If you possibly, possibly can, pair with fresh oysters.

This is a sponsored article created in partnership with WineGB.

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