English, and now Welsh, sparkling wine has been one of the great success stories of the past few years. It is served at government receptions and state dinners at Buckingham Palace, and has gained an international reputation as the ideal celebration wine due to its style and quality.
No wonder some of the French champagne houses have quietly invested here. And the similarities are strong: domestic sparkling is mostly made from the same three classic champagne grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – that thrive on similar, chalky south-facing slopes in France, and it is made using the same process; the “Methode Traditionelle”. We cannot call it champagne, but it shares those enervating qualities and enlivening bubbles.
Although grapes were first grown in the UK in Roman times, and still wines were made from German clones from the 1950s onwards, it was only in the 1990s that it was fully realised that sparkling wine had far more potential – subsequently demonstrated by the remarkable pioneering estates at first Nyetimber and then Ridgeview, both in Sussex, which still produce brilliant wines today, as our list below demonstrates.
But as knowledge and expertise spread, helped by the winemaking courses at Plumpton College near Lewes, some shrewd investors got involved and now terrific sparkling is made right across southern England, in East Anglia, South Wales and Cornwall.
Sparkling wines now account for more than 70 per cent of domestic wine production. And while the comparisons and similarities with champagne are obvious, some regional styles have developed and some wines and vintages have more ageing and complexity about them. The one thing that unites the best wines here is a certain distinctive domestic quality: redolent of spring hedgerows, summer meadows and autumn orchards heavy with apples and pears, they’re uniquely British.
How we tested
These wines were tasted with and without food and all are perfect aperitifs, but they work wonderfully with nibbles and canapés as well. They’re also ideal for any kind of seafood such as oysters, grilled prawns and crab. So without further ado, this is our selection of the best English and Welsh sparkling wines.
The best English sparkling wines for 2022 are:
Best buy – Nyetimber blanc de blancs 2014: £46, Nyetimber.com
Best bargain buy – Winemaker’s Lot English sparkling: £19.99, Aldi.co.uk
Best luxury buy – Ridgeview blanc de blancs 2016: £60, Ridgeview.co.uk
Best prestige rosé – Hush Heath Estate Balfour brut rose: £39.99, Waitrose.com
Best new release – Bolney Estate foxhole vineyard brut reserve NV: £29.99, Tauruswines.co.uk
Best new rosé – Tinwood Estate rose 2019: £31, Tinwoodestate.com
Best Hampshire sparkling – Hambledon premiere cuvee NV: £45, Waitrosecellar.com
Best newcomer – Busi Jacobsohn cuvée brut 2018: £38, Yapp.co.uk
Best Kent sparkling – Chapel Down kit’s coty blanc de blancs 2015: £42.95, Vivino.com
Best Welsh sparkling – Ancre Hill blanc de noirs NV: £39.99, Grapebrittania.co.uk
Best French investment – Louis Pommery England brut NV: £29.75, Thechampagnecompany.com
Best classic cuvée – Rathfinney classic cuvee 2018: £30.50, Rathfinneyestate.com
Nyetimber blanc de blancs 2014
In many ways, both the original and the best. Although sparkling wine grapes were planted at this ancient estate in Sussex in 1988, it is under the ownership of Eric Heerema since 2006, together with Canadian born head winemaker Cherie Spriggs – Sparkling Winemaker of the Year in 2018, the first time anyone outside Champagne had won the award – that Nyetimber has blossomed into becoming a byword for excellence and elegance. This pure chardonnay wine is one of their best and still available at a very reasonable price: flavours of citrus and brioche and hints of camomile and elderflower. Simply gorgeous.
Buy now £46.00, Nyetimber.com
Winemaker’s Lot English sparkling
Best: Bargain buy
Aldi consistently manage to source incredibly good-quality, great-value wines and this is no exception: made from the classic champagne grapes grown in Hampshire, this is light, accessible and has gorgeous aromas of spring blossoms along with citrus and apple flavours. And it has already won a number of industry awards.
Buy now £19.99, Aldi.co.uk
Ridgeview blanc de blancs 2016
Best: Luxury buy
Alongside Nyetimber, the Ridgeview estate near Lewes in East Sussex was a major pioneer of English sparkling and its wines are also immaculate: elegant and enticing, with lovingly designed labels. This limited-edition release from last autumn of their single vineyard 100 per cent chardonnay demonstrates that domestic winemakers can now craft wines of the highest quality. This a perfect summer celebration wine.
Buy now £60.00, Ridgeview.co.uk
Hush Heath Estate Balfour brut rose
Best: Prestige rosé
Although the Hush Heath estate in Kent was owned by the family for generations, it was only in the early 2000s that Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn began planting vines with the aim of producing a premium sparkling rosé to vie with the best that champagne could offer. Their first vintages were an immediate success and the vineyard has now expanded to other sparkling and still wines. But this, their award-winning signature expression, remains their best: its refined summer berry fruit flavours make it very dry, very elegant. Supreme as an aperitif.
Buy now £39.99, Waitrose.com
Bolney Estate foxhole vineyard brut reserve NV
Best: New release
Founded in 1972 as one of the first big ventures into English still wine making and still run by the daughter of the original owners, Sam Linter, who is also the chief winemaker, the Bolney estate on the South Downs has smoothly transitioned to also making terrific sparkling wines. This single-vineyard limited release for selected wine shops is a pinot noir-dominated blend, giving a real depth and creamy richness of flavour, but still retaining a distinctive floral freshness. It’s also exceptional value for money for a wine of this quality.
Buy now £29.99, Tauruswines.co.uk
Tinwood Estate rose 2019
Best: New rosé
Art Tukker inherited Tinwood Estate, a farm near Chichester, in 2005, but immediately decided that he wanted to grow grapes rather than iceberg lettuce and spent several years learning the business and planting vines. Since then, Tinwood wines, made for the estate at Ridgeview, have been critically well-received, but have slightly flown under the radar – which this brilliant rosé should help combat. It’s sublime with fresh red fruit flavours, bone dry and wonderfully refreshing, and an ideal partner to any fish dish. Check out their other wines as well: their blanc de blancs 2018 is brilliant.
Buy now £31.00, Tinwoodestate.com
Hambledon premiere cuvee NV
Best: Hampshire sparkling
Hampshire has become a real growth area for vineyards in recent years, now rivalling Kent and Sussex. At Hambledon, which actually claims to be Britain’s oldest vineyard, it was only belatedly realised that the chalky soil was similar to that in the best chardonnay areas of the Côtes des Blancs in Champagne; and winemaking there is now overseen by Hervé Jestin, formerly from Champagne itself. Hambledon now has the only gravity-fed, state-of-the-art winery in the UK and produces exceptional wines such as this award-winning chardonnay-dominated blend, made mostly from the 2014 harvest: rich and seriously complex, with layers of tropical and citrus fruit flavours, it also has some brioche and nut notes and is thrillingly dry.
Buy now £45.00, Waitrosecellar.com
Busi Jacobsohn cuvee brut 2018
Being a newcomer is a relative matter when making wine – it takes several years for vines to bear fruit and then usually at least three years, under the Methode Traditionelle, for them to mature and develop in the bottle. And while Busi Jacobsohn’s first wines were only released last year – the brand’s chardonnay-dominated Cuvee Brut 2018 won immediate plaudits and awards, alongside its rosé version – they feel like they have been around for years. Made by an Italian/Greek and Swedish couple at Eridge in East Sussex, with elegant packaging and in a very refined style, this is a classy operation which is surely destined to go on to even greater things.
Buy now £38.00, Yapp.co.uk
Chapel Down kit’s coty blanc de blancs 2015
Best: Kent sparkling
Like Bolney, Chapel Down, established in the early 1990s, originally made still wine only, but has successfully grown into a leading sparkling producer. Now based at Tenterden in Kent, the maker sources its grapes from a variety of vineyards across southern England, but this limited-release. single-vineyard wine comes from one special site on the North Downs. Distinctive, rich and buttery, with flavours of melon, citrus and hints of peach, it is a supreme example of domestic winemaking from the Garden of England.
Buy now £42.95, Vivino.com
Ancre Hill blanc de noirs NV
Best: Welsh sparkling
Even when estates in Sussex and Kent were successfully producing great sparkling, it was still largely unthinkable that it would also be possible deep among the green, rolling hills of Monmouthshire. Well, step forward the lovely Ancre Hill Estate, based near the town of Monmouth itself, which produces a brilliant range of still and sparkling wines, all minimal intervention, organic and some also biodynamic, from a 12-acre south-facing vineyard. The blanc de noirs is 100pc pinot noir that’s very dry and packed with precise apple, nut and citrus flavours.
Buy now £39.99, Grapebritannia.co.uk
Louis Pommery England brut NV
Best: French investment
Although it is known that other champagne houses have discreetly invested in UK vineyards, Louis Pommery, part of the Vranken-Pommery Monopole group, were the first to release a wine under their name. Based near Alresford, Hampshire, this is made from grapes drawn from around the region and the chardonnay-dominated blend is a lovely, floral bottle, delivering peach and green apple flavours, closer in style to a French crémant than champagne. Future vintages will come exclusively from their own Pinglestone estate, which was only planted in 2017.
Buy now £29.75, Thechampagnecompany.com
Rathfinney classic cuvee 2018
Best: Classic cuvée
The Rathfinney estate, on the South Downs near Alfriston, is the product of a sizeable investment by Mark and Sarah Driver, and although they began planting in 2010, their first wines were not released until 2018, although they were immediately critically acclaimed. This wine – the third release and from one of the best vintages of the decade – really shows what the estate is capable of: a pinot-dominated blend, exuding poise and finesse, with finely chiselled flavours of citrus, apricots and hints of cream. Complete class in a glass.
Buy now £30.50, Rathfinneyestate.com
The verdict: English sparkling wine
The standard of English and Welsh sparkling wines is astonishingly good, so it’s hard to make choices here. Domestic sparkling wine is never going to match prosecco in terms of price – it is a quality product designed largely for special occasions and celebrations, rather than to enliven a takeaway, although it is brilliant with fish and chips if you are feeling indulgent. But the Aldi wine is a genuine bargain and the Ridgeview is the ultimate wine to grace those big moments in our lives – but for all-round value for money, it is hard to go beyond the Nyetimber blanc de blancs, which is our best buy for 2022.
For the latest discounts on wine, spirits and other alcoholic drinks, try the links below:
Need somewhere to stash your vino? We’ve rounded up the best wine racks to buy