The UK’s wine scene has never looked better, with wines produced throughout the UK scooping top prizes at international competitions. A recent example is a wine produced by Wales’ White Castle Vineyard, which became the become the first Welsh vintage to win a gold medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards in July 2021.
The majority of vineyards in the UK can be found in Kent and Sussex, but don’t make the mistake of writing other destinations off. In recent years, wines produced in Hampshire, Devon, Cornwall, Yorkshire and Shropshire have all won coveted awards in the wine world - although perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. “Our chalk soils and cool climate can produce the perfect balance of acidity and sugars, as well as the saline minerality that lies at the heart all great sparkling wines,” says Nicholas Coates, co-founder of Coates & Seely. “English sparkling wines specifically are improving at a thrilling pace as the passage of time allows for longer ageing and increasingly mature vines with correspondingly higher quality fruit.”
The best bit? When it comes to taste, sparkling wines made in the UK are incredibly similar to those produced in the Champagne region. They’re often made with similar grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - which are the varieties you’re most likely to find in the finest Champagnes), and they’re produced in a similar way, too. “English sparkling wines are made using the classic method of production which means secondary fermentation in the bottle, which puts them stylistically closer to champagne rather than prosecco,” explains Collette O’Leary, winemaker at Henners Vineyard.
The UK’s still wines are just as fantastic, thanks largely to the expertise of wine makers who’ve learned how to use the UK’s climate and topography to their advantage. “The quality of both still and sparkling wines continues to improve as vine growers and winemakers have got to grips with how to grow the best fruit and make the best wine we can in what can be a challenging climate,” says Collette O’Leary. “The range of wines has transformed too, and we now have English wines across the spectrum from rich, aged and complex sparkling wines to barrel-fermented chardonnays, aromatic Bacchus wines, Provence-style rosé wines and red wines.”
Our focus for this piece, however, is white wines – sales of which rocket during the summer months. So what are you waiting for? Dust off the spittoon and toast the UK’s wine scene with the help of our guide to the best UK white wines.
Aldi English Sparkling White Wine
For us, this is the sparkling wine which did the best impersonation of a top-class Champagne. A fruity, lively blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc and Solaris grapes, it’s dry (but not overly so) and goes wonderfully well with either seafood or chicken. Produced in South Devon, it’s a citrusy wine grounded with delicious toasted notes. The result? A top-notch bottle of fizz which is perfectly suited to summer, and which is incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairings - but is a particularly great match for grilled meat and salads. Don’t fire up the barbecue without it.
Henners Foxearle English Sparkling Brut 2016
This fruity sparkling wine, which is made in East Sussex and is only available from Virgin Wines, is a great option for anyone who loves Champagne – it’s made with three types of grape commonly used in Champagne, and the production processes are similar, too. Its vibrant acidity does a great job of balancing out heavenly buttery notes, and there’s a wonderful hint of apple, too. There’s also notes of citrus, albeit a smoother, more palatable version of the citrus blasts often associated with this type of wine. The tasting notes refer to lemon nougat, which is a perfect description – it’s a subtle, sweeter take on the lemon hit we’re familiar with, but one which is the perfect companion to both the butteriness and the apple.
Laurel Vines Madeleine Angevine 2018
2021 saw the launch of a Yorkshire Wine Trail, so this still white wine, produced by the family-run Laurel Vines vineyard in Aike, Yorkshire, is a particularly timely tipple. It was love at first sight (or should that be sniff) with this dry white, thanks to the opening wafts of fresh peach and apple. It’s crisp and balanced, and tastes wonderfully clean, perhaps because just one grape variety (Madeleine Angevine, which has its origins in the Loire Valley) was used to produce this Yorkshire gem.
Beacon Down Riesling
This is precisely how we like our Rieslings: sweet, fruity and with a touch of syrupy creaminess which adds a certain softness without being cloying. When it comes to the fruitiness, peach and mango dominate, while a waft of honey makes it a great wine to pair with desserts and cheese courses. It’s a brilliant wine (and the only still Riesling produced in the UK) for those who prefer a lower alcohol level – its ABV of eight per cent is the result of a shortened fermentation process, which also helps to preserve the natural sugars. Beacon Down is a true labour of love for husband and wife winemakers Paul and Alice, who swapped South London for East Sussex in 2015. Their Riesling isn’t just the only still Riesling produced in the UK, but one which has received international acclaim, most recently holding its own against wines from around the world at a tasting event held in Tasmania.
Kinsbrook Vineyard KIN Bacchus 2019
Kinsbrook Vineyard, in West Chiltington, Sussex, is founded by Joe Beckett who, at just 28 years old, is the UK’s youngest vineyard owner. This is another beautiful bottle – the label has a Dali-esque abstract design and a cut-out silhouette of a bird flying its way across the neck. It’s one for the purists – the winemaker’s preference for minimum intervention has created a clean-tasting still wine which is both slightly acidic and sweet (thanks to the wine’s high natural sugar content). The notes of elderflower and acacia blossom (which we were somewhat sceptical about) were easily identifiable, and we loved the wine’s subtle vanilla fragrance.
Balfour Hush Heath Estate Skye’s Chardonnay 2019
We’re starting to question our previous stance that we’re simply not that keen on chardonnays, because this is another example of one which refuses to conform. We love the fact that it’s unoaked - something which brings the lemon and lime notes to the fore. It’s creamy and soft with less acidity than we were expecting, and the addition of Petit Meslier (one of the permitted but very rare Champagne grape varieties) gives it a refreshing crispness which makes it perfect for summer.
The Uncommon White Wine Spritzer
Who said cans can’t be classy? Turn your nose up at these picnic-friendly tinned treats at your peril as cracking open a can of The Uncommon’s white wine spritzer offers a fantastically fresh thirst-quenching treat which won’t leave you tipsy (it’s got an ABV of just 5.5 per cent). It is made on a Surrey vineyard with a combination of chardonnay (30 per cent) and bacchus grapes (70 per cent). Expect an overload of herby botanicals courtesy of rosemary, elderflower and verbena, with a wonderful crispness provided by twists of cucumber and lemon.
Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Bacchus 2018
The next best thing to a tropical holiday, this delicious still wine is the one Kent vineyard Chapel Down is most famous for. Notes of lychee, peach and melon offer an intense fruity hit (you can thank Kent’s warm, free draining chalk soils for that), and along with the zingy, crisp finish, there’s a delicious oakiness, the result of third and fourth fermentations in French oak barrels. With its full-on aromas and higher ABV of 13%, it’s a serious wine which packs a punch in the fragrance department, but it’s also one of our favourites. Drink it with shellfish or salads – it goes particularly well with asparagus. Although it’s not possible to order individual bottles (only cases) from Chapel Down, you’ll find this wine on sale throughout the UK, including in Waitrose.
Bolney Wine Estate Chardonnay 2020
Sussex’s Bolney Estate is one of the UK’s oldest wine estates, so perhaps it’s hardly surprising that this one of the best chardonnays we’ve come across for a while (we also recommend their Pinot Gris, which was the first English wine to be served at Wimbledon). We’re not typically big chardonnay fans, largely because they’re often heavily oaked, but this one bucks the trend – it’s fresh and lively, with more fruitiness than you’ll get from chardonnays grown in warmer climes. Apple and peach dominate, but there’s a hit or apricot and orange peel, too. The tasting notes suggest pairing it with fish, cheese and summer desserts, so we opted for the latter, and it went particularly well with cheesecake.
Colemere Sparkling White 2017
There’s lots of sweetness in this North Shropshire sparkling wine, courtesy of pear, orange blossom and honeysuckle notes, all of which blend perfectly with the delicious earthiness (hazelnut and toasted notes are referenced and easily detectable). It’s an easy, enjoyable sparkling wine with a soft acidity which makes it the perfect companion for cheese – we paired it with a soft cow’s milk cheese from France.
House Coren Boco
Inside this fabulously opulent bottle is a beautifully pale sparkling wine packed with gorgeous fruity notes. Peach dominates, although a crisp citrus blast prevents an overdose of sweetness, and the crispness is enhanced by notes of apple and raspberry. It’s one of the fruitiest sparkling wines we’ve come across, and this is apparently down to the production technique used by this Sussex vineyard. The Charmat method (which is rare in the UK wine world) involves a second fermentation not in the bottle, but in the tank – a process which ensures the fruitiness comes to the fore, because it can be released earlier. And if you were wondering about the name? Boco is a word from old West Sussex dialect which means “lots of” and is derived from the French word beaucoup. Now you know.
Adnams English Sparkling Classic Cuvée
It turns out Adnams aren’t just known for their apple-based tipples. Their sparkling cuvée, which has a beautiful golden hue, is a deliciously complex wine which teams the tanginess of apples with a wonderful creaminess. Made with with 81 per cent pinot noir grapes grown in Essex (who knew Essex had vineyards?), it’s produced by award-winning winemaker Liam Idzikowski at Devon’s Lyme Bay Winery which, incidentally, is the one of the UK’s largest producers of cyser (a blend of mead and scrumpy cider).
Hattingley Valley 2019 English Gent
Although we know it’s all about the stuff inside rather than the glassware itself, who wouldn’t love this funky wine bottle, featuring an elegant-looking chap whose afro is dotted with rainbow-hued butterflies? We also loved the lack of foil over the cork – perhaps a nod to the ethos of simplicity which makes this sparkling wine such a treat. It’s a lively, flavour-packed wine filled with notes of elderflower and white fruit, propped up by the sturdiness of Pinot Gris grapes, and without a hint of yeastiness. Our favourite bit? The section of the tasting notes which instructs that the best way to enjoy this wine is as follows: “Lying in a hammock with birds singing in the trees, a good book and no children within 20 feet.” Another fun fact? The vines at Hattingley Valley’s Hampshire vineyard were planted using GPS-guided technology.
Severn Valley White Madeleine Angevine & Huxelrebe
We often get stuck in a wine rut, due to a weakness for Sauvignon Blancs (especially ones from New Zealand), but this still white wine is the next best thing: a sharp but easily drinkable wine which has a heady floral aroma without being too dry. Don’t be put off by the references to pear drops – a zesty, citrus hit prevents excessive sweetness, and it’s incredibly well balanced. We initially drank it with a white fish dish, although it’s also a perfect partner for smoked salmon – the wine’s slight acidity is a great match for the saltiness of the fish.
Exton Park RB 32 Brut
A fabulously fresh sparkling wine made with 60 per cent pinot noir grapes and 40 per cent chardonnay grapes, RB 32 Brut is a complex tipple, but don’t let that put you off – it’s one of the best British sparkling wines we’ve come across. Produced on a vineyard in Hampshire’s Meon Valley, it’s a wine which opens with a hat-trick of lemon, honey and passionfruit, while a hint of white pepper and a distinct (but not overpowering) earthiness lends a delicious complexity we hadn’t predicted. Order directly from the vineyard or from Selfridges (and let’s face, we’ll take any excuse to visit the department store’s fabulous food hall).
Jenkyn Place Blanc de Blancs Brut 2015
An English sparkling white wine made with grapes grown in the sun-baked (at least, for large parts of the year) North Hampshire downs, Jenkyn Place’s Blanc de Blancs Brut 2015 will definitely appeal to chardonnay fans – only chardonnay grapes have been used (often Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes regularly make an appearance in English sparkling wines). The tasting notes refer to the combination of lemon and verbena as a sherbet explosion, and that’s exactly how we’d describe it – it’s a fantastically fresh wine, although it’s not just about the citrus; there are notes of plum here, too. It’s also incredibly versatile, pair it with vegetable dishes, white meat or seafood.
Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV
One decade ago, we’d have been slightly baffled by the mention of notes of brioche, but our palate’s now significantly more refined (to the detriment of our liver) and there’s nothing we love more than a brioche note, which basically means a hit of buttery smoothness – something this sparkling wine has in abundance. The grapes used in this wine, available to purchase direct from the vineyard or from posh London wine merchants Lea & Sandeman, are 40 per cent Chardonnay, 50 per cent Pinot Noir and 10 per cent Pinot Meunier. It’s incredibly well-balanced – alongside the buttery notes are hint of peach, although it’s a wine with a certain sharpness, too. Coates and Seely’s vineyard is near the Hampshire town of Whitchurch. It’s surrounded by chalk downlands, and the high flint content helps the soil to retain heat, while the topography – the vineyard’s tucked into a narrow valley – traps this heat and supercharges the ripening of the grapes. It’s a vineyard with impressive credentials, too – one of its wines is the only English wine to have made it onto the menu at the legendary Four Seasons George V in Paris.
2020 Camel Valley Bacchus Dry
This is a delicious dry wine packed with tangy notes such as grapefruit and elderflower. We love its grass-green hue – the perfect nod to its wonderful freshness. Made in Cornwall on a vineyard founded by husband-and-wife duo Bob and Annie in 1989, it’s an award-winning wine which will appeal to anyone fond of Sancerre, the white wine produced in the eastern section of the Loire Valley. It’s also refreshingly easy to get hold of – you can order it direct from the vineyard or pick up a bottle in independent wine merchants across the UK, and it's also available in Waitrose and Fortnum & Mason.
Chapel Down Bacchus 2018
We put this wine, made with Bacchus grapes, to the ultimate test: we shared it with some French wine lovers. Their opinion? They loved the fruity aroma and light (but by no means overpowering) fruitiness, the floral-themed hit of elderflower and the clean finish. Our verdict? It’s a deliciously crisp, easy-drinking wine and a great alternative to new world Sauvignon Blancs. Our one grape-related gripe? We’d have loved to see a bit more information on the label, including information relating to serving suggestions (we drank it with salmon, which it went especially well with).
Louis Pommery England Brut
This Hampshire-born bottle of fizz is rather special – it’s a labour of love from the first Champagne house (Vranken-Pommery) to produce an English wine. Vranken-Pommery set up shop in Hampshire in 2014, and since the first bottle rolled off the product line, this delicious sparkling wine has scooped up plenty of awards, and it’s not hard to see why. The Champagne house’s winemaker, Clément Pierlot, used the same techniques he uses in France to create a deliciously crisp wine with a wonderfully wide range of notes – you’ll taste lemon, apples, freshly-baked bread and honeycomb, along with a hit of fragrant peach. For us, it was the apple notes which won us over, but trust us – there’s nothing in this wine not to like.
Denbies Sparkling Bacchus 2019
This sparkler is produced in the Surrey Hills by Denbies, regarded as one of England’s finest vineyards. We were intrigued by the mention of rose petals in the tasting notes, but this sparkling wine certainly has a floral freshness we’ve not come across before, backed up by red fruits and citrus. The initial fruity acidity turns into creamy finish which balances out the crispness brilliantly. It’s an incredibly versatile wine, and one we suggest drinking with charcuterie or fruit-based desserts.
Aldi’s wines have won so many awards that it’s almost a cliché to name one as our favourite, but their flavour-filled English Sparkling White Wine is truly deserving of the top spot – not just for the fantastic value but for its wonderful combination of crisp, summer-friendly notes. Meanwhile, we’ll take Henners’ Foxearle English Sparkling Brut, with its subtle citrus accords, over a bottle of Champagne any day of the week, and Laurel Vines’ Madeleine Angevine offers a glass of peachy perfection which proves Yorkshire wines shouldn’t be underestimated.