Food & Drink

Is English sparkling wine about to get serious?

Climate change is bad news for most, but not the UK’s vintners

Some good news for English vintners. Climate change may be wreaking havoc the world over, but for vineyards in the UK, warming temperatures can only be good thing.

In an interview earlier this week, Environment Secretary Michael Gove declared that English sparkling wines are now better than champagne, thanks to the destructive effects of climate change on the eponymous French region.

While our French neighbours are struggling with freak weather conditions, the increasingly balmy temperatures on this side of the channel mean that British vineyards are doing better than ever. A 2016 study commissioned by Laithwaite’s Wine found that areas of England could become the world’s leading producers of wine by 2100. On top of that, in recent years sales of English sparkling have boomed– and those of champagne have fallen, with total global sales dropping by 2 per cent in 2016.

‘Our climate is what it was like in Champagne 60 years ago,’ explains Wendy Outhwaite, owner of Redfold Vineyards in sunny West Sussex, which is home to Ambriel Sparkling Wine. ‘Champagne used to have a cool climate, but it’s warmed up recently. The issue with that is that the grapes ripen too quickly so the flavours aren’t so good. Also, you get too high alcohol content in the wine, too.’

english sparkling wine

The suitability of the UK’s climate for growing grapes – in particular the chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier varieties you need for sparkling wine – also mean that British vineyards have swept to success in international wine competitions in recent years. At this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards English sparkling wine won more awards than French champagne, while Cherie Spriggs, of West Sussex vineyard Nyetimber, was named sparkling winemaker of the year at the International Wine Challenge 2018.

‘A really good thing about England is that because of the climate we have good levels of acidity in the wine, which gives it its structure, its ability to age and also it gives it a bit of freshness,’ explains Outhwaite. ‘At the moment, what the world is looking for is that fresh, zesty zippiness, and that’s characteristic of English sparkling wine. The other good thing about England, is because of its cool climate you have a really long ripening season. We don’t start harvesting until October so we have a really lovely long ripening season where the grapes just build up flavours. And that’s why with an English sparkling you’ll get layers of complexity, it’s not just a single shot of flavour.’

Now, to decide for yourself…

Does English sparkling wine live up to champagne? There’s only one way to find out… and that’s by popping a cork or two. Here’s three award-winning bottles we can recommend.

1. Ambriel Blanc de Blancs 2010

Ambriel Sparkling’s first vintage, this wine is made from 100 per cent Chardonnay grapes. Elegant and citrusy, it won gold at the Decanter Wine Awards 2018.

£36, shop now

2. Camel Valley Wines 2015 Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rose Brut

This refreshing bottle is made with grapes harvested on the sunny slopes of North Cornwall, and has delicate floral and strawberry aromas. It won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge 2018.

£29.95, shop now

3. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Creamy and rich, with hints of strawberry and cherry. This sparkling wine from Nyetimber won the English sparkling trophy at the International Wine Challenge 2018, and garnered its maker, Cherie Spriggs, the award for English sparkling winemaker of the year.

£34.99, shop now