Recommending English still wines

Pinot Noir in Essex?! Pinotage in Sussex?!

It’s all happening in English still wine at the moment. The sparkling wines of the UK go from strength to strength – and now they are being joined by a raft of still wines rapidly gaining critical mass and traction. The scorching vintage of 2018 looks set to further bolster this burgeoning reputation – not to mention availability (and potentially, given the bumper quantities, a softening of the prices).

This latter point is important. While premium prices are acceptable for English sparkling wine, which competes in a similar price bracket to champagne, English still wines face fierce competition on price and often suffer as a result.

The key, as many producers are finding out, is that they need to focus on the premium still wine category by crafting unique, individual styles rather than try to compete at the lower end. You can charge top dollar for fine, characterful Chardonnay or Pinot Noir – but it’s more of a struggle when it comes to grape varieties like Madeleine Angevine or Reichensteiner made in a gently aromatic, off-dry style.

Given the likely direction of climate change as the country warms up, the industry would be well advised to have one eye on still wines alongside sparkling. Such diversity lends much needed credibility to a still nascent wine industry.

It would be good to see even more ambition from English growers as regards still wine. One way is to develop more plantings using the right clones in the right sites specifically for still wine, rather than using sparkling plantations that just happen to get extra ripe in a good year.

We don’t know yet whether Pinotage will work (it’s being planted in West Sussex as part of the Benguela Connection, which is based out of South Africa, where this variety is widespread). But Pinot Noir is certainly proving a hit, from Kent to Essex, where we visited recently and were most impressed. (If you don’t believe us, try some of Lyme Bay’s award-winning Pinot Noir, made with Essex fruit.)

For the whites, Chardonnay looks set to be a star in the UK, with wines that deliver freshness and elegance as well as complexity. Bacchus is another forté, making aromatic, engaging whites with both freshness and roundness.

In this article, Susie shines a light on the English still wine scene and recommends some of her favourites.

[This article ‘Expert’s Choice – English still wines’ appears in Decanter magazine’s November 2018 edition]

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