Tasting the terroir is a concept that many wine lovers will be well versed in, but how does it differ when it comes to wines that have been made with grapes grown on home soil?
English wines are certainly a lot less well known than their European counterparts; bottles from the continent have a time-honoured, unshakeable reputation for excellence and elegance. There’s no disputing the quality of these masterfull wines, but we think it’s high time that English wines got their share of the limelight.
In this post, we spoke to our expert sommelier Marco who (despite being Italian) has always possessed a real devotion to English wines, an enthusiasm that is both personal and professional. He’s shared with us an insider knowledge on the unique offerings that English wines can boast of – including their key properties, signature tastes and how the unique English terroir shapes these factors. It is these wonderful properties that we’d like to pay homage to below.
So, what is it about English wines that makes them unique?
The signature elements of English wine are caused by climate change, which means that the environment that currently exists in England is ideal for wine production. “The chalky soil – which is very similar to that in the Champagne production area – is the perfect way to achieve great minerality and acidity in wines.”
In response to this environmental change, there have been massive improvements and investments in the English wine scene. Increasingly across the country, skilled winemakers have been hired, and Champagne Maisons have been buying and investing in England as a place for speciality wine production. “Taittinger, for example, (a very famous and widely known producer) bought land in England back in 2016, and will soon produce its very first English sparkling.”
The traits that people can expect from an English wine are, namely, “great minerality, complexity and incredible acidity.”
However, although the popularity and intrigue surrounding English wine is experiencing significant growth, this does not mean that we’ve established quite the consistency of quality that we would have hoped for.
“At the moment, English sparkling production still lacks the consistency of its quality, and production numbers are still low (due to the fact that England has relatively small wineries) but all of these factors are rapidly changing. The level of quality is still a bit of a roller coaster, without much consistency, but it is steadily increasing. I would say that, if you want to play it safe with your choice of English wine, you need to know the producer. The big names and players in English wines include Nyetimber, Gousbourne and Winston Estate. I would say that these producers are leading the way, establishing a reputation and showcasing the image of the English sparkling.”
How does the terroir differ in England? And how does this impact the taste of English wines?
“For centuries, Champagne has been the furthest northern wine growing region in Europe. It is famous, known all over the world for three unique features: heritage (they have been making amazing sparkling wines since the 18th century) terroir (caused by combination of a cool climate, and a the unique feature of their soil, being very rich in chalk, which is what enables these wines to achieve their incredible minerality) and the passion, that leads some of the world’s best winemakers and most skilled experts to flock here.
“Now, I say all this because (as I mentioned briefly earlier on) due to recent climate change, the south of England (Kent and West Sussex in particular) is becoming the new most northern wine making region in Europe!”
Climate change has meant that in these areas, we see less rain, which enables grapes that are grown on English soil to ripen and achieve a higher level of acidity than was previously possible (which makes for an especially delicious wine). Most importantly, English wine-growing soil can now boast a decent amount of chalkiness, just as its Champagne-based rivals can.
That’s why, in recent years especially, England is increasingly becoming a spot to watch on the world’s map of areas to find the top wine production. Right now, there are two distinctive styles of English sparkling that are defining the market: ‘Champagne-style’ and ‘Pure English’ sparkling.
“I would say, in the last 10 years, thanks to massive investments and improvements, the quality of English sparkling production has massively increased.”
Although we can increasingly expect great sparkling wines from England and plenty of great whites too, we won’t be seeing any reds just yet.
“This is due to the fact that our English climate and terroir doesn’t allow a red grape to ripen enough to produce a good and complex red. However, some decent pinot noirs (a variety which loves a cooler climate) are starting to appear on the market.”
For you personally, what are your favourite properties about English wines?
“We spoke earlier about how there are two very distinctive styles emerging, that are now defining the production of English sparkling. There are the ones that are “copying” and competing with the Champagne style (Nyetimber would be an example of this) with complexity, yeasty notes, and a deep and wide range of aromas. We are also seeing the growth of varieties that are producing a unique English style – with great acidity, freshness, citrusy notes and a floral bouquet.
While this is not a comment on the quality of either (both styles can provide you with a really delicious wine), this preference in type is simply to do with the style of the wine producer. At the moment, my absolute favourite is Bolney Estate, located in West Sussex. It’s a pure English style. I fell in love with this winery immediately after I tasted their Blanc de Blancs; it’s a particularly lovely wine, which has a great story behind it.”
Bolney Estate was founded in 1972 by Rodney, who developed his passion for wine during a trip to Germany while he was at university. On this trip, he discovered that vines could be grown and harvested even in countries that didn’t have gorgeous weather all year long. So, the winery was founded in 1972, when Rodney decided to plant his first vine upon his return to the UK. “He must have thought ‘where is another country, other than Germany, that has constant rain, wind and bad weather? Ah, England of course!’.
If you’re keen to experience the sensational offerings of English wines for yourself, you can order our brand new rosé package, and have six gorgeous bottles of English wine delivered straight to your door – perfect for a fabulous evening of lockdown wine tasting.
The world is full of exceptional wine varieties, and it’s a fascinating practice to see how and why wines differ across the globe. At Club Vino, our sensational range of speciality wines are all about showcasing the beauty and individuality of English wines. We hope we have, if not converted you just yet, at least tempted you to try out a bottle or two, to see what all the fuss is about. We can promise you that you won’t be disappointed.