Sip your way through the royals’ wine country on a tour of English sparkling wine that this year beat out French champagne in competition.
Think of beverages and Britain, and you probably think of tea, but oenophiles know the best British boisson is a glass of bubbly. The cork is off the bottle as 2018 saw English sparkling wine beat out champagne at the 2018 Sommelier Wine Awards—in France. It’s no fluke, major Champagne houses are eyeing land in England. Tattinger already has grapes planted with Domaine Evremond—its first British sparkler expected to release in the early 2020s.
There are a whopping 500 vineyards in Sussex and Kent producing sparkling wine. Their success is in part due to the terrior.
The clay, chalk and green soils in England are the same dirt found in Champagne, France.
But what has really helped in the last few years is sadly climate change. As temperatures increase, the weather in Champagne is requiring vintners to harvest those grapes before optimal ripeness, while the increase in temperatures in England has put it in the sweet spot for perfect grapes.
With the quality of English fizz the best it’s ever been, and the wine region still flying a bit under the radar, now is the ideal time to plan a tasting trip to southeast England.
Just 13 miles from London’s Gatwick airport, the historic Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, Sussex is the ideal luxury base to explore several of Sussex’s top vineyards. The Elizabethan manor dates to the 1500s and offers 28 unique rooms and suites. More modern spa suites are available in the newer spa on property. If you don’t want to create your own wine tasting tour, book the hotel’s five-day Sparkling Sussex tour that takes you to several top vineyards and includes a night at the famous Glyndebourne Opera.
The hotel’s restaurant is helmed by award-winning chef Stephen Crane and offers the best fine dining experience in town. It’s also the perfect opportunity to get your first taste of several British bubbles. Try the Ridgeview Blanc de Noir, the Wiston Blanc de Blanc or the Sugrue Cuvee Dr Brendan O’Reagan. Any of them make a perfect pairing for the chef’s signature home-smoked salmon appetizer and mains like butter-roasted Cod or New Season Lamb.
Bluebell Vineyard Estates
Start your exploration of English sparkling wine at Bluebell Vineyard Estates. Tours and tastings are offered throughout the week, and there are three trails guests can hike to explore the estate independently. Special picnics, featuring local products, can also be arranged.
The estate plants numerous clones of the classic Champagne grapes—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and the Seyval grape, which is unique to England. There are five cuvees in the collection, all vintage and estate bottled under the Hindleap label. The signature Blanc de Blanc cuvee has won wine awards and is served at the Savoy in London.
It took 34 years, but Pip Goring, finally got her dream to plant a vineyard on her family estate in South Downs. For her entire marriage, Pip tried to convince her husband Harry that the chalk and clay soil was ideal for growing grapes. It wasn’t until some major French Champagne houses, including Louis Roederer, wanted to partner with the Gorings’ that Harry was sold. The family planted its first grapes in 2006 and hasn’t looked back since. Today the Wiston Estate has more than 16 acres dotted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Wiston was lucky enough to find winemaker Dermot Sugrue, who worked in France and at arguably England’s top sparkling producer, Nyetimber, before joining forces with Pip to create Wiston.
Wiston currently has eight wines in the collection, all created using sustainable methods, hand-harvesting and pressed with a traditional Coquard press, one of only four outside France and the only one in the UK.
The 2011 Blanc de Blanc received the highest scores in the prestigious Decanter wine competition. Of the 16,800 wines entered, 50 received Best in Show and just six, including this one, were rated 98 points.
April to October, winery and vineyard tours with a tasting are available, as are food and wine lunch pairings.
The oldest and arguably the best, Nyetimber is the gold standard of English bubbles. It’s Blanc de Blanc beat out champagne in a 2016 blind tasting in France. It’s the benchmark bubbly, but tasting it can be a bit tricky. Unlike many others, Nyetimber is closed to the public, but if you’re in the area on Open Days, you can book a ticket for a tasting or come to the estate for a paired dining experience. A fun way to experience the brand is to catch up with the Nyetimber Bus at any number of quintessential English events throughout the year. This is a food truck taken to a whole new luxe level. This restored 1968 London Routemaster bus becomes the best pop up bar at events like Royal Ascot, Queen’s Club and the chic Glyndebourne Opera.
Touring winery after winery can get a little redundant. For something a bit different, experience Rathfinny winery at its restaurant. Open for lunch or dinner you can pair dishes like tartlet of peas, caviar and sake, or beef cheek slow-cooked in red wine with the estates Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Noir or Rosé bubbly. The view of the South Downs from the restaurant is stunning.
Whether at a summer pool party, an evening soiree or simply to say cheers to the weekend, the next time you want to celebrate anything find a bottle of English sparkling wine and toast the new kid on the block.
With British wine country so close to London, it makes sense to combine a city and country escape. In recent years London has become the IT place for cuisine, and now it’s also one of the best places to try English sparkling wine.
South Place Hotel
The East End has been one of the hottest London neighborhoods in recent time. The five-star boutique South Place Hotel, where the City meets the East End makes an ideal London home. The cheeky hotel combines playfulness, luxury and modern design offering 80 rooms and five restaurants and bars.
Raise a Glass
Some of our favorite restaurants to try English sparkling wine include the Galvin at the Athenaeum Hotel, Aqua Shard at the iconic Shard, and Hide. For a before dinner glass of bubbly, The Coral Room offers a rotating menu of six top coupes of English Fizz, while the St. Pancreas Champagne Bar offers several British sparklers.
Just opened in the ultra-luxe Bulgari hotel, Sette is the first international outpost from New York’s Scarpetta restaurant family. The ultra chic Italian restaurant offers impeccably done pasta, but it’s the surprising crudi that will knock your socks off. Do not miss the Tuna Susci. Before or after dinner make sure to wander downstairs to the restaurants Nolita Social. Every Wednesday through Saturday, you can enjoy a cocktail and live music.
The see-and-be-seen crowd loves Ruya in toney Mayfair. The restaurant serves unique Anatolian cuisine covering regions from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. While you ponder the shared plate menu, munch on Isli Patlican an interesting walnut dip with eggplant chips that have an unexpected and delicious sweetness. Try one of the stuffed breads that come direct from the wood-fire oven in the middle of the restaurant, one of many kabob options or the whole grilled sea bream for two.
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