Today is the start of English Wine Week. Yes, I know that practically every type of wine has a dedicated day or a week but not all have vineyards you can easily visit - half the pleasure of discovering wine.
And English wine really has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, despite a car crash of a vintage in 2012. Sparkling wines are obviously the highlight (the climate and soil of southern England are not that different from Champagne) but you can find some creditable rosés and even reds these days, too.
My favourite at a recent tasting came from a well-established winery called Bolney, which seems to be having a new lease of life under its winemaker Sam Linter, the daughter of the original founders. Try her exuberant spicy 2011 Bolney Estate Lychgate Red (12.5%, £10.50 at Yorkshire Vintners; £10.65 bolneywineestate.com) made from rondo, a grape that seems particularly suited to the British climate. Its pretty, off-dry 2013 rosé (10.5%, £12.65 from the winery website) is also from rondo and is attractive too.
The English sparkling wine scene is still dominated by established names such as Nyetimber, Camel Valley and Gusbourne, but there's a new generation of wineries whose vines are just coming into production which are potentially as exciting. One is Wiston in Washington, West Sussex, whose Irish-born winemaker, Dermot Sugrue, used to be at Nyetimber. Try the sexily packaged 2010 Wiston Cuvée Brut (12%, £32.95, South Downs Cellars) whose fine elegant fruit is shown off by a low dosage (the sugar solution added at the end of the production process). In a totally different register, I also liked fellow Sussex producer Bluebell's 2010 Hindleap Classic Cuvée (11.5%, £25.95, also from South Downs Cellars; £23.99 from Bluebell) which is made in a richer, softer, more honeyed style.
Neither of these, you will have spotted, is cheaper than champagne - perhaps a bit cheeky when the vines are still so young but the upfront cost of planting a vineyard is enormous. Such bargains as exist are mainly among England's delicate nettley, elderflower-scented whites such as the 2012 Three Choirs' Midsummer Hill (11%, £7.50, made for the Wine Society). The similar and, I think, slightly more elegant, 2012 Coleridge Hill is around £8.50-£10 in independent wine merchants. Check wine-searcher.com for stockists.
Find out more about English wine week at englishwineweek.co.uk.
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