With the festive season upon us, many of us are looking to ensure our wine racks are well stocks for every celebratory occasion. And for an increasing number of us, that means a sparkling choice – champagne maybe, a prosecco quite possibly – but over the last few years, English sparkling wines have become the bubbly of choice, with plenty of award-winning options to choose from.
It’s been an interesting year for the industry; the UK Government froze wine and spirit duty in the October budget in a bid to help stabilise a beleaguered hospitality industry; the pandemic and social restrictions actually saw an increase in wine sales of 30% and for many of us, that also meant supporting home-produced choices from one of the UK’s 178 wineries. As a reflection of growing confidence, last year UK growers planted 1.4mln new vines, and as the number of wineries grows, they are choosing to produce more sparkling wines than still wines.
Award-winning British sparkling wines abound – check out lists of recent winners, go and chat to your local off licence about their recommendations, see what restaurants are offering on their menus – or better still, go and visit a vineyard and not only sample their wares, but learn about the process, the locality, the owners’ passion for viticulture, their skill and approach.
Most vineyards offer tours and tastings but if you want to make your tasting a really special event, there’s some great options of wineries offering something extra to a visit – be it fine dining, accommodation, or a beautiful garden to visit alongside the vines.
Here’s a selection of some great locations with added extras.
Sweeping down the slopes of the South Downs, the soil of the Rathfinny estate is the same seam of chalk that runs from Northern France into Southern England – so the location seems the perfect choice for husband and wife founders Mark and Sarah Driver to have established the Rathfinny Wine Estate, back in 2010.
Distinct attention to detail produces a fine range of sparkling wines mostly aged in their bottles for 36 months. 2019’s vintage is due to be released in 2023 but you can make your reserve order now. Or choose an earlier vintage to drink now choosing from the portfolio of Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blanc, Rosé Brut and Classice Cuvée.
A visit to the estate can include a guided tour or follow the self-guided walking trail to discover the gardens, vines, views and more. Come in summer and not only will you find the estate’s further reaches dotted with wildflowers, but many of the vineyard areas too with plantings of wildflower mixes between the rows of vines to encourage pollinators and improve biodiversity. To quote: “Inter-row wildflower corridors and natural swards of grass and plants reduce our tractor miles and promote biodiversity across the Vineyard It also encourages natural predators which feed off each other, preventing the need to use harmful chemical sprays. We work with the South Downs National Park to ensure we’re always making green decisions that make a positive impact on the environment.”
For food, choose from the fine dining at the Michelin Plate Tasting Room, or more informal eating at the Flint Barns Dining Room. Plus you can choose to stay at the award-winning bed and breakfast giving you a real opportunity to immerse yourself in the estate’s fine location, steeped in history and natural beauty.
Rathfinny Wine Estate
East Sussex BN26 5TU
Tel: 01323 871031
Based near Rye in East Sussex, Oxney is the largest single-estate producer of English organic wine. The 35-acre winery are Soil Association certified and grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc. Look out for 2018 vintages – noted as a particularly good growing year. Along with tours and tastings (held between May and September) you can also stay on the estate. Choose Vineyard House next to the vineyard, a beautiful Jacobean house in typical Sussex vernacular, complete with inglenook fireplace and garden. There’s room for a larger group at The Oxney Barns – a series of three converted barns with communal dining space and table provided in the garden for al fresco eating.
And if al fresco is more your style, there’s two shepherd huts for cosy stays, or if you can’t stay overnight, why not book yourselves a picnic to accompany your tour. Rustic baskets will be filled with tasty Sussex teats and nibbles along with a bottle of Oxney Organic wine. Choose your spot on the estate to spread out your rug and enjoy both food, wine and surroundings.
East Sussex TN31 6TU
Tel: 01797 269137
The first vines were planted at Nyetimber in 1988, and the estate has gone on to earn a reputation as one of the best English sparkling wines – with growing international recognition. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are suited to the climate and soil at the foot of the South Downs to produce the Nyetimber range including Classic Cuvee (‘Think honey, almond, pastry and baked apples on the palette with just a hint of decadence’), Rosé, Cuvee Chérie , (‘created with food at the very forefront, it compliments delicate sweets and puddings, however, is just as comfortable alongside spiced and fragrant savoury dishes’), Blanc de Blancs (‘A wine aged for a longer time on the lees, it develops a classic brioche aroma with delicate hints of complimentary vanilla’), Tillingham Single Estate, and 1086 Prestige Cuvees (‘With more richness than any other wine in the Nyetimber range, the acidity, length, and texture are perfectly balanced to ensure the most premium experience’).
As far as experiences go, a trip to the main Nyetimber vineyard overlooking the Sussex South Downs matches the quality of the wines. From tours of the vines, to a tutored tasting in the 15th century medieval barn, to carefully curate dinners, created by chef Michael Caines these promise to be memorable occasions. What’s more, you’ll catch sight of the estate’s impressive gardens to both compliment the historic setting and the brand’s commitment to quality.
West Sussex RH20 2HH
Tel: 01798 813989
- Buy now from Trevibban Mill (£29.95)
Compliment a trip to Cornwall’s rugged north coast with a visit to this family run vineyard, established in 2008 and growing a number of grape and apple varieties for a range of still whites, rosés and reds, English sparkling wines and ciders. The sparklings include their Pinot Noir Sparkling Wine, which recently won the trophy for the best pink sparkling at WineGBWest’s annual competition and their latest release, an elegant Blanc de Noir White Sparkling that pairs well with that fresh mackerel that you’ve caught earlier on your Cornish holiday fishing trip.
A visit to the vineyard means you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful south-facing, contemporary winery building with tasting room and Upper Deck balcony overlooking the countryside. Choose a drink from the bar and enjoy with charcuterie and cheese, plus organic hummus made at Trevibban by son Tom’s company Themptation, and chill out on the terrace surrounded by the vineyard’s wildlife friendly naturalistic plantings of flowers. There’s a small kitchen garden too, which is an essential source of herbs and soft fruits for the bar and importantly for assisting in wine training sensory skills sessions to help define palettes.
The vineyard is currently constructing two lodges offering the perfect vineyard getaway.
Trevibban Mill Vineyard
Vineyard & Orchards
Cornwall PL27 7SE
Tel: 01841 541 413
- Buy now from Tillingham (£55)
Described as ‘progressive’ combining the best scientific and technological knowledge available alongside ancient traditions, Tillingham produces biodynamic wines from their 70-acre biodynamic estate in East Sussex. Their regenerative approach sees the vineyard using techniques to restore soils to good health with strong microbial activity and wider ecological diversity. They take a similar approach to the vegetables in the walled garden, using as many as possible for the menu of their food offering at the estate and aim to be as closed loop as they can including rearing their own pigs, while free-range hens are able to scratch around the vineyard and provide fresh eggs.
There’s no doubting that their Traditional Method 2018 is a treat offering hints of brioche and melon balanced with a saline character – and it’s both vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Visiting the estate is a delight too. The farm, which dates from the 13th century and has a Victorian farmstead at its heart, has been renovated to allow for tastings, farmshop sales and overnight accommodation in the former hopbarn, with stays available from Wednesday through Sunday. (Note their current special Dinner, Bed & Breakfast rate for Sunday nights until Spring 2022.)
Even if you are staying a visit is completely engaging; there’s a walled garden, restored Dutch barn perfect for outdoor dining, a winebar and wood fired pizza on offer.
East Sussex TN31 6XD
Tel: 01797 208226
- Buy now from Black Chalk (£35)
Nestled in the Hampshire Test Valley, the Black Chalk winery has won awards for its 2019 and 2020 sparkling wines produced in small batches using the traditional methods blending the popular Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes.
Tours and tastings are one way to discover the vineyard but Black Chalk has also joined forces with Wild Escapes to offer guests the option to stay in one of four luxury treehouses situated, immersed in the countryside while overlooking the vines from their raised, tree-based vantage point. These are a gorgeous addition using sustainable materials and sympathetic building methods. Black Chalk offer private tastings of their wines on your treehouse terrace – a treat indeed.
Shop and Tasting Room
The Old Dairy
Hampshire SP11 7JX.
Tel: 01264 860440
Kent-based producers of still and sparkling wines, as well as their own gins and vodkas. Chapel Down is well established and well regarded and indeed award-winning. Kit’s Coty is the gold-medal winning, premium collection of limited production, single varietal wines from their vineyard on the North Downs. Their popular Brut NV has been awarded Silver Medal, Wine GB Awards 2021, and Silver Medal, Decanter World Wine Awards 2021.
The vineyard is open for sales, walks talking in the vineyard and gardens, and tastings, plus a booking to the two AA Rosette and Michelin Bib Gourmand Swan Restaurant offers fine dining and spectacular views.
While you cannot stay at Chapel Down, you can take advantage of a rather special collaboration between the vineyard and nearby Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens – a stay in Sissinghurst Castle Farm House, a ticket to the iconic gardens created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, a meal at the Swan and private vineyard tour. A rare treat to experience one of our finest gardens in a rather unique way.
Chapel Down Winery
Kent TN30 7NG
Tel: 01580 766111
The Bolney Wine Estate was established in 1972 by Janet and Rodney Pratt, making it one of the first English wine estates. It produces award-winning premium red, white, rosé and sparkling English wines. Now headed up by Janet and Rodney’s daughter, Sam Linter, the Estate is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary with new releases and events throughout the year.
Choose from a series of tasting tours – paired with a luxury cream tea or cheese tasting, for example. Or linger a little longer at the Eighteen Acre Café with its viewing balcony overlooking the stunning Sussex scenery. They are open for lunch and breakfast – the perfect opportunity for a glass of Bolney Classic Cuvée topped up with fresh orange juice. (Classic Cuvée NV – gold winner at Glass of Bubbly 2020 and silver at Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championship 2020)
Committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise, The Bolney Estate produces a series of tasting and food pairing notes and for those keen to learn more but unable to visit Sussex, virtual tastings are a tempting option to enjoy the wines from the comfort of home.
Bolney Wine Estate
West Sussex RH17 5NB
Tel: 01444 881575