View all newsletters
Receive our weekly newsletter - World Of Fine Wine Weekly
  1. Tasting Notes
April 18, 2024

State of the nation: Where does English wine stand today?

Once a skeptic, Tom Stevenson has come to love his home country's dramatically improved wines.

By Tom Stevenson

Tom Stevenson tells the story of his conversion to English wine, and picks some of the best bottles he has tasted over the past 12 months.

There was a time when I certainly considered all English wine to be a joke—and a pretty poor one at that. I used to be embarrassed, but thanks to the viticultural revolution sparked off by Stuart and Sandy Moss, I am now very proud of what this country can produce. The Mosses were, of course, Nyetimber’s original American owners. Not original owners in a historical sense; that would have been long before Henry VIII gifted this ancient manor to Anne of Cleves as part of her annulment settlement. Before even its earliest mention in the Domesday Book of 1086. No, I refer to the Mosses as the original owners in a viticultural sense—the first owners to plant a vineyard on the estate and, in doing so, ignoring all local warnings that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir would rot before they ripened. And look where we are now. 

We should not forget Kit Lindlar, who made the first wine, Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1992, at his High Wealds winery. This groundbreaking wine received so much astonished praise in the wine press that it was selected for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Anniversary Lunch in 1997. After winemaking, Kit took to the cloth, making him quite literally the father of English sparkling wine.

In the first edition of Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (1998), I included an entry on Nyetimber, but there was no getting away from the fact that the quality of almost every other wine produced in this country was really quite embarrassing. Wines were made either from crosses or hybrids—crosses such as Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner, and Huxelrebe, grapes that are now so unfashionable that they are rarely grown in their own country or in a state of inevitable decline; while hybrid varieties were grown, so we were told, because nothing else could—a falsehood so eloquently exposed by the Mosses.

By the second edition (2003), English sparkling wine had achieved “world-class potential”—it happened as fast as that. Nyetimber was facing a competitor, Ridgeview, which was snapping at its heels at every turn. Ridgeview owner Mike Roberts had helped pick one of Nyetimber’s earliest harvests, and it was this experience that convinced him to start a vineyard and plant what was at the time the second-largest acreage of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier vines.

Nyetimber and Ridgeview both launched their products to much acclaim, enjoying success everywhere—from Michelin-starred restaurants, to supermarkets. This did not go unnoticed as entrepreneurs and their fellow investors began buying up land and planting it exclusively with the three classic Champagne grape varieties that not so long ago no one would dare to grow in this country. Having to wait three years for the first crop, then another three years for the first sparkling wines to be disgorged, it was more of an evolution than a revolution, and of course not all the wines launched hit the quality their owners aspired to. But as new labels began to trickle onto the market, so it became apparent that all the best and most exciting wines were coming from the new kids on the block, not the brands that dated back prior to Nyetimber (unless replanted with classic Champagne varieties).

By 2014, English sparkling wine was so cool it was hot. Other sparkling-wine regions could not understand how English wine had gone from being the laughing stock of Europe to laughing all the way to bank, with prices higher than some Champagnes. I was asked by Maurizio Zanella of Ca’ del Bosco to put on a tasting for his fellow producers. He wanted me to explain how English sparkling wine had managed to achieve a level of fame that Franciacorta had already been chasing for decades. My presentation kicked off with a track by The Beatles—“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”—as I told everyone that I was taking them on an acid trip. 

Content from our partners
Wine Pairings with gooseberry fool
Wine pairings with chicken bhuna 
Wine pairings with coffee and walnut cake 

That acid is part of what English sparkling wine is; and while much positive work has been done to curb it in the vineyard and winery, that bright natural acidity should be embraced, not neutralized, if its sparkling wines are to sustain its identity and fortune.

Still English wine starting to steal hearts

Until as recently as the latest editions of Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (2019) and Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia (2020), my mantra to English wine producers in that book was to uproot all hybrids and crosses and focus exclusively on the one world-class wine this country has to offer: traditional-method sparkling wine. But I now admit it’s no longer quite so simple.

Recently, some of the still wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have started to show exciting potential. It hasn’t been easy. Initially, the climate did not seem warm enough to ripen vinifera grapes sufficiently for non-sparkling red and white wines—but it was not that long ago that the climate did not seem warm enough to ripen classic sparkling-wine grapes either, until the Mosses proved otherwise. The one thing that everyone can agree on, though, is the extreme variability of the quality and quantity of English vintages, but it is evident that the learning curve for classic still wines has been much steeper and longer than it has for classic sparkling wine.

Even for established top-tier English still-wine producers like Gusbourne, there have been some disappointments—such as Boot Hill Pinot Noir 2019, which now shows more oak than fruit, and the fruit that remains is thin and astringent, with little more than tart cherries to show for it. Nevertheless, it is just a glitch in the mostly smooth progress of one of the UK’s most consistent wine producers, whereas every single still wine made by a number of other wineries has been so bad and fault-ridden that I dare not mention their names. Between these two extremes, the bulk of still English wines are simply dull and uninspiring, the sort of hopeless fodder that has fed my Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia mantra. However, the exciting still wines are beginning to spread, while the bulk of dullards are gradually—very gradually
—starting to shrink. And perhaps, just perhaps, I should be encouraging those who really want to produce classy reds and whites to do just that.

Tasting English wine

The best English wines I have tasted, sparkling and still, over the past 12 months.


All Angels 2015 Classic Cuvée
(Berkshire; 58% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir, 13% Meunier, 10% Pinot Gris; 12% ABV; 7.6g/l RS)

Evolved yet remarkably well preserved, with lovely, yeast-complexed fruit. A full wine, but its pincushion mousse gives finesse. | 90

Ambriel 2018 Blanc de Blancs
(West Sussex; 100% Chardonnay; 11% ABV; 7g/l RS)

Fresh orchard-fruit aroma, with citrus highlights and toasted-quince complexity. Bracing attack. Precision mousse. | 90

Balfour 2018 Blanc de Blancs (magnum)
(Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV; 0g/l RS)

Elegantly toasty nose leading to fresh and feisty fruit on the palate. Good intensity, crunchy freshness, and a fine mousse. | 90

Balfour 2018 Blanc de Noirs
(Kent; 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Meunier; 12% ABV; 8g/l RS)

Clean and inviting nose leading to a fresh, invigorating palate with a perky mousse. Bright, juicy fruit. An early-drinking wine. | 90

Camel Valley Vineyard 2015 Special Reserve
(Cornwall; 44% Chardonnay, 37% Seyval Blanc, 12% Pinot Blanc, 7% Reichensteiner; 12.5% ABV; 11.9g/l RS)

Beautifully fresh, with fleeting toasty notes; this crisp and feisty blend has a classic, lean structure with plenty of fruit attack, supported by a delicate creaminess and a long, lingering finish. The Special Reserve was entered into the CSWWC 2023 as a blend of 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Chardonnay. It easily won a gold medal, but when chatting with its winemaker, Sam Lindo, after the competition, he mentioned its Seyval Blanc content, so I asked him to kindly confirm the precise encépagement and was amazed to discover that it also contained Pinot Blanc and Reichensteiner. It is still a lovely wine, and if anything, I am even more impressed by Sam’s mastery of his blending skills. The man is a wizard! | 96

Camel Valley Vineyard 2020 Pinot Noir Rosé Brut
(Cornwall; 100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV; 12g/l RS)

This is one of the most consistent, top-performing English sparkling wines on the market, with its exquisite intensity of fruit, blade-like structure, and nicely neat acid line, yielding soft yet crisply cut peach fruit and a zesty-juicy finish. | 95

Camel Valley Vineyard 2016 Chardonnay Brut
(Cornwall; 100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV; 11g/l RS)

Youthful, orchard-fruit nose, with beautiful, soft, delicious fruit on the palate and a lovely, silky mousse. Juicy and quaffable. | 94

Chapel Down 2017 Grand Reserve (magnum)
(Kent; 63% Chardonnay, 31% Pinot Noir, 6% Meunier; 12% ABV; 8.7g/l RS)

Fresh, zesty aromas, with a twist of exotic fruit. Yeast-complexed, creamy-rounded fruit on the palate, supported by a firm mousse of fine bubbles. Well structured and faintly toasty. | 91

Everflyht NV Brut
(East Sussex; 47% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, 6% Meunier; 12% ABV; 7g/l RS)

Although initially dismayed at its deepish color and overtly developing nose, with exotic notes, I was more than won over by this wine’s intensely flavored fruit, weight, and creamy ripeness, with a fine mousse helping to lighten the load. | 90

Furleigh Estate 2013 Classic Cuvée (magnum)
(Dorset; 46% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 14% Meunier; 12% ABV; 8.3g/l RS)

Softly evolved nose highlighted by toast and yeast-complexed fruit aromas. Remarkably well-preserved melange of orchard fruit on the palate. Lovely ripeness and soft, silky mousse, leading to a long, focused, high-acid finish. | 91

Furleigh Estate 2018 Classic Cuvée
(Dorset; 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Meunier; 12% ABV; 6.2g/l RS)

Some yeast-complexed aromas and toasty notes. Fresh, vibrant, crunchy, bright-fruit palate, with well-balanced dosage, excellent mousse, and good carry. | 90

Gusbourne 2018 Rosé (magnum)
(Kent; 59% Chardonnay, 23% Pinot Noir, 18% Meunier; 12% ABV; 10g/l RS)

Such an elegant wine and top stuff by any standard. Fresh, smart, restrained orchard-fruit aromas, followed by a core of juicy orchard fruit on the palate, all underpinned by lovely, cushiony mousse. Winner of both Best English Rosé and Best English Sparkling Wine plus World Champion Classic Rosé trophy at CSWWC 2023. | 98

Gusbourne 2019 Blanc de Noirs
(Kent; 75% Pinot Noir, 14% Chardonnay, 11% Meunier; 12% ABV; 9g/l RS)

Gorgeously rich, yeast-complexed fruit, with a lovely, long acid-line finish. Juicy-ripe and refreshing fruit, with a pincushion mousse. Creamy attack and a classic English Pinot profile. Best English Blanc de Noirs at CSWWC 2023. | 97

Gusbourne 2018 Blanc de Blancs Selhurst Park Vineyard
(Sussex; 100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV; 9g/l RS)

Youthful orchard-fruit aromas, with toasty and grilled rind notes. Beautifully balanced orchard fruits on the palate, with citrus notes starting to emerge. Lovely, creamy mousse, giving a lightweight and airy feel. Eternal length. Winner of Best English Blanc de Blancs at CSWWC 2023. | 97

Gusbourne 2018 Brut Reserve (magnum)
(Kent; 46% Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir; 12% ABV; 8.9g/l RS)

There are not many wines that are thirst-quenching, but this is one, with its deliciously juicy fruit and refreshing, sappy finish. Diving a little deeper, there is a lovely toastiness on the nose, but the fruit is still so youthfully pristine. | 96

Gusbourne 2018 Blanc de Noirs Heartbreak Vineyard
(Kent; 100% Pinot Noir; 12% ABV; 9g/l RS)

Fresh and complete, with an elegantly restrained zingy-fruitiness on the palate. Compact and balanced whole. Crunchy fruit, hints of toast, and good energy. | 95

Hattingley Valley Wines NV Classic Reserve
(Hampshire; 47% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Noir, 19% Meunier, 2% Pinot Noir Précoce; 12% ABV; 6.4g/l RS)

Seductive, toasty nose, with full, rich, deeply flavored, yeast-complexed fruit on the palate. Fresh and vibrant, with a firm mousse. Drinking well now but still has plenty in the tank. | 94

Mereworth Wines 2018 (Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV; 6g/l RS)

Fruit-forward, vanilla-laden aroma leads into elegantly lightweight and beautifully balanced precision fruit on the palate, with a fine mousse and a vibrant, classic finish. | 96

Nyetimber 2014 Blanc de Blancs in magnum,“A classically constructed masterpiece.” Photography courtesy of Nyetimber.

Nyetimber 2014 Blanc de Blancs (magnum)
(Sussex; 100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV; 9.5g/l RS)

Amazing! This classically constructed masterpiece offers great elegance and exceptional finesse. I don’t think I have ever had any Nyetimber in magnum that was not outstanding, and this is no exception. It is not just complex and potentially capable of even greater complexity; it is also so full of lovely, fresh, ripe fruit, long, focused, and lingering that it is a delight to drink with abandon now. Yet stop to analyze for a moment, and the detail beneath the surface is a revelation. Hints of toast and warm spices are just beginning to emerge through orchard fruit, stone fruit, and yellow flowers. Creamy and juicy. An unbelievably young wine in its tenth year, this could well be a potential Library Sparkling Wine trophy winner at the CSWWC in ten years’ time. | 97

Plumpton Estate NV Brut Classic
(Sussex; 41% Pinot Noir, 34% Meunier, 25% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV; 10.4g/l RS)

A delicate hint of peach colors this wine, giving the appearance of a blanc de noirs rather than a rosé. Very fruity aromas, full of berries and peach. An intensely fruity, fresh and elegant palate floats on a soft, airy mousse. Very Pinot, smart and stylish. A triumph for the guys and girls of Plumpton College of Viticulture & Oenology. Winner of Best English Brut NV at the CSWWC 2023. | 96

Louis Pommery England NV Brut
(Hampshire; 50% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier; 12% ABV; 8g/l RS)

Needs time to develop more tertiary aromas but easy to quaff now, with its fresh, airy, and juicy fruit on the palate. Sweet and precise fruit attack. Soft mousse. | 90

Ridgeview NV Cavendish
(Sussex; 36% Pinot Noir, 32% Meunier, 32% Chardonnay; 12% ABV; 3.9g/l RS)

Soft, well blended, and well balanced, with a lovely, lacy mousse. Fresh, light, and creamy style. Good vibrancy. Smart winemaking. | 94

Simpsons Wine Estate 2018 White Cliffs Blanc de Blancs
(Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV; 6g/l RS)

Instantly shows class. Fine, toasty complexity on the nose, with fresh, crisp, youthful Chardonnay fruit on the palate, a lovely, focused finish, and creamy aftertaste. A firm yet airy mousse. | 93

Squerryes 2014 Brut (magnum)
(Kent; 35% Chardonnay, 34% Pinot Noir, 31% Meunier; 12% ABV; 8g/l RS)

Lovely and fresh, with pencil-shaving complexity to the nose, this beautifully preserved wine has compact, yeast-complexed fruit on the palate, with a gorgeous, cushiony mousse and long finish. The balance here is exceptional, and the magnum format has obviously kept the wine on top form for a decade. Serious stuff. Winner of Best English Brut Vintage at the CSWWC 2023. | 96

Squerryes 2014 Blanc de Blancs (magnum)
(Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV; 8g/l RS)

Lovely, gracefully aged fruit, with soft, vanilla hints on the nose and beautiful, creamy ripeness and gentle mousse on the palate. Amazingly fresh for a 10-year-old English sparkling wine. | 93

Squerryes 2019 Brut
(Kent; 36% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir, 28% Meunier; 12% ABV; 5.7g/l RS)

Clean, fresh, and easy, with soft peachy aromas on the nose and bright, pristine fruit on a fresh and vibrant palate. Super-youthful. Very elegant. Lovely mousse. Bright and zesty. | 91


Lyme Bay Winery 2020 Crow’s Lane Pinot Noir
(Crouch Valley, Essex; 100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV; SC)

A deeper color than Martin’s Lane—not always a plus point for Pinot Noir, but in this case it is, and the extra 0.5% of ripeness makes all the difference to the structure, fruit, and tannins. The fruit is much softer and richer, with velvety, luscious notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, mulberry, and plump morello cherry. Gone is the menthol, to be replaced by complexing hints of vanilla and cinnamon, while the tannins are nicely soft and supple, yet have more than enough grip to sustain this Pinot Noir for many years to come. This might be the same price as the 2020 Martin’s Lane, but it is ten times the wine. Or certainly this vintage is. It is also the only English red wine I have purchased by the case—ever. It’s that good. | 95

Gusbourne 2019 Guinevere Boot Hill Chardonnay
(Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV)

Classy, elegant Chardonnay nose. Finest, fleeting notes of baked apple and warm spice, flowing seamlessly onto the palate, where it is beautifully integrated with a light touch of creamy oak. | 93

Gusbourne 2022 English Rosé
(Kent; 100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV)

Glass stopper. Delightful pale peach color with a lovely fresh aroma of orchard fruits and notes of raspberry and redcurrant leading to a core of crisp, quaffing fruit. Presented in an entirely different bottle from the rest of the range. Designed to catch the eye, but unfortunately its clear glass construction will also catch the light. | 90

Lyme Bay Winery 2021 Martin’s Lane Chardonnay
(Crouch Valley, Essex; 100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV; SC)

Lovely, toasty-oak aroma, with citrus notes, mostly ripe lime and fresh, and lime-rich fruit on the palate. A serious wine that is ready to drink. | 90

Lyme Bay Winery 2020 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir
(Crouch Valley, Essex; 100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV; SC)

Good color and depth. Nice core of cherry and damson fruit, with menthol aromas. Could be riper, with softer fruit and more supple tannins, but it has true varietal character. It is also very young and tight and should loosen up. | 88

New Hall 2021 Single Estate Pinot Noir Précoce
(Crouch Valley, Essex; 100% Pinot Noir Précoce; 11% ABV; SC)

Pale-red color. Lovely, soft, light, elegant, cru Beaujolais-type fruit. Could be a Fleurie! Although I would like this style to continue, I would also like to see what these vines could produce if harvested at 12.5–13% ABV. | 90

Sharpham 2022 Pinot Rosé
(Devon; 74% Pinot Noir, 26% Meunier; 11% ABV; SC)

I like that this wine has a screwcap, but unfortunately it has been bottled in clear glass, though thankfully the sample I tasted had not yet been tainted by light strike. Very pale, pink color, very fresh on the nose, with crisp and zesty fruit on the palate, finishing with a tang of sherbety sweetness. | 84

Sharpham 2021 Pinot Noir
(Devon; 100% Pinot Noir; 11.5% ABV)

Sealed with a cork, not screwcap, though I have seen other vintages under screwcap. Fresh, red-cherry varietal aroma on nose and palate. Simple, with fine, accentuated acidity. Probably needs another three to four years in bottle. | 84

Simpsons Wine Estate 2022 Roman Road Chardonnay
(Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV)

Sealed with cork. The first few vintages were too oak-dominant and suffered from too much lees stirring, as far as I was concerned. But by the 2022 vintage, these techniques had been well and truly mastered, revealing a lovely, light, and elegant touch of French oak, with just the barest hint of creaminess and no trace of distracting lactic aroma, though it went through a full malolactic, of course. The sweetness of ripe fruit abounds, with notes of citrus, pineapple, and red apple. Crisp and long. Costs half as much again as Gravel Castle but is worth it, as much as I love the entry-level wine. | 94

Simpsons Wine Estate 2022 Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir
(Kent; 100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV)

Sealed with cork. Medium color. Very fruity. Soft cherry fruit, with coffee-oak notes on a light, supple tannin structure. Very nice, easy drinking. | 91

Simpsons Wine Estate 2022 Gravel Castle Chardonnay
(Kent; 100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV; SC)

I adore this entry-level, unoaked Chardonnay and often purchase it as my everyday drinking dry white, even to the point of pestering Charles Simpson to dig through his stock when a particular vintage has run out at all the online retailers I deal with. It consistently achieves what most Chablis producers should aspire to—and what they could easily achieve with their entry-level wines yet seldom manage: an uncomplicated, fresh, crisp, quaffable, dry white wine in a lean, mineral style, with a purity and elegance of fruit. Nothing lactic, nothing oaky; just an ideal aperitif that can easily lead into a meal. Perfect. | 90

Simpsons Wine Estate 2022 Derringstone Pinot Meunier(Kent; 100% Meunier; 13% ABV)

Sealed with cork. Gold color, with peach reflections, primary ferment odors melting into soft-fruit sorbet aromas. A delicately fruity quaffer. | 83

Select and enter your email address For award-winning content from the world’s most respected and intellectually satisfying wine magazine, sign up to our newsletter here
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Websites in our network