Grape Britain

Wine grower George Bowden at the Leventhorpe Vineyard, Swillington.
Wine grower George Bowden at the Leventhorpe Vineyard, Swillington.
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By this time next week the shops will have sold out of bunting, Union Jack picnic plates and commemorative Diamond Jubilee biscuits, so this is the weekend to go shopping for all your Jubilee eating and drinking. That clears next weekend for the actual celebrations, a big lunch with the neighbours and hours in front of the TV watching the flotilla, pageant and concert.

And after 60 years on the throne, there is no better way to toast Her Majesty than with a glass of English wine. Who in 1952 would have thought that 60 years on there would be 1350 hectares of vineyards – not big by any stretch of imagination in comparison with France, Spain and Italy, but significant, especially when the quality of the wine is taken into account?

White wines are our main speciality, but there were plenty of rosés and a few reds at the major tasting of English wines recently and what was clear is that England is now becoming a serious producer of quality sparkling wine. There are several stories of English sparkling wine beating Champagne in blind tastings, and only a few days ago a £50,000 contract for fizz was awarded to Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex instead of a major Champagne house.

Even The Queen has planted a vineyard in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Nearly 17,000 vines have been planted on the royal estate in Windsor and since they are the traditional sparkling wine varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier it looks like HM will be producing her own fizz for future Royal celebrations.

Wines from more than 60 producers were on show at the recent English Wine Producers tasting in London. I trawled through them all and this is my list of favourites. Getting hold of some of these wines is difficult because only the large producers have national distribution although almost all of them are happy to send you a case direct from the vineyard.

Sparkling wines

Jenkyn Place Brut 2008 (£24 Wrightson Wines, Catterick, 01748 832666, mixed case sales only): Owned by Yorkshireman Simon Bladon, but grown in Hampshire, this vineyard makes terrific white and rosé sparkling wines. I have a slight preference for the clean, lifted, citrus fruit in the white, but the strawberry-scented rosé is good too.

Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2007 (£24.99 Lewis and Cooper, Northallerton): There are probably hundreds of Northallerton residents walking around on new hips fitted by now-retired orthopaedic surgeon Andrew Weeber who was head of orthopaedics at Friarage Hospital. Now he has turned his attention to 200 acres of Kent countryside where he has 20 hectares of vines. I particularly enjoyed the crisp, toasty notes of Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2007 and the Blanc de Blancs 2007 (£27.99).

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2010 (£29.95 Drinks Direct,, or buy direct from the vineyard at about £24.26 a bottle): Bob Lindo spent time in Yorkshire early in his career but found our climate rather chilly. He has now been making wine in Cornwall for 20 years and this rosé typifies all that is good about English fizz. It has pure, delicate fruit, stylish balanced flavours with a precise, elegant, long finish. Pour it for any summer celebrations and sing Land of Hope and Glory..

Ridgeview Knightsbridge Blanc de Noirs 2009 ( £26 Hic! Ledston, 01977 550047): Based on the South Downs in Sussex, Ridge view has its own vineyards but also buys in grapes from other local producers which means they have enough to distribute nationally. This wine is full of ripe, toasty fruit and has a long, mouth-filling finish. Some Ridgeview wines are also available at Waitrose.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2007 (£29.99 Waitrose, on offer at £22.49 until May 29): Originally planted by Chicago couple Stuart and Sandy Moss in 1986 who fell in love with the historic house as well as the vineyard lifestyle, this is now owned by Dutch businessman Eric Heerema who has expanded the vineyards and brought the estate up to date, while maintaining and even improving quality along the way. This is a rich-tasting, toasty brioche style wine with creamy, nutty notes and a long, structured finish.

Still Wines

Leventhorpe Seyval 2011 (about £9 from the vineyard, 0113 288 9088, or from local retailers): This Leeds vineyard is still not known by many locals but it is famous in France, particularly amongst rugby fans. Local rugby star Dave Ellis coached the French side for years and celebrated his wins with Yorkshire wine. George Bowden has been making wine at Leventhorpe for over 20 years and has developed an elegant, complex style through a mixture of careful pruning and winemaking. As Yorkshire’s only vineyard for many years he has set the pace.

Wolds View 2011, Ryedale Vineyards (about £9 from the vineyard 01653 658507 and from Castle Howard, Fodder and Lewis and Cooper): From the most northerly vineyard in the country, delightful and crisp with the scent of white blossom and light aromatic fruit.

English Bacchus 2011 (£11.99 Marks and Spencer): Made by Chapel Down, this is a clean, fresh-tasting floral style of wine, perfect for weekend sipping

Chapel Down English Rosé 2011 (£9.99 Waitrose): Still full of lively, fresh-tasting strawberry fruit, with a streak of minerally backbone, this is a delightful pink wine to drink on its own or with food.

Camel Valley Darnibole Bacchus 2010 (£14.95 from the vineyard, This award-winning single-vineyard wine shone at the tasting and while you may have to ring the vineyard to get some, it is well worth the effort. Now listed at a Michelin two-star restaurant in Cornwall, this is a bone-dry, aromatic wine, with spice, pepper and floral notes and a long, dry minerally finish. It really does show that English wine has arrived.