17 East Anglian alternatives to Champagne
- Credit: Freddie Reed
There was a time when just the thought of English wine made the mouth pucker in sour expectation. But those days, my friends, are gone. Wines produced on our soils are nothing new, but over the last 10 years or so a revolution has been taking place. Vineyards are cropping up across the land. And the fruits of their labour are competing with (and often matching or beating) Old World bottles.
English sparkling wine in particular has been basking in glory, taking on the big boys of the Champagne region with confidence...the awards and plaudits rolling in. This Christmas and New Year, if you haven’t already sampled local fizz, seek out some of these vineyards in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex – most of which have online shops or are available in good independent wine stores and food shops.
Skylark, Red Kite and Horatio – Chet Valley Vineyard
The Hemmant family’s sustainably-run vineyard close to the Suffolk and Norfolk borders has been cracking out some astonishingly good wines (we really like the still white Schonberger). When it comes to sparkling, if you can get your hands on it, try the limited release Red Kite 2018 (£20)– a cranberry hued red (yes red) bubbly that’s light on tannins and ripe with cherry. A perfect match for the gaminess of turkey and pigs in blankets.
Skylark Sparkling 2017 (£22) commendations in the IWC and Decanter World Wine Awards 2019. The stone fruit forward bottle, with notes of pear, is made with Pheonix and Seyval Blanc grapes in the Charmat method – also used to produced prosecco.
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Then there’s a bit of fun with the Horatio Pink Sparkling 2016 (£28) - a silver winner in the 2019 East Anglian Wine Awards. A lovely aperatif, it’s delicately bubbly with fruity front notes and a buttery finish.
Charmat Rose, Flint Vineyard (£21.99)
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Praise is regularly heaped on winemakers Ben and Hannah Witchell, whose sloping, flinty (hence the name) vineyard planted on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, is often namechecked by critics and wine buffs. Ben was one of the first people in the UK to utilise the Charmat method. Some of the blend is oaked for texture, while a slow, cool second ferment gives this wine a truly special, creamy mousse (bubbles) lush with buttery berries.
Vintage Reserve Sparkling 2014, Winbirri Vineyard (£79 for three online)
This was the first English vineyard to take home the Decanter World Wine Award and best in show with a platinum Decanter Award for the best single varietal white wine on the planet. Quite a coupe for owner and winemaker Lee Dyer. This sparkler is creamy, with fine bubbles and hints of brioche, stone fruit, strawberry and spice.
Three Graces 2016 and Kit’s Coty Blanc de Blancs 2015, Chapel Down Vineyard
The Essex vineyard has multiple awards lining its walls – including for these two beauties. Three Graces 2016 (£210 for a case of 6), is made with the classic Champagne grape blend, and took silver at the IWC 2020. Expect toasted brioche, apple and red berries, with a rich finish. Kit’s Coty Blanc de Blancs 2015 (£240 for 6 bottles) also achieved silver this year for its expressions of fresh bread and apple, with a savoury finish and masses of tiny bubbles.
Classic Cuvee and Sparkling Suffolk Pink, Giffords Hall Vineyard
Sited on a historic glacial riverbed, this scenic west Suffolk vineyard produces each variety on a small scale, taking great lengths to ensure a unique difference between each variety. The Classic Cuvee (£30.50) is a wonderful celebration fizz, and has been named one of the very best English sparkling wines by the Independent. It’s barrel fermented in French oak and presents with fruit, biscuit and a floral twist. The Sparkling Suffolk Pink £27.50) is a wonderful colour, again, bursting with floral notes, and hints of redcurrant, strawberry and raspberry, with creamy bubbles. Both are suitable for vegans.
Shawsgate Rose 2014, Shawsgate Vineyard (£19.99)
This is one of the oldest vineyards in the region. The award-winning Shawsgate Rose 2014 is berry forward with a pleasing, fresh acidity and hints of bright red fruit. A great pre-dinner drink.
DV Sparkling English Brut 2013 (£25), Dedham Vale Vineyard
A simply stunning riverside vineyard of around 40 acres – and winner of Vineyard of the Year in the UK for 2020. This wine, made with Chardonnay and German Orion grapes, is produced using the Champagne method. It is packed with nose-tingling bubbles, and offers a fresh, fruity, toasty flavour.
Sundancer 2015 Vintage, Valley Farm Vineyards (£35)
Established in the late 80s, new owners Elaine and Vanessa took over Valley Farm in 2014, growing vines including perfumed Madeleine Angevine and Pinot Gris. They currently have limited stock of the complex, delightful Sundancer, which is produced with the Champagne method and laid was laid down for three years. Blending Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris, this is a balanced fizz laden with bready goodness, almonds, honey, orchard fruits and lemon.
Moonshine, Wyken Vineyard (£24.95)
Make sure you pencil a visit in to this Suffolk vineyard in 2021 to explore the romantic gardens – and for lunch or dinner in the award-winning restaurant or café.
Moonshine was named 2017 East Anglian Wine of the Year. It's pale straw in colour with a savoury, biscuity note on the nose, developing into green apple, crisp citrus, and melting peach and honeysuckle.
New Hall Sparkling Bacchus, New Hall Vineyard (£23.50)
One of the oldest winemakers in the country, with a heritage of over 50 years. This Bacchus brings bubbles to a grape variety springing up everywhere in the UK thanks to its affinity with the British climate. Expect lemon, elderflower, some minerality and creamy bubbles.
Premier Reserve Blanc de Blancs, Crouch Ridge Vineyard (£30)
The vineyard was planted 10 years go on largely clay soils over a sloping plot leading to the river Crouch. This IEWA bronze winner will be a hit pre-lunch/dinner and is a superb celebration drink, bright with crunchy apple, sherbet, peach and lemon.
English Sparkling Wine, Lavenham Brook
The farm produces wine, apple juice and incredible beef. This sparkler took a silver in the IEWA 2016. Its zingy nature makes it a choice aperitif, giving over peach, floral note and a hunt of melon, with a crisp finish.
Classic Brut, Toppesfield Vineyard (£24)
Wines from this small family-run winery in Halstead have been served at the Monaco Grand Prix! The vineyard was planted by the Moore family in 2012 when they purchased agricultural land next to their home – in an area once used for wine making by the Romans. This traditionally made Brut is lively with red berries and small, luxurious bubbles. Quite refined.