Cuisine · United Kingdom
October 31, 2023 Words: Steve Futterman

The Sparkle and Surprise of British Wines

There’s a world of hidden flavor just waiting to be discovered in the diverse wines of Great Britain


When people think of social drinking in Great Britain, immediate images of local pubs serving up time-honored, hearty beers, ales, and spirits can spring to mind. But the United Kingdom has a great deal to offer wine enthusiasts and in fact, during Tudor times, Henry VIII had a wine fountain installed at Hampton Court inscribed for all to "Make goode cheere who wyshes". As British culinary practices have evolved so has national viticulture. Dedicated producers of British wine have been perfecting their game for decades and are now serious contenders in the international market. In fact, at the 2022 Decanter World Wine Awards British wines picked up 151 medals, the best in the competition’s history. Much like a scrappy racehorse charging ahead after a slow start, Britain is now ready to challenge her rivals in Continental Europe, the United States, and Australia. It’s time to experience the individual pleasures of British wine on its home shores.

Wine production in Britain has a history that stretches back to the Roman conquest in the first century. The succeeding Normans tippled as well, and production proceeded in fits and starts since then. It took time, but by the 1970s wine production experienced substantial growth, and the evolution of genuine viniculture continues to this day.

English vineyards are mostly located on the southeast coast, in Sussex, Kent and Surrey. What distinguishes these regions is, in the case of Sussex and Kent, their proximity to the seas and its invigorating winds, the amount of sun the vineyards receive, and a chalky limestone soil that draws on the remains of ancient marine fossils. The rural beauty of these regions is reflected in the satisfying textures of the wines produced there.

But hardy vineyards can also be to be found throughout England and Wales, and even as north as Scotland. No matter where British vineyards are located you can sense the same commitment and passion among those dedicated to bringing attention to a homegrown product deserving of pride and acclaim. Using the latest equipment, top notch United Kingdom (U.K) winemakers, as skilled as they are enthusiastic, are more than ready to compete with their international brethren of the grape. And, for experienced wine lovers who may not be as familiar with U.K. varieties, to discover previously overlooked treasures.

Raise a Toast with Sparkling Wines

Prized by those with a taste for exceptional regional quality, now celebrated English sparkling wines have been delighting discerning enthusiasts since the 1980s. The generally cool climate of Britain is the perfect setting for grapes that are high in acidity and crispness. Raising the same grape varieties used in French Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir – hundreds of British vineyards are producing millions of bottles of the enchanting drink. Other primary grapes used to produce English Sparkling wines are Bacchus, a white German crossing of Silvaner x Riesling and Müller-Thurgau (Bacchus grapes – making up roughly 5% of plantings, followed by Seyval Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Rondo - are celebrated for their fragrant notes of elderflower, citrus and fresh gooseberry.); Ortega, a white German crossing of Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe, developed in the 1930s; Seyval Blanch, a French white hybrid; and Reichensteiner, a German crossing used as a sparkling wine component.

Thanks to the chalky, limestone soil and clement summers of the south of Britain – giving the grapes more time to enrich their flavors – the region offers sparkling wines of noticeably refined character and signature flavor. English sparkling wines come in four main designations. Classic Cuvée – a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir – is the most seen sparkling wine. Blanc de Blanc is made from white grapes, primarily Chardonnay, while Blanc de Noirs call on black grapes, notably Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. The crisp Brut Rosé is the fruitiest of the varieties. (There is also a less common but sweeter Demi-Sec.) The dry finish, high acidity, and shades of citrus found in these sparklings make them a perfect pairing for classic English cheeses and fare such as fish and chips as well as all manner of seafood including oysters, white fish, and prawns.

Still Wines Shine Too

Although English sparkling wines may be the most visible product of British viticulture, there are other domestic wines that are making a splash. Still chardonnays and pinots are regularly acclaimed. The Independent, in a 2022 still wine roundup chose a variety of outstanding examples including a Pinot Gris from award-winning Bolney Wine Estate as their “best overall”; a Pinot Noir from Denbies, the largest wine estate in England in Surrey; an English Rosé from Chapel Down based in Kent ; a reserve still white Chardonnay from Hattingley Valley in Hampshire (“best Chardonnay”); and a Cinque Port from Balfour in Kent.

Let’s Drink to That!

If experiencing the exciting and unique wines produced by this still young, but highly focused, viticulture beckons to your eager and adventurous palate, Seabourn’s ultra-luxury voyages to the United Kingdom are sure to satisfy. Alluring vineyards are yours to explore, while our knowledgeable sommeliers will help guide you as you delve into a delightful adventure.

Ready to set sail?

Consider these upcoming voyages:

7-Day Scotland & Iceland's South Coast

DEPARTS: Dover (London), England, UK
ARRIVES: Reykjavik, Iceland

Jul 27, 2024

from $3,498*

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DEPARTS: Reykjavik, Iceland
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Aug 3, 2024

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14-Day Jewels Of The British Isles

ROUNDTRIP: Dover (London), England, UK

Sep 7, 2024

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Replica of the 1520 wine fountain for King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace, United Kingdom Replica of the 1520 wine fountain for King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace
Large selection of cheese for sale at Borough Market, London
Surrey, UK Rows of vines in an English vineyard



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