Raise a glass to the most effervescent homegrown fizz around with our pick of the best English sparkling wine
It’s no secret that Champagne no longer has the monopoly on high quality fizz. Sure, Cava, Prosecco and Cremant all bring something different and delicious to the table, but for crisp, fine bubbles it is hard to beat a bottle of truly great English sparkling wine.
Today’s cool but mild climate means that the South of England is particularly suited to making sparkling wine: warmer temperatures allow the grapes to ripen over a long time (which means extra flavour) while retaining their acidity and crispness, and soils across many Southern wine-making regions are similar to the famed Champagne terroir. No surprise then, that the huge majority of vines planted in the UK are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – the main three grapes permitted in Champagne production.
But English sparkling isn’t just a pretender to Champagne; with many award-winning cuvees, our vineyards and winemakers have proved themselves over and over, and English wine benefits too from a natural green freshness that allows for a superior, classier fizz when made using the traditional method our French friends insist upon (secondary fermentation in bottle and maturation before disgorging). The result is a clean, elegant sip with good acidity and often lots of citrus, apples and pears on the nose and palate that can be enjoyed with a range of paired foods, or alone. Great for a gift, a celebration or just a quiet night in, we are spoilt for choice by the amount of quality English sparkling wine available.
How to choose the best English sparkling wine for you
How much should I spend?
As a rule of thumb you should expect to spend what you’d normally drop on a bottle of Champagne. The way English sparkling wine is produced (low yields, long production time, labour intensive) means it’s doubtful that you’ll spot a bottle for much less than £20 – though you’ll likely find many really great bottles around this figure – and many vintages can command upwards of £50.
Surprisingly, you are more likely to pick up a bottle of Champagne for a bargain basement price (£12-ish), than an English equivalent, as the higher volume produced allows for higher discounting. Rest assured though, that your £20-50 is money well spent, as it’s much harder to find a duff bottle of the homegrown stuff than it is a disappointing Champagne.
Vintage or Non-Vintage (NV)?
Vintages are, by nature, more expensive and they also tend to have a different profile to non-vintage wines. Non-vintage allows the winemaker to pick their perfect balance of wines that have experienced different conditions and may taste slightly different year to year, while vintages rely on a long, wet summer (for example) that will affect the years’ crop. Vintage wines also tend to spend longer on the lees, meaning more pronounced brioche bready notes that many people love – though these are detectable in non-vintages that have also spent time on the lees.
What about the grapes?
Most English sparkling wines will use the main three Champagne grapes, with proportions decided by the winemaker and often available to view on the label. If you’re looking for a citrus and orchard-fruit style wine, then look for a majority chardonnay wine. Meanwhile, a wine that has a higher proportion of Pinot Noir (a red grape but used in many whites), will more likely have the classic red fruit and berry notes that make for a rounder, fuller flavour. Wines that don’t use any Pinot Noir are traditionally known as Blanc de Blancs and tend to be more restrained, flinty and brisk, while rose varieties are made when the wine is given contact with the red grape skins and more pronounced notes of strawberry, redcurrant and the like can come into play.
How we test English sparkling wine
At Expert Reviews, we make it our business to test all of our wine categories thoroughly. We know the best way to rate English sparkling wine is by trying each sample, rather than relying on marketing information, so we can recommend the crème de la crème with confidence. Our testing methods involve chilling each wine to the requisite temperature and serving in a flute to best assess the nose of the wine, take in the mousse (foamy bubbles on top) and view how fine, persistent and lively the bubbles are. We then sip and savour each wine in sequence, comparing and contrasting similarly priced bottles against each other and testing blanc de blancs, vintages and so on in sub-categories, to bring you the best of the bunch. We consider its value for money, the producer and try it with any appropriate suggested food pairings where possible, making careful notes of the resulting taste.
Once we are approaching a shortlist, we’ll pass the wines around to a few more willing wine enthusiasts in order to gain a spectrum of opinion. One person might have a leaning towards yeasty, brioche wines, while another may like fun and fruity fizzes. Both are valid and all of these opinions allow us to bring you a delicious selection of tested English sparkling wines.
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The best English sparkling wine you can buy in 2023
1. Winemaster’s Lot English Sparkling: The best budget English sparkling wine
Price: £20 | Buy now from Aldi
Supermarkets are increasingly producing own-label English wines – such is their popularity – and Aldi’s version is a good one to get stuck into without completely blowing the budget. Made using the big three grapes and grown in the lush soils of Hampshire, this is a classic example of typical English sparkling wine; breathtakingly fresh, full of the flavours of English apples, with a grippy lemon zest.
The bubbles are beautifully soft and fine and the light, toasty notes give a nod to the Champagne profile it’s made in the image of. We’d love to know which vineyard is responsible for this crowd-pleasing wine, but if we did it would cost a lot more, so we’ll stick to guessing. Drink as an aperitif to a roast chicken, pair with all seafood or enjoy with vegetable dishes.
Key details – ABV: 12%; Vintage: No
2. The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine NV: The best introduction to English sparkling wine
Price: £24 | Buy now from The Wine Society
Lucky Wine Society members can enjoy this exclusively produced sparkling wine from the Ridgeview estate. Its prized spot on the Sussex South Downs boasts the same geological formation as Champagne’s soils (limestone on top of sandstone) and has created a wonderful introduction to English sparkling wine, bursting with zesty acidity. Made using the classic three grapes and using the traditional method, this wine is bone dry with a pronounced grapefruity citrus aroma and plenty of the classic British green apple flavour.
Having spent time on the lees we’d expect yeasty bread notes but in this wine it translates further into a deep savoury note that adds depth and interest. This is an accomplished wine at an accessible price (for English sparkling, anyway) and is absolutely delicious in place of the classic Champagne and fish and chips pairing.
Key details – ABV: 12%; Vintage: No
3. Chapel Down Brut NV: The best English sparkling wine to gift
Price: £35 | Buy now from Chapel Down
Arguably the best known and biggest English wine producer, Chapel Down makes a wide range of brilliant wines. The Chapel Down Brut NV is its most popular though, and for good reason. Chapel Down is based in Tenterden, Kent, but owns vineyards across the main growing regions of southern England, allowing the team to pick and choose the best of the bunch before blending it into a consistently brilliant Brut.
Its unique blend covers all the bases of what you’d want from a knock-out English sparkling wine: apples, toasty notes, juicy strawberries and lemony freshness. Drink this with anything and everything. A classic all-rounder that will always be appreciated.
Key details – ABV: 12%; Vintage: No
4. Louis Pommery Brut England: The best Champagne House English sparkling wine
Price: £42 | Buy now from Majestic
It’s not just us Brits after a piece of the English sparkling wine pie. When the big Champagne houses realised how good we have it here, they all wanted a slice. Louis Pommery were the first to get its ducks in a row and have been prepping the Hampshire estate for its first release since 2017. While the brand gets the soil health and biodiversity all in order, it’s borrowing the neighbours vines and making this delicious, sustainable sparkling wine using winemaker Clement Pierlot’s expertise.
With prestigious IWC and Decanter awards that are testament to his craft, Louis Pommery Brut England is made using the same methods he employs in Champagne, to create a crisp, sophisticated wine that brims with peach, baked bread and orchard flavours coursing through persistent, fine bubbles. We love the slight buttery note and look forward to when the first vintages are released.
Key details – ABV: 12.5%; Vintage: No
5. Nyetimber Rose: The best English sparkling rosé
Price: £40 | Buy now from Real English Drinks
Nyetimber is one of the best in the business when it comes to premium sparkling wine and we particularly love its rosé iteration. Forget everything you’ve heard about rosé only being suited to summer – when it’s sparkling and this good, any time of year is a pleasure. A complex and mature sparkling pink from the West Sussex estate, this is a world away from the usual simplistic strawberry-hued fizzes. Think bouquets of exotic fruits and florals alongside heady notes of spice, and a gorgeous creaminess that marks this out as a high quality bottle of English sparkling wine. There are also cherries and shortbread abound, while star anise and lavender add interest. Drink to celebrate or pair with fruity puddings for special occasion dinners.
Key details – ABV: 12%; Vintage: No
6. Wiston Estate Cuvee 2017: The best vintage English sparkling wine
Price: £42 | Buy now from Real English Drinks
The Romans first grew vines on the Wiston Estate in West Sussex two thousand years ago and they knew a thing or two about wine. So when the Goring family started planting chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier in 2006, it was a good bet that the chalky, flinty South Downs soils would come up trumps. The Wiston Estate produces a range of different cuvees, all with their own individual expression and this 2017 vintage is particularly delightful thanks to a warm, dry summer allowing for plenty of ripening.
Awarded a Gold medal at the Wine GB 2022 Awards, this refined English sparkling is less the apples, pears and citrus that we’re used to in English wines, and more honeyed stone fruits, buttery brioche and nutty richness, It’s also deliciously dry and displays tight, mouthwatering acidity ending in a superb creamy finish. Having been given extra maturation time to really develop, this wine is a great example of how a particular vintage can be allowed to shine and show off its natural expression, compared to how non-vintage wines are balanced carefully for consistency each year. We love this and would splash out again on a bottle for any special occasion – you could also lay this down to age.
Key details – ABV: 12%; Vintage: Yes