England and Wales are now internationally recognised as producers of top quality wine, regularly winning prestigious international awards. Our cool climate is ideally suited for growing grapes to make world-class sparkling wines and impressive still white, rosé and red wines.
The majority of vines planted in recent years have been the traditional champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which in total represent more than 60% of all vines planted in the UK (Wine Standards official figures for 2018).
Most sparkling wines are made using grapes harvested in a single year (vintage) but some non-vintage (NV) are also available. Classic Cuvée designates that the wine has been made from the traditional champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. Blanc de Blancs indicates that only white grapes have been used, often exclusively Chardonnay.
Increasingly there are a number of wonderful still white, rosé and red wines available, with a range of styles, made either as a single varietal from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Bacchus, Pinot Gris, and Ortega or as a blend with other varieties, such as Reichensteiner, Solaris, Rondo and Pinot Blanc.
The most widely planted varieties in the UK are:
(by planted area from Wine Standards official figures for 2018)
As well as these popular plantings there is a wide range of varieties grown in the UK which are used for making an ever increasing range of still and sparkling wines. The tables below list the most commonly grown varieties:
White Grape Varieties
Valued for its low acidity and produces exciting and long lasting wines if yields are kept low. It adds ‘body’ to blended wines. Also grown in Alsace, where it is usually blended into ‘Edelzwicker’, and found in Luxembourg, Burgundy, Canada, New Zealand and USA. As a neutral Pinot Blanc/Chardonnay style variety it is also useful for barrel ageing or as a sparkling wine base.
A top white variety for still wines, usually made in a Sauvignon Blanc style, although some producers are starting to make lees-aged and oak-aged wines, similar to some Sancerre and Fumé Blanc wines. Commercially it is a valuable variety, with good yields and the ability to shine when very young.
Image copyright Chapel Down 2019
A winner in sparkling wines for both Classic Cuvée and Blanc de Blancs styles. Some wines can take 5+ years to mature but the best are impressive with firm acidity and good fruit. An increasing number of still wines, which are of genuine quality, are also made from Chardonnay.
Image copyright Woodchurch 2019
(Pinot Blanc x Müller-Thurgau) Not extensively planted in this country but seems to blend well with Müller-Thurgau. It develops good must weight and, in Germany, can qualify for ‘spätlese’ status. Produces wines that are very fruity with crisp acidity.
(Chasselas x Courtillier Musqué) Bred in 1927 in Germany. Has a rather ‘muscat’ style and is a good cropper with good sugar levels. It needs careful management and can be used for dessert wines because of its susceptibility to ‘noble rot’. It has a high natural acidity and strong aromas of elderflowers, producing very fruity wines that age well.
(Trollinger (Black Hamburg) x Riesling) Bred in 1929, this is a very successful grape that ripens reliably and produces excellent fruit. It has a style similar to Riesling and is popular in Germany. It may well have a good future in England. A variant, ‘Kernling’ ripens earlier than Kerner but produces virtually identical grapes, with wines that are fruity in a steely, Riesling style.
(or Madeleine x Angevine 7672) Designed for northern planting, it flowers late is an early, reliable cropper. It is useful for blending since it ages well and its relative low acidity will blend well with higher acid varieties. On its own it produces wines that are light and fruity with a pronounced muscatty bouquet.
(also known as Rivaner) Uncertain parentage, though now generally thought to be Riesling x Riesling Bred in 1882. The main grape in Liebfraumilch, and was used in Germany to restore the fortunes of their vineyards after the war but is now seen as bland. This grape was among the first planted in the U.K when grape growing resumed and was the single most widely grown variety for many years. It is now less popular being seen as a producer of unstylish wines. It is popular in central and eastern Europe. A vigorous early ripening variety, but can be a poor cropper.
(Silvaner x Riesling) x Müller-Thurgau First registered in the early 1970’s. An early ripening variety that achieves high must weights, and therefore suitable for ‘late harvest’ wines.
Hybrid. Optima x Seyve Villard 12-375 (Villard Blanc) Crossing in Germany first registered in 1984. One of a new generation of hybrid varieties bred both for wine quality and disease resistance. Being a recent introduction to the UK it is currently too early to tell whether it has a future. Early reports are encouraging and wines can be fruity and quite aromatic. The increase in area shows that it is achieving some limited popularity. One to watch with interest.
Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe First introduced to the UK in 1971. This vine suits our climate, although is prone to disease, and is planted widely. It produces very full flavours and high natural sugars and has been used for late harvest wines. When ripe it produces wines that are rich and zesty with good balance. Good for blending with more neutral varieties.
Image copyright Biddenden 2019
Hybrid. Bacchus x Seyve Villard 12-375 (Villard Blanc) A recent cross and one of a new generation of hybrid varieties bred for quality and disease resistance. Currently planted in a few vineyards, but one to watch. Wines from Phoenix are also quite Bacchus-like, sometimes Sauvignon Blanc in character.
This is a mutation of Pinot Gris (see below). There are various strains of this grape. The wine has a strong nose and, where planted, seems to ripen its fruit well and produces wine with good and full fruit flavours and crisp acidity. It crops heavily in most years. Can produce a style similar to Chardonnay.
Widely grown in France, where its main home is Alsace and known there as Tokay Pinot Gris. It is also grown in Germany, Italy and Switzerland and known by various names including Rülander, Malvoisie and Pinot Beurot. It is not widely planted in the UK, and does not produce such exceptional flavours as found in other countries.
Luglienca Bianca x Early Gamay Proves itself capable of good yields, ripens early with good sugars and relatively low acids – in short an ideal candidate for our climate! Wine quality can be excellent.
Müller-Thurgau x (Madeleine Angevine x Calabreser Fröhlich) A popular variety in the UK, it ripens early and performs reliably, and is capable of producing large crops of relatively neutral grapes, high in natural sugars. It is reliable but a little bland and is often used for blending in both still and sparkling wines, having good sugar levels.
Another name for Müller-Thurgau (see above)
Pinot Noir x (Chasselas Rosé x Muscat Hamburg) This grape is very successful in the UK, producing white wines with low acidity but high sugar levels and good Muscat tones (some resembling a less powerful version of Gewürztraminer). When fully ripe it has a pink tinge. Its wines are distinctive, full-bodied and delicately flavoured.
Seibel 5656 x Seibel 4986 Developed in the 1920’s in France. It crops heavily in this country, even producing good crops in cooler years, and has effective disease resistance. It is a good ‘all rounder’ - often used for blending, and is well suited to oak aging and used for still or sparkling wines. Single varietal wines offer crisp acidity, with quite neutral flavours.
A small berried and intensely aromatic variety. One of its parents was the famously spicy Gewürztraminer grape. It ripens sometimes to excessive levels and has a very dominating flavour. It is often used to bolster blended wines and a few growers use it as a varietal in its own right – some for late harvest and dessert wines.
Solaris is an early ripening variety with good resistance against fungal diseases and frost. It gives wines which have fruity and perfumed aromas with hints of banana and hazelnuts, with medium acidity. In the cool UK climate it is generally used for still dry wines, but is also suitable for dessert wines in warm years as it ripens to a high must weight.
Müller-Thurgau x Gewürztraminer This crossing was developed in 1932. It is not widely planted. An early ripening variety that does not carry a heavy crop and produces quite strong, spicey flavours. It has low disease resistance.
Red Grape Varieties
Helfensteiner x Heroldrebe Created in Germany in 1955, the product of a long process of vine breeding. Helfensteiner is early Pinot Noir x Black Hamburger and Heroldrebe is Portugieser x Limburger. The wine is notable for its colour and good acidity and grows well in the UK, having been introduced in the 1980’s. In Germany it is quite widely grown and capable of producing some very fine wines. Over here it is one of the grapes that shows that good red wine can be made in the U.K. Wines are usually fresh and fruity more like Syrah or Gamay than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Unknown parentage First appeared in UK in mid-1980's. Few varietal wines are made from it. Its strong point is deep colour, which is useful when blended in with other grapes. Dunkelfelder has fairly low vigour and does not usually run to large crops. On its own, the wine is fairly neutral with low acidity and is best blended with other red varieties.
A variety that had a slow start, in the UK but is now catching up. Great in a sparkling blend or Blanc de Noirs and a few growers are making impressive still wines with it. One to watch.
Image copyright Ridgeview 2019
An indispensable component of sparkling wines both as part of a blend and in rosés and Blanc de Noirs, which is white wine made only from red grapes. It can also be used to make attractive dry still rosé wines. Serious red wines have been few and far between in the past, but every year the number increases, which shows great promise for the future.
Image copyright Woodchurch 2019
Hybrid. (Silvaner x Müller-Thurgau) x Chambourcin Another one of the new generation of hybrid varieties bred for wine quality and disease resistance. It is a relatively new introduction to the UK, and those wines produced have shown real promise, with low acidity, high sugar levels and good yields.
Image copyright Off the Line 2019
Hybrid. Saperavi Servernyi x St Laurent Originally just named Gm 6494/5 this hybrid vine has very different parentage from Regent but some similar characteristics. It has adapted to UK conditions very well and plantings have been increasing since was first planted in 1983. Rondo produces wines with very good colour and style and overtones of classic red varieties. It blends well with other varieties (such as Dornfelder and Pinot Noir) and can be likened to a cross between Tempranillo and Syrah.
Was known as Triomphe d’Alsace, and initially quite a popular grape in this country. It yields well and ripens early but it has low disease resistance. It has low acidity and high sugar levels and may be superseded by other more recently bred vines.