What did the Romans ever do for us? Well, they brought us wine, for a start. And English wine has come a long way since those tipsy toga-wearers arrived on our shores a couple of millennia ago. According to an article commissioned in 2017 by wine insurance provider Lycetts, English wine producers’ turnovers have grown from £55.7 million to £131.9 million in the past five years. That’s an increase of around 238%. But which are the most popular English wines, in terms of grape varietes planted?
English wine production is dominated by sparkling wine (approximately 66 per cent of grapes), and still white (24 per cent), with red and rosé combined only making up ten per cent of the total. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see all three of the grapes used in Champagne featured in the top ten — especially as the Champagne region’s location in northern France means its climate is similar to southern England’s. Enough build-up, here’s the list, based on analysis of 1,532 hectares of vineyards.
- Chardonnay: 23.06 per cent of production. Total area in commercial production 353.37 hectares. The UK’s number one is also the world’s most popular and versatile grape. No surprise there then, but the list becomes increasingly unusual from here on.
- Pinot Noir: 22.01 per cent of production; 323.14 hectares. Widely grown in cooler climates, but notoriously difficult to perfect, it’s good to see this highly respected grape (usually used for red wine, but also an ingredient in Champagne) thriving in the UK.
- Bacchus: 8.39 per cent of production; 128.52 hectares. Named after the Roman god of wine, bacchus (a white grape originally grown in Germany, similar in style to sauvignon blanc) has emerged as a staple English wine. In May 2017, Winbirri Vineyards’ Bacchus 2015 was crowned the world’s best white wine in the Decanter Awards. That must’ve raised a few hackles.
- Seyval: 5.76 per cent of production; 88.31 hectares. Another white grape, seyval’s vines ripen early, making it suited to cooler climates. It can even be grown in Canada.
- Pinot Meunier: 5 per cent of production; 76.65 hectares. This black grape is best known as being one of the three grapes used in Champagne (along with chardonnay and pinot noir, the top two on this list).
- Reichensteiner: 4.72 per cent of production; 72.35 hectares. As the name suggests, this white grape is mainly grown in Germany. But the UK’s not far behind in production terms.
- Rondo: 3.15 per cent of production; 48.24 hectares. This red wine is well suited to blending, and its high resistance against winter frost makes it an ideal English wine. Click here for my review of Bolney Estate’s Dark Harvest, which contains rondo.
- Müller-Thurgau: 3 per cent of production; 45.94 hectares. A cross-breed of riesling and madeleine royale, this white grape is grown across northern Europe, the USA, New Zealand and Japan, making it the most widely planted of the so-called “new breeds” created since the late 19th century.
- Madeleine Angevine: 2.57 per cent of production; 39.34 hectares. A white grape, originally from the Loire Valley. I’ve never tried it, but apparently it’s crisp, dry and fruity. And popular is Kyrgyzstan!
- Ortega: 2.32 per cent of production; 35.48 hectares. Another German white grape, this one’s a cross between müller-thurgau and siegerrebe and named after the Spanish poet and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. Apparently, it can also be eaten as a “table grape”.
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