You've heard of sparkling, and you've probably tasted a few English whites, but did you know there's an English red wine movement quietly happening?
Still in its infancy, the English red scene is showing plenty of early promise. Riding on the success of sparkling – and keen to make the most of the black grapes used to make English fizz – producers have begun to create standout red wines from grapes that mature in cooler temperatures. With vines now well established across the chalky slopes across the country – as far north as Yorkshire – winemakers are enthusiastically experimenting with techniques and blends to find the next magic potion.
What does English red wine taste like?
Because of the nature of our climate, English red wine is typically light-bodied and fruity, so if you love the warming qualities of a hearty Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon, it may not be for you. Some vineyards have had good results through oaking – one Cornish producer is even working on a port wine at the moment – however, it’s easy for winemakers to overdo the ageing process at the expense of the delicacy of the grapes. It’s a continually developing field, and each year (and weather) brings different challenges. Given this, we have found that English red wines are best suited to those who enjoy a lightly chilled summer red.
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The best English red wines to buy in 2022
Lyme Bay Pinot Noir 2020
Delicious, medium-bodied red with hints of cherry and vanilla. The grapes were the product of the long, hot lockdown summer of 2020, and were aged for nine months in oak barrels – 30% of which was new oak – giving it complexity without overpowering the fruits. Would pair perfectly with a moussaka, pasta puttanesca or cheeses with figs. TJ
- Grapes: Pinot noir
- Region: Devon
- Vineyard: Devon winery Lyme Bay is perhaps more well known for its mead, fruit wines, liquers and spirits – however this pinot noir shows the promise of more serious winemaking to come. One to watch.
Denbies Pinot noir 2019
This velvety red is the roundest red of the English wines that we sampled. It comes from the vineyards of Denbies Estate on the North Downs, in a protected valley of south facing slopes (AONB). It is medium-bodied and pleasantly fruity, all summer berries but with a hint of vanilla. Picked in 2019 – a sterling year for Denbies, as only the best grapes were selected for this wine and aged in oak barrels until being bottled in 2021. This wine is perfect to accompany lamb and cheeses. LP
- Region: Surrey
- Grapes: Pinot noir
- Vineyard: Denbies wine estate is one of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in the UK. It was founded in 1984 has consistently wins international awards for its sparkling wines.
Little Wold Three-Cocked Hat
This light-bodied red is full of blackberry notes and can be served cool as a summer red. Airing it in a decanter doesn’t bring it much body, but if you like English reds then this shouldn’t faze you. The winemakers at Little Wold resisted the urge to plump it up by oaking it, preferring to let the bright characteristics of the rondo grape shine through. Perfect for barbecues, chorizo-studded paella or anything cooked in a tagine. TJ
‘Three-cocked hat’ is named after the triangular shape of the field formed by the woodland surrounding it.
- Grapes: Rondo (63%, Regent (29%)
- Region: Yorkshire Wolds
- Vineyard: Little Wold is situated in the south-eastern corner of the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds. A family farm since 1947, the Wilsons began planting their first vines in 2012 and have now produced 70,500 bottles of English wine to date. A lovely spot for a visit if you're in the area.
Terlingham Caesar’s Camp (organic) 2018
A light but earthy red with subtle notes of blackberry and rosehip. This natural wine can only be produced after an early spring and a long, hot summer – and as such can only be produced every five years or so. The Dornfelder, which is much grown in Germany, brings some texture to the Rondo and gives bramble fruits on the nose, with blackcurrant flavours throughout. A lovely light summer red. TJ
- Grapes: Rondo, Dornfelder
- Region: Folkestone, Kent
- Vineyard: Terlingham vineyard is an organic, biodiverse vineyard that prides itself on its wildlife-rich plantation and ecological viticulture. In its lovely location on the Kent Downs, the owners work in harmony with the environment, using traditional low-intervention methods to produce award-winning wines.
Bolney Pinot Noir
A bright, fruity pinot noir with notes of cherry and toast, with a balanced, aromatic finish.
- Grapes: Pinot Noir
- Region: Sussex
- Vineyard: Bolney Estate is one of England's oldest and most idyllic vineyards. The vines were planted in the early 1970s by the forward-thinking Lintner family, of which third-generation winemaker Sam is now in charge. And she's doing an excellent job, with the winery winning multiple awards for their sparkling and still wines.
Maud Heath Tytherton Red 2018
A light, plummy red from award-winning vineyard Maud Heath, which won bronze at the Great British Wine awards in 2021, as well as a bronze Decanter award. Good value for an English red, best enjoyed cool on a summer's evening. TJ
- Grapes: Rondo, pinot noir
- Region: Wiltshire
- Vineyard: Maud Heath vineyard is nestled in its own little microclimate on the bucolic hillside that overlooks Maud Heath's causeway near Tytherton village, Wiltshire.
Hencote Amphora Pinot Noir 2018
This light-red wine is fermented in clay vessels – the amphorae – “to create a wine pure in expression”. It's a lambent red wine, light in colour and flavour. Best served slightly chilled for a more refreshing red wine experience. FC
- Region: Shropshire
- Grapes: Pinot noir
- Vineyard: Hencote vineyard overlooks the beautiful Shropshire countryside and its ancient woodlands. The first 160 vines here were planted as a hobby operation in 2009, and matured to produce excellent yields. By 2015, the vineyard had expanded to 24,000 vines, and now encompasses a glamping site, wedding venue and restaurant. It also offers tours.
Trevibban Black Ram Red 2019
A medium-bodied, damson flavoured red that's oaked for nine months to beef up the flavours. It was named after the family owners' first ram – an orphan – who loved attention, and titbits. They called him Fat Boy – but couldn't bring themselves to name the wine this, so compromised with 'Black Ram'. The 2019 vintage won Silver in the WineGB 2021 competition. TJ
- Grapes: Rondo and Dornfelder
- Region: Cornwall
- Vineyard: Trevibban Mill is situated in Cornwall and prides itself on sustainable farm practices. In line with this, the owners eschewed herbicides and instead bought a flock of Southdown sheep to graze the grass and wild flower verges in the orchards and vineyard. Black ram is their most popular red, although there are more full-bodied varieties and even a port wine in the making. Another one to watch.
Balfour Hush Heath Luke's Pinot Noir 2020
If you’re a fan of lighter red wines in the summer season, then this fruity pinot noir from the Balfour Estate in Kent could hit the right notes. It's a berry-rich wine packed with the flavour of raspberry, damson and elderberry. Quite a sweet red wine compared to other pinot noirs, this wine goes well with salads or meat dishes and would also work well served as a dessert wine with a summery pud. Carys Matthews
- Grapes: Pinot Noir
- Region: Kent
- Vineyard: Balfour's now-200 acres of vines were first planted in Hush Heath Estate in 2002 and have gone on to produce world-class sparkling and still wines. In 2007, Balfour's Brut 2004 Rosé became the first English wine to win a gold medal and the trophy at the International Wine Challenge.
Tanya Jackson is the acting group digital editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. Her parents had a pet shop when she was growing up, so she learnt very young how intelligent rats are and why you don’t stick your hands near the beak of a cockatoo. She loves camping, hiking and watching the red kites soar over the Wiltshire hills.
Danny is the Section Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.
Laura Phillips enjoys nature walks – and roller skating – in her local area.