The Rise of English Rosé

This article was first published in Speciality Food Magazine July/August 2011 edition, page 18.

Camel Valley

With English wine coming first in many international competitions, is now the time to stock up on our victorious vino? I explore the rise of home-grown rosé.

Although English wines have been produced since Roman times, there are only around 400 vineyards in England and Wales, compared to France, which has about 27,000 wineries. Previously, English and Welsh wine suffered from a reputation for low quality, which would have been partly due to the lack of choice, in addition to climatic effects, inferior grapes and an underdeveloped industry. However, as someone famous once said, "The times they are a-changin" and retailers and customers are starting to discover the true potential of our domestic wineries.

Update: February 2012

Camel Valley’s 2009 sparkling rosé has been awarded the "Best Sparkling Rosé" in the World’s trophy at the Bollicine del Mondo in Verona, having won the same award the previous year for their 2008 vintage. The competition, held on 27th January, was judged by an international panel of wine experts.The Cornish vineyard also claimed second prize in the overall competition of the world’s top 200 sparkling wines, ahead of famous champagnes, including Bollinger and Mumm. In addition, three English wines were ranked in the top 25 sparkling white wines, with Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2006 from Kent coming fourth.

Over the last few years, English sparkling wine has been making a real name for itself by winning prizes in international competitions. Last year, Nyetimber's Classic Cuveacute;e 2003 from Sussex, made with the same grape varieties as Champagne, was voted officially the best bubbly in the world. Another Sussex sparkler, Ridgeview’s Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2006, beat top champagnes at the Decanter World Wine Awards and Camel Valley’s Pinot Noir Brut Rosé 2008 was crowned top international sparkling rosé.

Like sparkling wine, rosé is also becoming more popular among British wine drinkers (more than 10% of wine sales) and is a great summer drink, when chilled. Yet how many of us, when choosing a rosé wine, search out a home-grown option?

Whilst many customers want to enjoy English wines, they often struggle to find a good selection at their local shops. It is therefore essential for fine food retailers to take advantage of this trend and give customers the option of selecting British. Many consumers would enjoy it at a picnic or a barbecue in the garden as it can be perfectly suited with a number of dishes. What could be a better accompaniment to traditional British cuisine, such as a Cheddar cheese ploughman’s or strawberries and cream, than a fruit-driven, cool, crisp and refreshing English rosé?

Quality rosés from other countries are often fuller flavoured, complex and more alcoholic, like Enate Rosado 2010 from Somontano in Northern Spain at 13.5% abv, or a beautiful Tavel from the South of France. However, do we always want this? Surely sometimes what we want is to have a couple of light, crisp and refreshing glasses, sitting out on the patio, having a few nibbles, or eating strawberries while watching Andy Murray lose at Wimbledon again and not feel our heads floating away in the middle of the day! Well it’s time to give English rosé a try.

Indeed, there is plenty of variety and interest to be found in our still rosés with their unique expression of English and international grape varieties. Take Kemp’s Rosé 2009 (10.5% abv) from Suffolk, it has a ripe summer berry fruitiness on the nose – think raspberries and cherries – and a light fresh pear and vanilla creaminess on the palate with soft berry notes and good length. Dry, beautifully balanced and more complex than you might imagine for £7.00 a bottle.

This contrasts with the more tangy 2009 rosé from Three Choirs, also at 10.5%, and made from other British grape varieties: Seyval Blanc, Triomphe, Regent. Alternatively, at 12% abv, the off-dry and fruity Denbies Rose Hill Rosé 2009, made from Dornfelder and Pinot Noir, demonstrates further variety among English rosé styles and is well worth stocking up on. Ripe strawberry on the nose and palate with a pleasant butterscotch and toffee after-taste.

The average English rosé may not be at the same quality level as the average Loire rosé, but I would venture to say that the gap is narrowing and the good ones are a favourable alternative to continental. Indeed, wine experts are already recommending some, e.g. Chapel Down’s English Rosé 2009, at a Loire-like 12%. It is a UK Vineyards Association Silver Medal Winner and made from Pinot Noir, Regent and Rondo grapes, it is one of many quality English rosés that reflect an English summer of fruit-laden orchards and green meadows with blossoming flowers.

From South-West to South-East England, from East Anglia to Yorkshire, English rosé is not an excuse, hiding in shame. It is an integral and growing part of our wine industry, full of variety and character and something we should be proud of. If a sparkling English rosé can beat the world, then perhaps a still English rosé wine will one day be held in similar high esteem. So this summer, if you are looking to craft a point of difference in your store, try something different from Spanish and French. After all, the English rose is alive and well, but it has a new accent - it’s the English rosé. Vive la différence!