For years, UK wine enthusiasts have sounded the alarm about the quality of British Sparkling Wine, and for years, it has largely fallen upon deaf ears. When people want something sparkling, they want the rich brioche, lemon peel and zippy flavours of Champagne, France. No matter what anyone has said, there just wasn’t enough to back it up. Sure, some of the sparkling was tasty, but it wasn’t a scene, and it still wasn’t quite there. That’s all changed.
Don’t believe what you’ve heard: the sun sometimes shines in the United Kingdom, sometimes more than sometimes too. If you want to travel to a place with magnificent sparkling wine, inimitable charm and bottles for a mere fraction of the price across the English Channel, it’s safe to say this is the year to visit the South of England.
Consider me one of the critics. I’ve been told for years that British Sparkling was no laughing stock and for years I’ve smiled, grinned and said that it was perfectly nice. I blind tested it in the sky, on the ground and while always pleasant, it never wowed. That is, until recently. Someone sent me a bottle of the Gusbourne Limited Release 2015. It was perfect, but it’s not the only reason for the destination switch.
Tourists have a way of trying to ruin all great things, and one they haven’t yet gotten to in droves is the English countryside. Riems and the entire Champagne region are now overrun in the summer with travellers on bicycles, luxury coaches and every other means of transportation aiming to get a free drop or two from a prestigious Champagne house. It’s packed, it’s manic – and most importantly, the cult like demand has driven prices to levels of absurdity.
The south coasts of England remain one of the greatest destinations too few outsiders make the effort of visiting. If you ask domestic fans, they’d probably prefer to keep it that way. London is easy, but few travellers realise how easy it is to also experience the South Coast. With Michelin starred pubs in quintessential country towns, there’s so much to love. Thanks to the travails of climate change, there’s also glimmers of abundant sunshine and sandy beaches too.
Kent is the main attraction for vineyard hopping along the Southeast. It’s about a two hour journey by car, or 2.5 hour journey by train to areas surrounding Gusbourne or Chapel Down, two of the more well known producers. Chapel Down is even making gin from Pinot Noir.
But where to stay? From the Royal Albion Hotel to the Rose, Bay Tree or Sands Hotel in Margate, there’s no shortage of swoon worthy accommodations to be found in the area. If you throw B&B’s into the mix, there’s even more. Options like Cliftonville Townhouse or Hever Castle will please anyone, and wow pretty much everyone.
West Sussex offers yet another fantastic glance into picture perfect English countryside living and the outstanding B&B’s and pubs sprawling through these beautiful towns. If you’re looking for sparkling, the most notable attraction would be Nyetimber. The vineyard is one of the most highly lauded wine producers, and a car journey from central London can take under 2 hours.
If you need a second reason, it’s Bolney. The vineyard was amongst the first to have a non sparkling English wine added to a first class airline wine menu, even if that airline was British. It’s brilliant.
That, and it’s only about 45 minutes from Brighton, one of the most beautiful spots on the coast. Think of Brighton as the creative, slightly hipster capitol of the South, with good enough accessibility to London and desirability to live that people commute daily. It’s a must, and the
champagne sparkling wine is just a great excuse.
By now you should have at least two browser windows of Google Maps fired up and ready to start plotting. Exploring the English countryside is rewarding on its own, but for arguably the first time in history, the sparkling wines being produced right now could become the things of legends in the near future, so it’s the perfect time to get familiar with them. Like, right now.