Last Wednesday saw the English wine industry assemble to celebrate the inaugural UK Wine Awards. Hosted at Hotel du Vin in Wimbledon, guests attended for a tasting of some of the top medal winners and the presentation of Gold Medals and trophies. It’s been a busy time for English Wine Producers and UKVA with English Wine Week, UK Wine Awards and the announcement of a merger of the two organisations to form a united trade body to be called UK Wine Producers Ltd. Exciting times for a wine category poised to explode in popularity internationally over the coming years.
The event began with opportunity to try many of these highly praised wines in context with each other. One thing was clear – the quality was universally fantastic and, more importantly, the wines were all distinctive and had their own character. Sparkling favourites included the Hambledon Premier Cuvée – a muscular and brilliantly vibrant sparkling wine with Champagne-like presence. And then there was the sublime Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2013, a wine with beauty, elegance and exceptional balance. It was also my first chance to try the duo of 2009 La Perfide wines from Coates & Seely – stunning with their unparalleled maturity and complexity. And what of the still wines?
Firm Great British Wine favourites Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2014, Lyme Bay Bacchus Block 2015, Gusbourne Pinot Noir 2015 and Denbies Noble Harvest Ortega 2015 all went down an absolute treat. Whilst excitement about Pinot Gris was particularly rife, with Bolney Wine Estate picking up the Top Still Wine & Single Varietal trophies for its Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016 and Gold Medal winners Fox & Fox’s unique Gold Medal winning Inspiration Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013.
After a thorough tasting and networking, we were invited to take a seat for opening speeches from UK Wine Awards chairing judges Susie Barrie and Oz Clarke. These speeches were full of genuine encouragement and belief in our industry. Susie highlighted the fact that, hot on the tails of the fizz, English still wine was commanding significant attention. From the vibrant and tangy Bacchus expressions to the increasing presence of quality Chardonnay and wines of all colours made from the Pinot’s. Oz was keen to reinforce just how seriously the UK Wine Awards were taken – they weren’t handing out awards easily. With a Bronze medal needed 83 points, Silver 89 and Gold 95, all those medal winners truly had to work hard for their acclaim!
Oz Clarke on the purpose of the competition:
“The competition exists to offer you encouragement, advice and to fire your self-belief. None of you would be in this room if you didn’t believe that in England and Wales we can do great things and we’re on the verge of doing even greater things and this competition is to help you convert those dreams into reality.”
It was then time for the awards presentation; a fantastic experience to see so many of the producers I have worked with step up and collect their medals and trophies. Lunch table-mates Charlie Holland (Gusbourne), Kevin Sutherland (Bluebell) and Bridget Gladwin (Nutbourne) all had their opportunity to stand up and it was clear just how much these awards meant to them.
Likewise, it was fantastic to see Trevor Clough of Digby Fine English present, fresh from the buzz of their Fourth Birthday Celebrations the night before, to accept three Gold Medals and the Trophy for Best Classic Cuvée sparkling wine. And what about the admiration for the most decorated producers of the evening? Sam Linter and her team at the Bolney Wine Estate graciously received the accolade of Winery of the Year, amongst to much applause. Whilst Nicholas Coates and Chrstian Seely’s legs must have been tired by the end of the evening, with Coates & Seely winning an unprecedented four trophies including Top Sparkling Wine and The Supreme Champion for their Blanc de Blancs La Perfide 2009. A supreme effort indeed!
Susie Barrie MW on the wines
“When it came to the sparkling wines, we really found that those with some extra lees-ageing or bottle-ageing or both were the ones that stood out. We know that market forces can make that tricky to achieve but it is worth noting that they were the wines that really wowed us. Perhaps most exciting though was the potential of the still wines, particularly the Pinot Noirs, the Chardonnays and the white Pinots and I think we’re going to see those categories of wines winning several gold medals over the next couple of years.”
As the session drew to a close, it was clear that the efforts Julia Trustram Eve and her team, the judges and the sponsors have come together to significantly raise the profile of English wine. And long may that continue!
Full list of trophy winners:
- Supreme Champion, Coates & Seely ‘La Perfide’ Blanc De Blancs 2009
- Winery of the Year, Bolney Wine Estate
- Best Overall Still Wine, Bolney Wine Estate Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016
- Best Overall Sparkling Wine, Coates & Seely ‘La Perfide’ Blanc De Blancs 2009
- Best Still Bacchus, Lyme Bay Bacchus Block 2015
- Best Single Varietal Still White, Bolney Wine Estate Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016
- Best Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Coates & Seely ‘La Perfide’ Blanc de Blancs 2009
- Best Sparkling Rosé, Coates & Seely Rosé 2009
- Best Classic Cuvée sparkling wine, Digby Fine English Brut 2010
About the UK Wine Awards
The UK Wine Awards is the national competition for wine produced from grapes grown in England and Wales, inspired by the growing popularity of English and Welsh wines. Designed to showcase the distinctive styles of sparkling and still wines produced in the UK, the Awards are run by the United Kingdom wine industry in association with Hotel du Vin, Country Life and Waitrose.
The wines were judged to an international standard by twelve top wine experts that regularly judge the biggest international competitions. Chaired by Susie Barrie MW and Oz Clarke the line-up comprised David Bird MW, Richard Hemming MW, Alex Hunt MW and Phil Tuck MW, as well as Christine Parkinson from Hakkasan, Rebecca Hull MW from Waitrose and Hamish Anderson from Tate restaurants. They were joined by writer and broadcaster Jane Parkinson, M&S wine buyer Elizabeth Kelly and Corney & Barrow buyer Rebecca Palmer.
- 293 wines were entered
- 62% of these won medals, in keeping with the proportion of well-established international competitions
- Eight wine trophies were awarded
- 20 Gold, 36 Silver and 127 Bronze medals were awarded
What the Awards can tell us about English and Welsh wines:
- English Sparkling Wines are particularly successful. Though only 42% of the wines entered were sparkling, 75% of gold medal winners were sparkling wines, as were 67% of the silvers
- Chardonnay is the dominant grape variety in terms of wins, gaining six of the 20 golds and 50 medals overall for still and sparkling wine
- Pinot Noir also proved a successful variety in England and Wales, winning 42 medals overall
- The most popular still variety remains Bacchus, England’s third most planted variety (after Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), gaining just under a third of the total medals won by still wines
- Pinot Gris is an emerging variety in England, winning golds for a still and a sparkling
- Medal winners were a mix of established and new producers, showing that even from the first vintage wine, some excellent wines are being produced in the UK
- The same can be said for the number of established producers that are proving time and again that the quality of their wines is consistent
- A wine that has seen more ageing has proven to be the overall winner – this shows the ageing potential in English sparkling wine