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Could rosé be the next frontier for English wine?

With the pink drink surging in popularity and with favourable conditions for its production in the UK, David Kermode says it’s high time English rosé came into full bloom

Words by David Kermode

english rose

Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much for us Brits to bring out the rosé. The slightest glimmer of early spring sunshine will usually suffice, even if the temperature gauge has barely nudged above freezing and going al fresco means mittens. Little surprise, then, that come flaming June there’s no stopping us. As we redden our faces and sizzle our sausages, so we sink the pink. Our Pagan predecessors would celebrate the summer solstice wearing protective floral garlands to ward off evil spirits, but these days a chipolata and a chilled bottle of something faintly rosy will do the trick.  However, this seasonal jamboree continues to lack a crucial component: pale, modest and slightly shy, where is our English rosé?

english rose

We hear much about the storming success of this country’s sparkling wines, but the dry style of modern still rosé is also a snug fit for our cool conditions and characteristic crunchy acidity. That sage of all things English wine, Oz Clarke, predicts that rosé will be ‘one of the most important styles made in Britain over the next 10 to 20 years.’  That’s wonderful news, but why can’t we have it now? Demand is clearly there: Majestic Wine reported a 200 per cent jump in sales of still English rosé last year. Presumably it was from a low base, as I have been searching the shelves for great examples – a needle in a haystack springs to mind – and the lack of English rosé should make our burgeoning British wine business blush.

What was going to be a red before the sun never shone can easily make a delicious rosé, to be consumed the next time it does

As well as being what the consumer wants – at 10 per cent of UK wine sales and growing fast – rosé is also the English vigneron’s friend. For a start, it doesn’t take nearly as long as a red wine to make, so this year’s vintage can be on sale by next spring – a boon for cash flow – and it also offers a very handy insurance policy in a country where capricious weather conditions mean that grapes may not ripen to their full phenolic potential. What was going to be a red before the sun never shone can easily make a delicious rosé, to be consumed the next time it does.

There are masses of Pinot Noir going into the ground, most notably (and successfully) in Essex, where the Crouch Valley is the dark horse of English wine. Helped along by its earlier-ripening, highly-aromatic relative, Pinot Noir Précoce, it can make a cool, classy, cherry-charged rosé. Then there’s Pinot Meunier, something of a Cinderella in Champagne, now stealing English hearts with its exuberant stone fruit, balanced by crisp-apple acidity. Vineyard plantings in the UK have doubled in under a decade and Pinot Noir now rivals Chardonnay as Britain’s most planted variety, so there will be plenty of grapes – doom-mongers say too many – to go round.

pinot noir grape
Kermode: 'Pinot Noir now rivals Chardonnay as Britain’s most planted variety'

The best rosé wines are usually blended, as they have always done successfully in Provence, so some of this country’s faintly crackpot imported hybrids – the likes of Rondo, Regent or Dornfelder – also have a role to play, whether for their colour, aroma or taste, and might even find their métier in rosé.

In fairness, there are a few seriously exciting rosé wines already being made in England: Gusbourne’s Cherry Garden cuvée – an IWSC 2022 medal winner – has bountiful red berries, allied with a delicious mineral undertow; Simpson’s rosé is full of fleshy citrus and stone fruit; and then there’s Folc: delicate and delicious, with a beguiling summer fruit charm that equals its beautiful branding. It is also worth mentioning that, of Indian and Kenyan heritage, Folc’s co-founder Elisha Rai is one of very few people of colour in the UK winemaking business and is clearly one to watch.

Black Chalk’s Dancer in Pink is definitely the best English rosé I have sampled, an ethereal Pinot blend (Noir, Précoce and Gris) incanted by wine wizard Jacob Leadley at his Hampshire hollow. It’s well worth trying, though I suspect it is produced in such small quantities that I could probably work through the lot, solo, just as Churchill gradually guzzled Madame Pol Roger’s cellar.

England’s national flower, the rose, was first a symbol of peace before becoming an enduring icon of beauty and grace, so surely the time is ripe for us to add ‘as pale as an English rosé’ to the summer lexicon.

What David has been drinking…

  • Perrier Jouët, Belle Epoque, Blanc de Blancs 2012 (£340). Described as ‘the quintessential expression of Chardonnay in the style of Maison Perrier-Jouët,’ this charming, blossom-brushed, delicate-and-yet-precise textural masterpiece is the latest premium release from Epernay’s most glamorous address.
  • Petaluma, Hanlin Hill, Riesling 2021 (£20). There’s a new broom at Petaluma, Teresa Heuzenroeder – but it’s a steady hand on the tiller and what a wine to launch with. She describes ’21 as ‘a classic vintage where the best sites really shine.’ Perfumed, fresh, taut and thrilling, with citrus zest and tantalising hints of tropical depth, this is one to stash away in the cellar.
  • Yangarra, Old Vine Grenache 2020 (£25). From a pioneering biodynamic producer in the McLaren Vale, which mercifully escaped 2020’s wildfires, a bountiful Grenache, from bush vines planted in 1946, with perfumed poise and concentrated wild berry fruit.
david kermode headshot at iwsc judging
By David Kermode

David Kermode is a journalist and broadcaster, with two decades of experience across TV, radio and print media, and a lifelong love of wine and spirits. Don’t miss his weekly podcast, The Drinking Hour.