Grape Varieties

 
 
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Acolon

Acolon is a fairly new grape variety permitted for use in the production of winemaking. A German cross of Blaufränkisch x Dornfelder created in 1971, it was not included on the official register until as late as 2002. 

Acolon is a red grape variety that produces full-bodied, fruity wines with moderate tannins. Some wines can benefit from a short time in oak to give further depth of flavour. There are minimal plantings of Acolon in the UK, however both Biddenden Vineyards in Kent and New Hall Vineyards in Essex grow it. 

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Bacchus

Bacchus is German cross of (Silvaner x Riesling) and Müller-Thurgau, whose name refers to Greek god of wine. First introduced to England in 1973, it later became a recommend grape variety for UK vineyards in 1998. Bacchus is a white grape variety that ripens relatively early, which can be handy considering the UK’s climate. The berries reach good sugar levels, balanced by high acidity. However, if the grapes fail to ripen fully acidity levels are moderate at best. The wines tend to be fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain freshness, but some producers are now making barrel fermented examples. 

Bacchus is often referred to as the UK’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc as it has a similar flavour profile. The wines display notes of lime, gooseberry and elderflower, whilst other examples are more peach, mango and spice driven. The wines are almost always drunk within the first couple of years of being made, yet Camel Valley’s Bob Lindo recommends ageing it in bottle for up seven years. 

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Chardonnay

Chardonnay is an extremely versatile grape variety. It can produce many different styles, including the fresh, mineral driven examples of Chablis to big oaky wines from the New World. Chardonnay can be used to produce still or sparkling wines. It can be used as part of a blend or bottled as a varietal wine. 

Grown in the UK’s cool climate, the wines tend to be dry, high in acidity and low in alcohol with citrus and green fruit characteristics. In slightly warmer vintages the wines can take on a more stone fruit character. Sparkling wines, and still wines that have been fermented and/or aged in oak, develop notes of brioche and butter with a slight baked fruit character. Wines that are subject to extended oak ageing can be extremely complex with a hazelnut, honey and savoury character developing. 

It is with thanks to England’s huge success as a sparkling wine producer that Chardonnay was originally planted here and has since become the UK’s most widely planted grape variety, dominating 25% of all vineyard space in 2017.

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Dornfelder

Dornfelder is a German cross of Helfensteiner x Heroldrebe that was bred in 1956. It is, in part, an extended pedigree of Pinot Noir Précoce, also grown in the UK. Dornfelder is a productive grape variety that is early to mid budding and ripening. It has thick skins which help to give the wines their prized deep red colour. 

First introduced to England in the late 1980s, Dornfelder is used to produce various wine styles; including rose, light spicy reds and at one point Camel Valley made a sparkling version. It is mainly used as a blending partner, as varietal wines are considered tolerable at best. Stephen Skelton MW believes “it is not a variety that will ever become widely planted in Britain”. 

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Faberrebe

Faberrebe is a German cross whose parentage is still yet to be confirmed. It is either a cross of Pinot Blanc x Müller-Thurgau or Silvaner x Pinot Blanc. Bred in 1929, its parentage could easily be confirmed through DNA analysis. Its original name is Faber, of which the white grape variety is referred to as in England. Rebe translated as vine in German. 

Faberrebe ripens early, producing high yields that are susceptible to powdery mildew. The wines are light and fruity, with a Muscat-like aroma. Off little interest to producers and consumers currently, there are only a few hectares planted in England. Davenport Vineyards uses Faber as part of the blend in their Horsmonden dry white. 

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Gamay Noir

Gamay is an extremely old Burgundian variety whose name first appeared in documentation in 1395. It is mainly found in France’s Loire Valley and Beaujolais, where it initially became very popular in the production of Beaujolais Nouveau before gaining a poor reputation of which it is now only recovering from. 

Gamay is part of the large Pinot family. The red grape is early ripening and budding, it is more vigorous than Pinot Noir (although this is not always the case in Great Britain), and is susceptible to sunburn, botrytis bunch rot, grape moths and disease of the wood. The wines are high in acidity, light in colour and tannin, and are ideal for drinking in their youth, slightly chilled. 

It is unclear when Gamay was first planted in Great Britain. Plantings are rare with Stanlake Park and Biddenden Vineyards having the only vines planted in England. Biddenden’s Gamay vines were planted in 1985 making them over 30 years old, however Biddenden have only bottled the grape as a varietal wine four times in the last 18 years (2003, 2004, 2011 and 2018). 

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Huxelrebe

A white German cross of Chasselas x Muscat Précoce de Saumur bred in 1927. Huxelrebe produces very high yields and at times very high sugar levels, which makes the thin-skinned grape variety susceptible to botrytis bunch rot but also enables the grapes to benefit from noble rot in the production of sweet wines. 

Huxelrebe was first introduced to England in 1972. The UK’s cool climate and Huxelrebe’s early ripening characteristic help to balance the grape’s naturally high acidity. It is used as a blending partner in still wines and to produce sweet wines. Plantings have been slowly decreasing in England. 

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Kerner

Kerner is a German cross of Schiava Grossa x Riesling bred in 1929. As a grape variety it is relatively happy to be planted anywhere, not having a particular fondness to site and/or soil type. Kerner buds late giving it good frost protection, ripens mid to late and produces high yields. 

Despite its less fussy nature and good frost resistance it is too another grape variety slowly disappearing in the UK. Plantings in England in 2015 were at 4.8 hectares, down from 20 hectares in 1990. Astley Vineyard in Worcestershire produce still and sparkling examples of Kerner, and suggest ageing their still Kerner for up to five years. 

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Madeleine x Angevine 7672

To the annoyance of many producers and to the confusion of many consumers, Madeleine x Angevine 7672 is often mistaken for the table grape Madeleine Angevine. It is more lovingly referred to by UK wine expert, Stephen Skelton MW, as Mad Angie. Introduced into England in the late 1950s, Madeleine x Angevine 7672 was one of the original grape varieties to be planted. 

An early ripening, white grape variety that maintains reliable yields and low acidity. It produces wines with a light floral character, similar to Muscat, with a citrus note that are best enjoyed in their youth. Sharpham produce a partly oaked example which gives the wine an added sweet spice character. 

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Müller-Thurgau

A German cross of Rielsing x Madeleine Royale developed in 1882. Müller-Thurgau was used to breed several new crossings including, Bacchus, Faberrebe, Ortega and Reichensteiner. Müller-Thurgau produces large yields but, due to its thin skin, is susceptible to both powdery and downy mildew and botrytis bunch rot. It is not particular about where it is planted however, Müller-Thurgau does not like hard winters which can damage the soft vine wood. Müller-Thugau can also be affected by the fungal disease Roter Brenner that causes severe crop loss. 

First introduced to England in 1950, Müller-Thurgau’s plantings peaked in 1990 at 184 hectares, at which time this white grape was the most widely planted variety in England. Today there are only 43 hectares left. It’s disappearance began as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plantings started to increase for sparkling wine production, finally overtaking the once favourable Müller-Thurgau. The best examples are fruity, with a Muscat like aroma, and slightly off-dry. The worst are flabby with an overly herbaceous character. The wines are best consumed within 2 - 3 years. 

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Ortega

Ortega is a German cross of Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe. This white grape variety is at risk of damage from spring frosts due to its early budding nature, as well as being susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot. However, it’s reliability to ripen in the UK makes it well suited to English and Welsh vineyards. 

The wines can be made in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet and fresh to barrel-aged. Those wines that have been made in a sweeter style, or have been affected by Botrytis, can be compared to the likes of Sauternes and Tokaji, but have much more acidity and less concentration of flavour. Flavours range from lemon sherbet and peach to honey and marmalade. Ortega is well suited for bottle ageing. 

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Phoenix

Phoenix is a complex hybrid that was obtained by crossing Bacchus x Villard Blanc. It was not authorised for growing in Germany until 1992, and is said to be named after the mythological bird that rose from the ashes. A vigorous grape variety that is mid to early ripening, has good resistance to powdery and downy mildew but is susceptible to botrytis bunch rot. 

Phoenix appeared in England in the late 1990s, and is more successful here than in its homeland Germany. Plantings have increased from 1.9 hectares in 1991 to 24.6 hectares in 2018. The wines are herbaceous with an elderflower note, similar to Bacchus. Phoenix is one of the few hybrids that can be used in the production of Quality Wine in Britain. 

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Pinot Blanc

Like many grape varieties grown in the UK, Pinot Blanc buds and ripens early. It has good resistance to the cold which can help to protect the berries against spring frosts, and it is a fairly productive grape variety producing good quality, high yields - a blessing for UK wine producers. 

Introduced to England in 1990, plantings have been growing steadily, from 6.2 hectares in 2006 to 29 hectares in 2018. It’s slow progress could be because Pinot Blanc has long been confused with Chardonnay and has thus been overshadowed by the latter’s international fame. Pinot Blanc’s flavour profile is very similar to that of Chardonnay. In England the wines taste of green apple and pear with a citrusy kick. Melon and peach notes dominate Pinot Blanc from warmer vintages. The large majority of Pinot Blanc is used in sparkling wine production, however a few 100% varietal examples are being made. Stopham Estate produce a varietal wine that has been aged for a few years before release. 

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Pinot Gris

In 2018 there were only 28.8 hectares of Pinot Gris planted in the UK. This white grape variety can be made in a range of styles, but is most commonly known as Pinot Grigio. Wines labelled as such are mainly those from Italy where producers are looking to produce inexpensive and simple wine in bulk. Pinot Gris is quite the opposite, producing fruitier fuller-bodied wines, even exceptional sweet wines. 

Pinot Gris berries are often darker than other white varieties, having a pink tinge to them which can be present in the wine’s appearance. This is because Pinot Gris is a colour mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Gris can reach high sugar levels with moderate acidity, but if the grapes are left to ripen fully deep-coloured, rich wines with low acidity can be produced. The grapes are susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot.

Styles vary from still to sparkling, with flavours ranging from zesty lime and apple with a mineral character to peach, tropical fruits and honeyed overtones. Wines can be crisp and refreshing to rich and full-bodied with a viscous texture. 

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Pinot Meunier

Pinot Meunier is most famously known as one of the three Champagne grape varieties, used as a blending partner alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is for this reason too that we find it planted in the UK. For many years Pinot Meunier has been considered the underdog in Champagne, regardless of being the most planted grape variety in the region. 

A red grape variety, Pinot Meunier is used to add colour, fruitiness (strawberry, cherry, redcurrant) and an early-maturing richness to sparkling wines. It buds and ripens early, however compared to Pinot Noir it buds later and ripens even earlier, resulting in greater protection against winter frosts for the grapes. 

Whilst it is mainly used in England and Wales for sparkling wine production, some UK producers are making still rosé styles and Simpsons’ Wine Estate in Kent produced a still white version in 2018. Ever so slowly Pinot Meunier is gaining the recognition it deserves. 

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Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the second most planted grape variety in the UK, with 24% of all UK vineyards now dedicated to growing this much loved but difficult grape. Pinot Noir can be a hard grape to grow. It is early budding and therefore susceptible to spring frosts, yields are low, it is prone to rot and it can be high in alcohol even in the UK’s cooler climate. However, the red grape has equally as many positives. It ripens well in cool climates, it has a high quality potential and expresses its terrior. It is also ideal for sparkling wine production, of which thanks must be paid to the success of English sparkling wine. 

Pinot Noir produced in the UK is high in acidity with low tannins and has a red fruit character (cherry, raspberry, redcurrant). Some wines can have a slight vegetal note if the grapes are not fully ripe at harvest. Oak maturation adds further complexity to the wines with notes of smoke, toast and a slight savoury character which can develop with age. However, such complexity tends to come in hotter vintages, such as 2014 and 2018, when yields have been maintained to be lower than normal to create greater fruit concentration. 

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Pinot Noir Précoce

Pinot Noir Précoce is an early ripening mutation of Pinot Noir. It ripens 14 days earlier which can be a blessing if the UK is experiencing rain at picking time, especially as grapes can be quite costly to grow and maintain. Small berries and bunches produce small yields, which can be susceptible to coulure, however thick grape skins provide protection against Botrytis bunch rot and sunburn. 

The wines display notes of cherry and blackberries, with soft tannins and added depth (sometimes a smoky character) from barrel ageing. In comparison to Pinot Noir, the wines are not as long lived. 

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Regent

Pronounced in German as Ray-Ghent, Regent is a complex hybrid obtained in 1967 in Germany by crossing Diana x Chambourcin. The red grape variety is early ripening, winter-hardy, has very good resistance to powdery and downy mildew and to botrytis bunch rot. The grapes ripen to higher sugar levels than those of Pinot Noir, and can be full-bodied with flavours of cherry and redcurrant. The wines are suitable for barrel ageing and/or early consumption. They are considered to be of higher quality than those wines made from Rondo or Dornfelder, however Regent often works best in a blend of all three varieties. 

Today there are 28.6 hectares of Regent, making it the UK’s 4th most planted red grape variety. 

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Reichensteiner

A Müller-Thurgau x (Madeleine Angevine x Weisser Calabreser) cross bred in Germany in 1939, but only authorised for planting in 1978. This white grape variety produces extremely high yields, is early to mid ripening, and thanks to its loose bunches has good resistance to downy mildew and botrytis bunch rot. Acidity levels can be low while sugar levels can be high, resulting occasionally in unbalanced wines. 

Reichensteiner was first introduced to England in 1971. Plantings have decreased from 113.9 hectares in 1990 to 67.9 hectares in 2018. The wines are slightly floral but neutral and are generally best used in blends with Seyval Blanc and/or Madeleine x Angevine 7672 and Huxelrebe. Both still and sparkling examples are produced. 

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Rondo

Rondo is a German hybrid with a very complicated geology, which came about as a result of crossing Zarya Severa x Sankt Laurent. As Rondo’s popularity has grown in the UK, England has overtaken Germany for the number of plantings, and whilst Rondo only makes up 4% of vineyard plantings, it is the 3rd most planted red grape variety in the UK. 

Rondo is vigorous, producing high yields - mercifully for UK wineries trying to make a living. It too is early ripening, and the grape’s red flesh helps to intensify the colour of the wines. Rondo tends to offers both red and black fruits; including cherry, blueberry and blackcurrant, and more producers are now choosing to part age their Rondo in oak adding additional complexity to the wines. Rondo is made as a varietal wine as well as used in blends with Pinot Noir and Regent. 

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Schönburger

Schönburger is a pink skinned grape variety used to produce white wines. It is a German cross of Pinot Noir x Pirovano 1 that was bred in 1939 but not authorised until 1980. It is mid to early ripening and winter-hardy, although it favours warmer, wind protected sites. 

First planted in the UK in the late 1970s, Schönburger has become more widely planted in England than in its homeland Germany, however plantings have decreased from 45 hectares in 2009 to 21.6 hectares in 2018. The wines are fresh with Muscat like aromas, and some can be comparable to Gewürztraminer with regards to their perfume. The wines benefit from a touch of residual sugar. Mainly used as a blending partner, a couple of producers have made varietal wines. Good examples of Schönburger can age in bottle, a couple of producers suggesting it can be kept for several years. 

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Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc is a French hybrid of Seibel 5656 x Rayon d’Or. This white grape was one of the first varieties planted in the UK in the 1950s and was long used for sparkling wine production. It has long succeeded here as it is suited to cooler climates with its vigorous productivity and relatively early ripening. 

Seyval Blanc can make an excellent base wine for sparkling wines, as it produces wines that are fairly neutral with high acidity and moderate sugar levels. The better still examples take well to barrel fermentation and lees ageing. However, it is generally agreed that Seyval Blanc should be drunk young. 

Seyval Blanc is one of the few hybrid varieties to be permitted for use in Quality Sparkling Wine. 

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Siegerrebe

A Madeleine Angevine x Savagnin Rose cross bred in 1929, that was later used to breed Ortega. Siegerrebe buds early and is thus at risk of spring frosts. It also ripens early, produces high sugar levels but has low acidity. Its early ripening and high sugar levels make the grapes a target for wasps and birds. 

Siegerrebe was first introduced to the UK in 1957, and although plantings have slowly increased from 9.3 hectares in 1990 to 19.4 hectares in 2018, it is a grape variety yet to take off in England and Wales. As the grapes need picking outside of the normal harvest dates, Siegerrebe is often thought of as a nuisance. The white grape variety is mainly used in blends, although Three Choirs consistently make a good varietal example. 

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Solaris

A hybrid of Merzling x Geisenheim 6493 obtained in 1975 in Germany. The name Solaris refers to the sun as a symbol of power and early ripening. Solaris has extremely good resistance to disease, including botrytis bunch rot which its high sugar levels would normally attract. However, like Siegerrebe, these high sugar levels make the grapes a victim to wasps. 

The UK currently has 47.3 hectares planted, a dramatic increase from just 4.7 hectares in 2009, which is a greater rate of expansion than any other variety grown in the UK. Unlike the vast majority of grapes grown in the UK, Solaris has found favour in the more challenging northerly counties. It is mainly used as part of a blend in wines and is best consumed early.