Our Grape Varieties Explained

Wiston Estate English Sparkling Wine, grape varieties.

Variety is the spice…

If you look at almost any bottle of wine, the label will talk about the grape varieties which are used to make it. There are thousands upon thousands of different grape varieties used to make wine around the world. Here in Sussex you will find that most vineyards have adopted a similar line up of grapes as our French cousins in Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Using a blend of these three varieties has proven to be a great recipe for making world class traditional method sparkling wine. They like our chalky soils, particularly the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and our temperamental English climate can (most years!) ripen them happily to make our wines.

Each grape variety will contribute different features and aspects to the finished wine. These can be impacted by how long the wine itself is aged for; the blend of grapes used. These decisions are taken at various stages throughout the winemaking process – after harvest when we have fermented all the grapes separately into still wines, we then taste them all and decide which wines we can make from what the harvest has produced – for example – if the Chardonnay is looking particularly excellent, we are likely to use some of it to make a Blanc de Blancs vintage wine. Meanwhile we always need to make sure we have enough base wines to make our Non-Vintage wines, and keep them as good as they are year in year out. So a lot of options are considered before bottling each year.


The only white grape used to make our sparkling wines – is sometimes used in blends and sometimes used on its own to make a ‘Blanc de Blancs’ – a ‘white from whites’. It will contribute different things to the wine, depending on how long it is aged for. A young Chardonnay will contribute mineral and floral notes; hints of salinity (like sea spray), honeysuckle and spring blossoms. It can also contribute refreshing citrussy notes – think freshly cut lemons, grape fruit. With a little more age Chardonnay can evolve into notes of fresh bread, almonds and vanilla, with more orchard fruit such as apples and pears. With plenty of age Chardonnay can add things like honey, truffle, brioche, ginger bread, biscotti notes to a wine – but its streamline acidity will keep a wine fresh and mouthwatering.

We have found at Wiston that our wines made with a high percentage of Chardonnay – or 100% Chardonnay – have aged the best. For example our Library Collection Cuvée 2009 has 60% Chardonnay, and has evolved to show delicate notes of tangerine, white chocolate and lemon curd, with a hint of marzipan – alongside a fresh backbone of citrus. While the Library Collection Blanc de Blancs 2010 (100% Chardonnay) is showing notes of toasted brioche, crème caramel and baked apricots.

Wiston Estate English Sparkling Wine, made in West Sussex. How long to keep wine
Wiston Estate English Sparkling Wine, grape varieties

Pinot noir & Pinot Meunier

Pinot Noir – We press the red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) very gently so the resulting juice is clear and can be made to make white wines. Pinot Noir is a cornerstone of many traditional method sparkling wines. It adds body and weight to the mouthfeel of a blend, and a good dash of acidity as well for freshness. A young Pinot Noir will add to a blend notes of red fruit and flowers – think strawberries, red cherries, violets and roses. With a little age it can bring spice notes like star anise, cinnamon and clove alongside hazelnut and toasty notes.

Pinot Meunier – this grape can be very helpful to winemakers – particularly for our non-vintage blends, but also for our vintage cuvées. This grape can add a little richness and roundness to the blend, while young it contributes notes of red apple, fresh apricot and peach. With more maturity it can evolve into nutty notes (think walnut and hazelnut) as well as patisserie notes – pastry and vanilla crème.

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Of course, once we have made the blend the wine then needs to age for a number of years on bottle – and this process also has a huge impact on the final aromas and flavours. (See our blog on ‘How to Make English Sparkling Wine’). Our Wiston Estate Cuvée is always a blend of the three varieties from our own vineyards. The percentage mix will vary year to year depending on what we have available to make the blend. It is the best expression of the Wiston vineyards here on the South Downs and what they can produce.

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Wiston Estate English Sparkling Wine, made in West Sussex.

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