Home-grown English fizz is hitting record sales - and it's no surprise when you taste these top drops, says Sam Wylie-Harris...

It's awards season in the drinks world. And while Hollywood owns the Oscars, England boasts the International Wine Challenge (IWC), one of the world's most rigorously judged wine competitions.

It was a starry, starry night for English wines on the medal board too, with 11 gold, 50 silver and 60 bronze IWC medals clocked up - and with English Wine Week around the corner, the timing couldn't be better.

Ten out of the 11 golds went to sparkling wine producers, and with quality and consistency continually improving - according to new data from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), sales of English and Welsh sparkling wine hit a record four million bottles in 2018, up 6% on the previous year - it's fair to say we're giving champagne a run for its money.

Oz Clarke, co-chairman at the International Wine Challenge, puts England's success down to "a combination of climate change, increased knowledge and more investment".

With demand for England's traditional-method sparkling wine sky high, and sales set to soar thanks to the 2018 'vintage of a lifetime', there couldn't be a better time to toast our gifted winemakers and farmers' fortunes.

Here are six top drops to try now...

1. Nyetimber Cuvee Cherie, Demi Sec, Sparkling, Sussex, England (£36.95, Berry Bros & Rudd)

IWC Sparkling Winemaker of the Year 2018, Canadian-born Cherie Spriggs can't seem to put a foot wrong on the gentle sunny slopes of this famous West Sussex winery.

Recognised as one of England's best, Nyetimber romped to victory with golds going to its Blanc de Blancs 2010, Classic Cuvee Multi-Vintage and Classic Cuvee 2009 - which also received the highest accolade for sparkling wine in the UK, the English Sparkling Trophy.

And for a fragrant glass of liquid gold, why not try their latest release, which has a stunning sweetness to the chardonnay fruit yet maintains the freshness you want from a demi-sec (semi-sweet), with its crisp acidity and long, refined finish.

2. Chapel Down Kit's Coty Chardonnay 2016, Sussex (£180 for 6 bottle case, Chapel Down)

Another champion chardonnay from England's largest winemaker, Kit's Coty was the only English still wine to be awarded gold as well as the English White Trophy.

"Another round of gold medals for Kit's Coty at the prestigious International Wine Challenge is dead exciting for us all here at Chapel Down!" says Chapel Down managing director, Mark Harvey. "These come at a time when we're planting a further 150 acres on a site contiguous to Kit's Coty on the North Downs. We'll soon have 620 acres planted here in total, so real scale, and of world-class quality as proven by this further round of awards. Testament yes to this finest terroir in England, but also to the skill and dedication of our viticulture and winemaking teams. Cheers to them all!"

3. Greyfriars Blanc de Noirs, NV, Surrey, England (£30, Greyfriars Vineyard)

Elsewhere, the judges were also wowed by Surrey producer Greyfriars and awarded their Sparkling Rose Reserve 2014 the English Sparkling Rose Trophy.

Owner and winemaker Mike Wagstaff is tickled pink with his latest release. "We're delighted to launch the second exceptional wine in the Greyfriars Vineyard limited edition range. Our first ever Blanc de Noirs is a blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% pinot meunier (two classic black grapes you find in champagne), picked from our best plots in 2014 and 2015," he says, noting that the wine is elegant and generous, with honeyed apples, red berry fruit flavours and a savoury hint of butter and brioche.

"Usually, each year we try one or two small batches of something different. Life would be boring if you didn't experiment," adds Wagstaff.

4. Selborne Classic Cuvee Brut, Hampshire, England (£29.99, Majestic)

Another star producer, Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire have some pretty classy offerings - and James Reed, sparkling buyer, Majestic, notes Selborne captures all the subtle flavours that make English sparkling wine so unique.

"Elegant notes of fresh apples and pears distinguish our wines from classic champagne, and Selborne Brut has a bright core of granny smith apple, followed by creamy notes of lemon brioche," says Reed. "The tide certainly seems to be turning in English wine's favour. After a spectacular summer resulting in a once in a century vintage, there's a growing appreciation of our homegrown wines with record sales and a plethora of awards."

Majestic were keen to expand their range this year, which is where the new Selborne wine comes in: "It's a celebration of the vines' new place in the English countryside. Customers are eager to explore new English wines, with sparkling being a particular hot spot. In terms of quality, they're right up there."

5. Exton Park Rose NV, Hampshire, England (£29.95, Exton Park Vineyard)

Another Hampshire label to watch out for, Exton Park have released a limited number of their award-winning Rose NV (gold in the 2018 Decanter Awards) in gift-boxed magnums (£75, 150cl).

Considering how expressive this gorgeous blend of black grapes is (70% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier), with its blackberry fruited nose, succulent palate of soft berries and straight-down-the-line deliciousness, chances are you'll want to trade up to the larger format.

Along with expanding their winery and planting underway to take their single vineyard up to 60 acres under vine, Exton Park are hosting the Vineyards of Hampshire Wine Festival - FIZZ FEST! - for the first time, with guided tours around their stunning vineyard.

6. Wyfold Vineyard Rose 50th Anniversary 2015, Oxfordshire, England (£29.99, Laithwaite's)

Ever more popular, Laithwaite's, the UK's number one home delivery wine merchant, are celebrating their 50th anniversary with their very own pink fizz. Created by Barbara Laithwaite, the classic champagne grapes were first planted in 2003 and since its first vintage in 2009, this crowd-pleasing rose has won 11 golds.

An attractive ballet-slipper pink with a delightfully fresh, strawberry scented nose with a hint of cherry, there's a stony minerality underlying the pristine summer fruits, and a creamy, toasty finish. Just gorgeous and worth making a song and dance about.