Opinion: Hamish Anderson on English and Welsh wine

Hamish Anderson

06 October 2017

The UK’s wine industry is hitting its stride. Time, perhaps, for producers to rethink a few things

English and Welsh wine is on a roll. Stories fill the trade and national press, while picking a bottle up in your local supermarket has never been easier. To capitalise on this, the industry revamped its annual awards, at which I recently judged.

Tasting a large cross-section of a region or country’s output is a rare and instructive thing to do. It confirms or challenges opinions that have already been formed. Some of mine were firmly supported by what I tasted: I do not see the point of red grapes in this country, unless they are made into fizz.

Others needed updating. I was particularly impressed by the progress of still white wines, particularly those from widely planted international grapes, rather than Bacchus.

Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris all look like varieties we can make great wine from, that stack up internationally. The problem remains that, with the best made in minuscule quantities, prices are too high; though this should change as more quality grapes come into production.

Many UK-based sommeliers are far more likely to have visited a European vineyard than a UK one

Sparkling is the category that will define and drive the volume of English and Welsh wine. Of the wines we judged, quality was high, although not universal. I particularly enjoyed anything solely made from or with a high proportion of Chardonnay. On the debit side, even for someone who likes a bit of zing in their wine, aggressive acidity let some down.

Beyond that, it’s the industry’s success that hampered other entries. They just tasted too young – no doubt rushed out to meet the demands of the market and cash fl ow needs of new businesses. However, the tasting was hugely impressive.

Many UK-based buyers and sommeliers are far more likely to have visited a European vineyard than a UK one, and supply is an issue for both sides. At the moment it is harder than it should be for a restaurant to buy wine that is often only made a couple of hours away.

Do you sell directly or work with an agent? The latter option might be easier, but the former gives more room for both sides to make a margin and, crucially, makes it easy to form a close and thus, hopefully, a long partnership.

As the sparkling part of the industry evolves, wouldn’t it be good if we could come up with a better way of selling it than simply aping the Champenois where, for most, brand trumps everything?

A world free of retro deals, brand ambassadors or society event sponsorship is probably too much to hope for, but people drink local fizz because it tastes good and they like to support a British industry. And let’s face it, quality and pride in regional produce are excellent foundations on which to build loyalty.

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