Hot new thing is UK wine
I first tasted a comprehensive range of English wines in 1988. My expectations were low at the beginning of a 130-wine tasting which was, if not a revelation, at least a pleasant surprise. The reds were a mixed bag with some green, under-ripe wines but the whites were mostly fresh, vibrant, and varietal. Stars of the tasting were a handful of sparkling wines that I thought were world class. It was an eyebrow-raising moment.
Since then, I have made a point of tasting English sparkling wines on my annual trips to London. They have continued to grow in stature. Chalky soils in the south of England are identical to those in Champagne, and with a little help from global warming English sparkling wine can be very serious indeed.
I recently learned that it has been exactly 50 years since the UK wine industry established an official body, now called the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA). The celebrated the occasion with a reception at Clarence House attended by many industry founders and younger generation of winemakers, along with world-renowned wine commentators.
Here are a few facts from the UKVA:
- The English & Welsh Wine industry has grown from 175ha in 1975 (when earliest records began) to over 2,000ha today and is projected to grow to 3000ha by 2020.
- Over two-thirds of total production is now sparkling wine, produced using the same method as Champagne in and in most cases from the same grape varieties.
- English and Welsh still wines are white, rosé and some red. The UK has now developed its own style of crisp, fruity, aromatic still wines.
- Approximately five million bottles of wine are currently produced each year in the UK – with a projected doubling in the next few years alone.
- There are some 500 vineyards across England and Wales and 133 wineries.
- Champagne Taittinger will be planting its vineyard in Kent, marking the first investment in the English wine industry by a French Champagne House. Champagne Pommery has also invested in the UK wine industry.
- Last year the UK hosted the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, a major international wine event, acknowledging the place that UK has in the world of cool climate wine.
- English sparkling wine is now exported around the world, with last year seeing wines shipped to a record 27 countries (up from 19 in 2015).