2020: Looking Back

In a Blog Looking Back on the wine world in 2020, it would be easy to focus solely on the problems. It has, after all, been a really strange and unsettling year – a year like no other I can remember. And I guess that many similar reviews will use pictures like the one above as the year’s defining image.
Although the Covid virus has caused great difficulties in the wine world, especially in getting people to do the harvest during lockdowns and a significant drop in demand, this hasn’t been the only problem the industry has had to face this year. I’ve blogged twice in the last 12 months about dreadful wildfires that have devasted parts of Australia and California, in both cases having a major impact on wine regions. Add in severe droughts in places and damaging late-spring frosts and 2020 is a year that many in the wine industry will want to forget.
But wine producers are, by nature and necessity, a resilient and resourceful group and I’ve read that plans are already being formulated to rebuild fire-damaged wineries and replant vineyards. Some may take the opportunity to grow different varieties – those that are more heat and drought resistant, perhaps. Others may choose the currently fashionable option of installing earthenware amphorae to replace some, or all, of their barrels. It may take a little time but new and exciting tastes and styles may emerge as a result of this difficult year.
And, just this last week, we have seen the first anti-Covid vaccines being administered. Let’s hope these prove as successful as they have appeared in trials and that 2021 will be a year when (with care) we can get back to doing some of the things we have missed in 2020. For me, that would include going on holiday, eating out in restaurants and running wine courses.
How about you?

Two Good Reads

Looking for a gift for a wine lover this year? Then 2 recently published books – one on the Wines of England and Wales, the other on the Wines of Portugal – may be the answer.
Both books start with the historical background to their wines, followed by a look at the key grape varieties grown and main regions of production and include a selection of producers to note. Both also highlight the major changes experienced in recent decades, not just to the styles of wines produced but also to the 2 wine industries themselves.
But despite these similarities, I suspect that the books will appeal to rather different audiences.
Oz Clarke’s “English Wine – From Still to Sparkling” (Pavilion Books, £16.99) relates his personal experiences visiting his favourite vineyards and winemakers throughout the country. An underlying theme of the book is the rise and rise in sparkling wine production in England and Wales this century and the reasons behind it. In short, England’s cool climate is ideally suited to making fizz and many of our vineyards are situated on the same seam of chalk that underlies the Champagne vineyards. So, with similar temperatures to Champagne and the same soil, it’s a no-brainer to plant the same grape varieties – mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and make the same kind of wine. And we’ve been very successful at it!
Clarke’s book is a much-needed update on the rapidly changing English and Welsh wine scene and is a most enjoyable and approachable read.
Richard Mayson’s “The Wines of Portugal” (Infinite Ideas, £30) is far more in-depth – I might say almost encyclopaedic. The writer has been immersed in Portuguese wine (not literally, I hope!) for his entire adult life and it is clear that he is writing about a country he loves – and has loved since his first visit as a 10 year old child.
Portugal’s wine transformation began when they joined the European Union in 1986 prompting them to introduce a proper quality hierarchy, mirrored on France’s Appellation Contrôlée system, across the whole industry. As a result, wines from the Douro, Dão, Bairrada, Vinho Verde and others, historically variable in quality, were all spurred on to improve and are now worth their place on every wine rack. Even the previously unexciting Alentejo in the south of the country is now regularly producing attractive, excellent value for money bottles.
For lovers of Portuguese wine or for anyone who wants to get to know the many delicious wines of that country better, this book is a must-buy.
Whichever you choose, I wish you happy reading (accompanied by an appropriate glass, of course!)