Let me begin by wishing you all a very Happy and Peaceful New Year. But, it’s not just a new year – it’s the start of a new decade; time, perhaps, to ponder on where the wine world will be at the end of the 2020s.
I’ve got no special talent as a forecaster – I’ve been mistakenly predicting the widespread availability of wines from China for several years! – so my thoughts are based on a continuation of what has happened in recent years. And that, inevitably means climate change.
Global warming – in some cases combined with increasing drought – has resulted in the dreadful wildfires in Australia and California that I’ve blogged about recently. But it has also meant that some areas that were previously too cool to ripen grapes reliably are now thriving – the picture above was taken at Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire, England. Even Champagne producers are buying land in southern England as an insurance against their home region becoming too warm for sparkling wine production. And, more widely, many growers are reporting that they are harvesting ripe grapes weeks earlier than their predecessors – mixed news for wine lovers as grapes that have ripened too quickly have had less time to gather nutrients from the soil and pick up flavour.
Linked to this has been another important trend this century: the increasing number of growers switching to organic – or at least more sustainable – growing methods. Viticulture has had a poor reputation for overuse of pesticides and other harmful chemicals and any reduction of these can only be good for the environment. And, on the same lines, it would be good if certain producers stopped using such ridiculously heavy wine bottles – I recently found one that weighed over 800gms empty!
But, perhaps most worrying for the wine industry in the 2020s is the fact that statistics show fewer young people are choosing to drink wine, preferring beer, spirits or even no alcohol at all. If demand falls, then less wine will be produced and that means less choice for all of us wine lovers.
A guided tour of a local vineyard followed by a wine tasting and a light supper. What better way to spend an evening in June? My wife and I quickly signed up for the Bristol Tasting Circle’s summer outing: a visit to Aldwick Estate vineyard, a few miles south of Bristol. We were looking forward to it but, as ever in Britain, the weather can spoil the best laid plans. And, on this particular evening in June, it was as far from summer as you could imagine: cool and with rain lashing down – more like November.
But, the trip went ahead and, after a welcoming glass of Aldwick’s Jubilate fizz, most of the group were happy to ignore the rain and go to see the vines – my wife was more sensible and stayed behind! So, along with Sandy Luck, the owner, we donned our wellies and waterproofs and stoically walked round the vineyard hearing about the varieties planted, the different methods of vine pruning used and the threat to the fruit from badgers.
Back in the warm and dry, we tasted 3 of the estate’s wines. Bacchus is becoming quite a common variety in English vineyards and ripens well in our relatively cool climate. Aldwick’s example was delightfully fresh and showed all the aromatic, elderflower character that is so much of Bacchus’ attraction. Next up was Mary’s Rosé, named after the owner’s mother and already a medal winner from the International Wine Challenge. The blend of the rare Solaris grape, together with Pinot Noir and Regent produced a delicate but flavoursome strawberry-fruited dry wine that I sense would be quite food-friendly. And finally, just to prove how far English wines have developed, we were served the estate’s attractive, peppery red made entirely from their Regent vines.
With delicious charcuterie and cheese boards to follow, you could almost forget the weather – until, of course, the time came to leave for home!
It’s that time of year again! So, if you’re going to have some friends around over the holiday season, what better choice to welcome them than with a glass of something sparkling?
‘It’s Christmas so it must be Champagne’ will be the view of many but, as regular readers to this Blog will know, English Sparkling wines are consistently beating the Champenois at their own game and, for me, a bottle of something from Nyetimber, RidgeView or one of the many other accomplished English sparkling wine producers is a better choice – as well as a good talking point. You’ll find them at many wine merchants and Waitrose supermarkets for £20 – £30 – the same sort of price you’d pay for a reasonable Champagne.
But, if your budget won’t stretch that far, there are many excellent value alternatives. French wines made outside the Champagne region but using the same production method are called ‘Crémants’ and bottles from Alsace or the Loire can often be found in supermarkets and are frequently very good buys.
From Spain and Italy respectively, both Cava and Prosecco have become increasingly popular in recent years – and for good reason; but do avoid the ultra-cheapies: sparkling wine making is a complex process when done properly and bottles selling for around £6 or £7 are likely to be pretty basic and uninteresting. Prefer something around £10 and, if you’re going for a Prosecco, look for the letters DOCG rather than just DOC on the label – the ‘G’ is important and will be on all the best examples.
But that’s just Europe. If you normally prefer still wines from the New World, why not sparkling wine from there, too? New Zealand has an ideal climate and Pelorus (Majestic, £17.99) and Lindauer (same supplier, £10.99) are favourites of mine, while Champagne producer Moët and Chandon have set up in Argentina and clearly know what they’re doing – their Brut and Rosé are each £12.99 (Majestic, again).
So, there you are. My quick guide to some sparkling wines for a sparkling holiday season.