An unlikely toast to Brexit. Could English wine save the day?

I have just returned from a short business trip to London and never, not even in the darkest days of the last recession, have I experienced such an ambience of doom and gloom.

The city, and the rest of the country, is of course in a state of Brexit-induced limbo and even the most ardent of Brexiteers must be starting to despair. But there is some comfort for wine lovers, for England now produces jolly good wine.

I can hardly see the likes of Boris Johnson going without his Bordeaux or Burgundy, but if a ‘Hard Brexit’ were to result in a Trumpesque trade war, making European wines unpalatably expensive, the wines being produced in the south of the UK may be in more demand for supermarket shelves.

But whilst Brexit may itself hopefully find a solution, one way or the other, English wine is hardly going to meet the demands of the British populace.

The country imports some 1.8 billion bottles of wine per year, making it the world’s largest importer of wine per capita, whilst the 500-odd wineries in England and Wales only produce around six million bottles between them. This will increase in 2019, thanks to the bumper harvest of 2018 after the long hot summer in the UK, but let’s put this into perspective.

By comparison, while six million bottles were produced in the UK last year, single producers such as Moët & Chandon make around 30 million bottles of Champagne per year and many producers here in Portugal and elsewhere produce multiple millions of bottles.

Wine production in the UK is minuscule in terms of volume, but the last 10 years or so have seen something of a revolution in terms of quality. Whenever I am in the UK, I am on the lookout for local wines, both on restaurant wine lists and whenever I get the time to stop at a decent wine shop.

On a recent visit, I got to try the excellent Guinevere from the Gusbourne winery, a barrel-fermented Chardonnay from Kent. Like most of the better UK wineries, they are better known for their sparkling wines; in fact, British bubbles often beats Champagne in blind tastings these days. But the production of still table wines is growing, with the terroir especially suitable for growing good quality Pinot Noir.

Another variety that is doing well in England is Bacchus, a white grape originally created in Germany back in the 1930s by crossing Silvaner/Riesling with the German variety Müller-Thurgau.

Bacchus is still grown in small quantities in Germany, but in the UK, it has become one of the most popular varieties, an early ripening grape that is well suited to the climate.

Most of the Bacchus varietals I have tried are similar in style to Sauvignon Blanc and last week I discovered this barrel-fermented Foxhole Vineyard Bacchus from the Bolney winery in Sussex, a fragrant wine with notes of green apples, gooseberry and grapefruit on the nose mingling with a touch of oak, a slightly creamy texture in the mouth with excellent acidity and a nice long finish.

Like most of the UK wineries, Bolney’s wines can be bought online and shipped around the world – good value at £17.99 direct from the winery.

By Patrick Stuart
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