It seems long ago but my new year’s resolution in January 2012 was to drink fewer but better wines with a bias towards UK products. This was a happy combination. As UK wines tend to be more expensive, I could reduce my units consumed for health reasons without necessarily spending more money.
And, yes, even feel a tinge of satisfaction that in a small way I was helping the UK economy at a time of recession.
It worked well. Our basic orders of white from the venerable Wine Society are now almost entirely English or Welsh. This month’s consignment, since you ask, was spread among Camel Valley, Chapel Down and Three Choirs whose Midsummer Hill, sold by the WS at £6.50 a bottle must be among the best bargains for English wines.
For this year’s resolution I set up a new Twitter account (@BritishWino) and started asking for UK wines in restaurants more frequently. Not out of patriotism but because decades of graft have produced some fine whites and roseand world-class sparkling whites which regularly win top prizes at international blind tastings. The latest is Ancre Estate’s 2008 from Wales which beat household name champagnes to be voted the best sparkling in the world at a prestigious blind tasting in Verona last month.
The easiest way to promote UK wines is to ask for them in restaurants and supermarkets.
It beggars belief the number of restaurants that boast about sourcing food locally yet don’t think of doing the same for wines, preferring to import them.
It is silly because the ludicrously high mark-up on all wines in restaurants makes it much easier to absorb the slightly higher cost of the UK equivalent. Next time you are in a half-decent restaurant, gently suggest to the manager whether it might be a good idea to stock a couple of domestic wines to see what happens. Some, like the Quo Vadis group in London which includes the Tate Gallery restaurants are already doing great things as is the delightful Wine Pantry on St Pancras station close by the statue of John Betjeman, patron saint of all things English – but there is a long way to go.
If I am in supermarket and there aren’t any English wines I often ask for the person in charge. A few weeks ago when I couldn’t find any in my local M&S the manager kindly helped me to look but couldn’t find any either. He said: “We do stock one or two but there’s no demand for them.” I agreed that if they didn’t stock them or they were so difficulty to find on the shelves it was not surprising there was no demand. He said he would pass my comments on.
This incident reminded me that over five years ago in Waitrose in Monmouth I asked the wine person with mock innocence whether they stocked any wine from a place called England. He looked at me with forbearance and said my comment would be passed on.
Weeks later I received a call to talk about my suggestion. Sadly I was busy and asked if he could ring some other time. He did about six weeks later when I was on a beach in France. While being a bit worried about the cost of mobile calls abroad I was so impressed he had rung at all that I took the call and had a very good chat.
The next time I went into Waitrose tn Monmouth they were stocking English and Welsh wines. A result!
Nowadays Waitrose is by far the most pro-active supermarket supporter of UK wines and even produces a map of vineyards. Interestingly, Waitrose in Monmouth is barely two miles from the Ancre vineyard, winner of the world’s best sparkling. When it was announced a few weeks ago I looked in the Monmouthshire Beacon to read all about it.
When nothing appeared I rang up to suggest that this might possibly be an interesting story for a country town not exactly brimming over with news. But still nothing appeared which points to the second big problem about domestic wine after price. It is psychological. People just don’t believe that our wines should be taken seriously. Despite the bad harvest of 2012 this year is the perfect time to start changing attitudes.
The revolution starts here.
Victor Keegan, a former Guardian journalist, publishes iPhone apps like Gems of London and Shakespare’s London and blogs about the capital
Keegan’s Gems of London (an app for the iPhone. iPad or iPod) uses geo-location to take you to unusual places in the Capital telling you how many yards you are away from them. Shakespeare’s London does the same for all the buried memories of the Bard’s life in London. Geo Poems geo-tags most of Victor Keegan poetry.