After hard work, why are English wines still missing from the wine lists?

By BigHospitality Writer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fermentation, England

UK winemakers have worked hard to attain a standard worthy of inclusion on restaurant wine lists. So, in a business that's gone potty for locally sourced produce, why is English wine still the exception rather than the norm? We live in a world ...

UK winemakers have worked hard to attain a standard worthy of inclusion on restaurant wine lists. So, in a business that's gone potty for locally sourced produce, why is English wine still the exception rather than the norm?

We live in a world that officially values the authentic. In restaurants we often see locally sourced produce namechecked.

Yet in the UK, wine has remained resolutely resistant to the trend.

These days English wine never seems out of the headlines, but it's not that easy to find on restaurant wine lists.

The quality of English wine has historically been the issue, but the onset of global warming and a more professional approach from growers and winemakers has seen quality and recognition increase. The International Wine & Spirit Competition recently awarded the Trophy for Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine to Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 1998, ahead of entrants from around the world. A number of other English wines won medals too. But despite this recognition, many restaurant wine buyers remain a little sceptical. My own experience a year ago, preparing the list for the opening of Roast (a restaurant that celebrates British produce), was that there were a number of worthy wines, mostly white, both still and sparkling, but pricing was ambitious. I did not want to list wines simply because they were English: they had to stand up against the competition from elsewhere. We listed one sparkling and two still whites.

A year on, I detect an openness towards English wines that perhaps didn't exist before. John Jenkins, who, it must be said, has been buying English wines for years at his Evesham Hotel, thinks that "as customers are looking more and more to source food locally, then it's a logical extension for beers and wines to be sourced locally, and English wine ought to attach itself to that bandwagon." Another ‘early adopter', Kensington Place's chef and wine buyer Rowley Leigh, remembers that "in the early days we had one, but it took years to sell". He would, however, consider listing English wines again and he is not alone. At Zuma, sommelier and wine buyer Alessandro Marchesan admits he has, until recently, been scared of not being able to sell them, but would now consider an English white for pouring. His criteria for By the Glass wines to match Zuma's Japanese cuisine are "crispness, fresh acidity, zesty fruit character, good mid-palate", which seems like a good fit for modern English wine.

Newly opened London gastropub Konstam at the Prince Albert makes a virtue of sourcing pretty much everything it serves, including beverages, from within the M25. But while such tight parameters just won't work when it comes to wine, buyer Adam Laing (a Canadian) flies the flag for England. Four of his five sparkling wines are English, as are three of the nine still whites and three of the 13 reds. Tasting through his English selection, I found myself impressed by the progress that has been made by English winemakers with red wines. Laing would list several of these wines entirely on their own merits, even if he had total freedom. His enthusiasm seems to be shared by his customers, with 35 per cent of wine sales being English wine. Roast's Iqbal Wahhab reports that a day long blind tasting conducted amongst his customers by Food From Britain, pitting Champagne against an English sparkling wine, saw the English sparkler win more votes. The acceptance of English wines by his customers has led him to contemplate listing a few more. And it's clear that while tourists are up for English wines, so are the English. Zuma, sommelier and wine buyer Alessandro Marchesan admits he has, until recently, been scared of not being able to sell them, but would now consider an English white for pouring. His criteria for By the Glass wines to match Zuma's Japanese cuisine are "crispness, fresh acidity, zesty fruit character, good mid-palate", which seems like a good fit for modern English wine.

Newly opened London gastropub Konstam at the Prince Albert makes a virtue of sourcing pretty much everything it serves, including beverages, from within the M25. But while such tight parameters just won't work when it comes to wine, buyer Adam Laing (a Canadian) flies the flag for England. Four of his five sparkling wines are English, as are three of the nine still whites and three of the 13 reds. Tasting through his English selection, I found myself impressed by the progress that has been made by English winemakers with red wines. Laing would list several of these wines entirely on their own merits, even if he had total freedom. His enthusiasm seems to be shared by his customers, with 35 per cent of wine sales being English wine. Roast's Iqbal Wahhab reports that a day long blind tasting conducted amongst his customers by Food From Britain, pitting Champagne against an English sparkling wine, saw the English sparkler win more votes. The acceptance of English wines by his customers has led him to contemplate listing a few more. And it's clear that while tourists are up for English wines, so are the English.

True Brit?

The confusion between what is labelled ‘English'

and what ‘British' hasn't helped English wine.

The idiot British National Party's "exclusive Cornish produced wine" is correctly labelled ‘British' because that term allows it to contain Canadian (!) and Chilean grapes – which it does. ‘British' wine is wine made in Britain from imported concentrate, while ‘English' wine must be grown and made in England (or Wales). Incidentally, at £8.29 it doesn't appear to represent value for money. I haven't tasted ‘chateau BNP' but the Sun's wine correspondent describes it as "nasty and unpalatable". Vin ‘Saint George', with party leader Nick Griffin giving a ‘V' salute on the label, is (natch) only available for sale within the UK .

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