ALISTAIR GIBSON: Raising a 2017 glass to English fizz

The new face of the Boat Race.

The new face of the Boat Race.

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So welcome to 2017, a year which in wine terms could be quite a challenging one for the UK consumer.

Post-Brexit, sterling has fallen to levels that will see some fairly significant price rises passed to the wine drinker and there are fears that a duty increase in the Budget will only increase the pressure on prices.

However, it may surprise many people to know that this country is actually the global hub of the international wine trade and while price increases are a very real concern, the UK is seen as a wine barometer for the rest of the rest of the world.

So it is interesting to look at what we were all drinking in 2016.

It seems our love affair with New World wine continues.

Australia remains our favourite wine destination on supermarket and wine shop shelves and New Zealand and Argentina showed the biggest sales growth overall during the year.

New Zealand is, of course, very much led by sauvignon blanc and our thirst for this style of wine shows no sign of slowing with sales up 14 per cent last year.

What is amazing about this growth is that, on average, New Zealand wine is more expensive than any other country’s on the shelves, so perhaps price isn’t quite the most important factor we consider when purchasing wine?

We drank 63 million bottles of Kiwi wine last year, of which 56 million were purchased in the off-trade.

It is malbec that is Argentina’s ace in the pack and it seems right now we can’t drink enough of it. Driven by this demand, sales of Argentinian wine were up 32 per cent last year, almost 27 million bottles. I can only imagine that beef sales in the butchery department have also risen.

When it comes to sparkling wine, the prosecco bubble shows no sign of bursting and there is no doubt it is also having an impact on Champagne sales, which have struggled in comparison.

Domestically, perhaps the biggest story of 2016 was the continuing rise of English wine, and sparkling wine in particular.

Both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer saw an increase of 50 per cent in sales of English wine and it is almost impossible now not to find a home-grown bottle in supermarkets and wine shops now.

But it’s not just domestically that English fizz, which now accounts for nearly 70 per cent of total production, is finding favour.

English sparkling wine was exported to a record 27 countries last year, including France, the home of Champagne, and as far afield as Japan. It may well be that the fall in sterling does indeed have a silver lining for the vineyards of this country.

As if to underline this, Kent’s Chapel Down Winery has just become an official partner of that most British of events, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, replacing Champagne house Bollinger.

So let’s raise a glass to English fizz, Chapel Down Brut NV (Majestic £22.99 but £16.99 when part of a mixed six bottles) is made using the three classic Champagne grapes, using the same method, and is great value for money. It has fine, persistent bubbles and notes of citrus and apples before a lovely zesty mouth feel.

Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth on 01243 431002.

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