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Why eastern European wines are increasingly popular with UK consumers

Wine consumers in the UK are increasingly choosing bottles from countries such as Slovenia, Bulgaria and Hungary. It’s likely that price rises are responsible for the change in buying behavior, as people look for alternatives to the more expensive Italian and French wines. It’s also a by-product of consumers becoming more adventurous with their wine choices.

Sales increasing

Sales of eastern European wines have increased more than threefold in the 12 months leading up to April 2018. Portugal also leapt by 61%, while Spanish wines fell by 3% and French sales remained stagnant. The UK is also benefiting from people being willing to try something new with sales increasing by 9% over the same time period.

Wines from eastern Europe are generally good quality and can be perceived as high value due to the relatively lower cost. For example, a pinot grigio from Slovenia is priced at around £1 less than an Italian pinot on average.

High prices

As consumers are under increasing pressure from rising prices for everything from fuel and food to daily essentials as well as stagnant wages, more are likely to turn to cheaper bottles. It could also mean a tougher than usual year ahead for wine sellers.

Trading in the UK has been harder since year end when compared to last year, as pressure increases due to the rising cost of imported wines since the pound’s value decreased as a result of Brexit. The average price of a bottle of wine in the UK has risen by only 21p since 2015, compared with a 60p rise in duty and costs.

Online sales

However, online sales are stronger and growing steadily, as they open up to worldwide sales. Wine retailers are generally working across the board to include as many sensible efficient measures as possible, whether that is dispensing with physical stores and focusing online or introducing new ordering systems or more shelves.

It has also become more important than ever to properly utilise social media channels and marketing to improve sales and drive consumers to successful e-commerce sites. The strength of strong online sellers, such as Ideal Wine Company, is increasing all the time as the UK has seen many well-known high street stores collapsing or decreasing their presence. People are turning towards online sales in every sector and the wine industry is no different.

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Wine producers in England heading for best year yet thanks to heatwave

Whether you’re loving or hating it, it looks as though the heatwave in England is here to stay for a while. English wine producers are celebrating the long, hot, dry days as it means they’re on course to deliver their biggest ever vintage.

It’s been an unusually hot and sunny early to mid-summer period in the UK, and forecasts point towards it not ending before September. Some English wine growers are excited by the opportunities this gives the UK’s burgeoning wine industry, and some say that it could mean the best year yet.

Unprecedented quality

Stephen Skelton is a consultant viticulturist for multiple wine producers in England, and recently said that the start to 2018’s growing season has been “unprecedented” in terms of quality. He went on to say: “It’s the best I’ve ever known it… the size of the flowers was very good, so we will have big bunches and an early harvest, maybe up to two weeks early for some varieties, and disease pressure is very low at the moment.”

With so many wine boxes ticked for 2018 at this early stage, it should be a great year in terms of volume and quality.

Excellent vintage

Compared to previous vintages, this year could be along the lines of 2006’s yield, which is so far the highest on record for the industry. Its quality is predicted to match recent excellent vintages such as 2009 and 2014.

Backing this up, Bob Lindo of Camel Valley in the SW of England said: “There’s a way to go, but it’s probably the best start to a year I’ve known. We’ve had no frost and 100% fruit set and we are early – we are expecting a September harvest start.”

Camel Valley has been making wine in Cornwall for almost 30 years, and points towards the threat of drought as a possible problem as we go through the summer. This area of the UK has had the most rainfall in the UK for the last two months, so is in a strong position.

Good forecast

Over in Kent, Chapel Down winery is the largest producer of sparkling wines in England. Frazer Thompson, CEO at the wine producers, said: “The flowering has been completely uninterrupted and early, and the bunches look regular and superb, and the forecast is also good.

“Every single vineyard that could go right has gone right – and often we get the right weather, but not in the right order, but this year we have had the right weather in the right order… ‘14 was the last vintage that was a bit like that and it produced staggering wines.”

With no end to the hot, dry weather predicted as yet, it looks as though 2018 could be a bumper year for wine in the UK.

How the global wine industry is adapting fast to climate change

There’s no doubt that climate change has been sharply affecting the world’s vineyards over the last decade or so. Its effects have pushed winemakers to look for new wineries and vineyards, as well as planting different varieties of grapes that can withstand higher temperatures.

From the vineyards in South Africa affected by prolonged drought to endlessly nny vineyards in California and Australia, wine growers are seeing clear effects of climate change as temperatures continue to rise year on year.

Weather patterns

Wilder swings in weather are also hugely affecting vines, prompting vineyard owners to make different decisions in terms of grape varieties and shading the grapes with an increased amount of leaf canopy.

Areas that used to be perfect for specific grapes are becoming less viable, with earlier harvests and a lesser quality of wine due to grapes ripening too quickly. In contrast, areas that used to be completely unsuitable for grapes are starting to become viable.

Regional changes

For example, Petaluma Gap in North California has recently been designated as one of the newest viticultural areas in America. This allows winemakers in the area to market the unique characteristic of their product, determined by the geography, climate and soil. Three decades ago, it would have been impossible to grow grapes there.

While vines can tolerate drought and heat relatively well, over the past four years global temperatures have measured their hottest ever. Projections show that this trend is set to continue every year. And, as even small weather changes can affect wines vintage to vintage, this has major ramifications for the industry.

An important Spanish wine producer, Familia Torres, owns wineries in Chile and California, and has also bought land 1,200m high in the Pyrenees as a decisive investment in cooler areas. The average temperatures across their vineyards have risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last four decades, and harvest are now ten days earlier than they were 20 years ago.

South African drought

These changes show that climate change is a worldwide challenge for winemakers and not only does it mean viticulture practices should change, greenhouse gas emissions should also be reduced. A severe drought in the Western Cape of South Africa meant a 15% drop in the harvest in May, according to South African officials.

Officials also predict a long-term trend in higher temperatures and dryer harvests. Wanda Augustyn, from VinPro, the representatives of South Africa’s wine producers, said: “In the longer term, producers will have to look at quality, drought-resistant vines which produce more flavour, acidity and intensity, but have lower water needs.”

Moving up north

Vineyards are also concerning the market in Brittany, in the northwest corner of France. Previously this was untenable for winemakers due to too much rain, not enough sunshine and Atlantic winds. Today, vineyards are being planted as far north of Sweden.

It’s a tricky balance for wine producers now, as they need to hit a sweet spot between the changes in weather patterns to enable grapes to grow in optimum conditions. It’s likely that we will see shifts into cooler areas and changes in production techniques to support this.

Our tips to help you choose a wine you’ll love – every time

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between a Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Sauvignon or which wine should go with your food, you’re not alone. Luckily, you don’t need extensive understanding of the wine industry to successfully end up with a wine that suits you.

Whether you’re pondering the wine list at a new restaurant or working out a menu for a dinner party, here are some tips to pleasing your palate every time.

  1. Ask for advice

There’s no harm in asking the sommelier or waiting staff for some help. They may be able to introduce you to something completely new and are more than happy to share their expertise. If you’re in a shop, then you’ll most likely find knowledgeable staff there too. It’s always worth picking the brains of an expert before you decide on your wine.

Many wine buffs love to talk about their favourite bottle or introduce friends to new grapes they’ve just discovered. Sharing this kind of knowledge among your group can help to widen the variety of wines on your table.

  1. Have a tasting session at home

It’s a good way to learn more about different wines, and you can do it with family and friends. How about a monthly wine night with a different theme each time? For example, choose Napa as a theme and everyone can bring different wines with them. That way to get to learn about different wines and producers that are new to you. If your friends and family are wine lovers too, this is an ideal way to mix learning about new wines with good times!

  1. Forget the rules

Ditch old rules like only drinking red with meat and think about the flavours you’re considering with your meal. Food pairings don’t have to be rigid, and exploring your own palate is always fun. Here are some popular pairings to get started with:

  • Sauvignon Blanc: tends to go well with chicken or fish including salmon, cod or sushi. It’s often easier to find vegan style Sauvignons too, so it appeals to lots of people.
  • Chardonnay: lovely with a creamy pasta dish or a simple salad. Refreshing and light.
  • Chenin Blanc: lighter meat works well, such as pork or chicken.
  • Merlot: these can be lush and deep, and go well with lamb, pork and strong cheeses. Beef can work too, but as merlot is heavier it can be a bit much.
  • Cabernet: works perfectly with beef, as well as any game-y style meats such as venison and lamb. Lovely with a rich chocolate dessert too.
  1. Check the label

Wine is heavier or lighter depending on how the manufacturer procures the wine. If it’s from stainless steel, then it’s going to be lighter. If it’s from an oaked source, then it’s going to be heavier. Usually you can check the back of the label and it will tell you ‘stainless steel’ or ‘oak-ed’. This will help understand the kind of wine you’re contemplating.

  1. Older doesn’t mean better

There’s a consensus that the older a bottle is, the better it will taste. This isn’t necessarily the case. You can find lovely bottles of 2016 wines, as it’s more to do with the producer and the kinds of wines they make. Some spend more time on the ageing process before it gets to the consumer, so it’s ready to drink.

Follow these tips, and you’ll discover new wines perfect for you.

New vineyards mean 2018 is set to be a vintage year for wine

Proving that the wine industry in the UK is on the up, an impressive 80 new vineyards opened in 2017. Fuelled by an ever-growing demand, and financed by wealthy investors, the number of vineyards opened last year as a new record for a single year.

These figures were up by 25% on the year before and are more than twice the numbers that opened up in 2013, according to recent research.

Hedge fund investors

Much of the investment into these new vineyards can be traced to hedge fund managers who, along with City bankers, are funding the planting of vineyards across the south.

Many of the English sparkling wines in particular have beaten rivals in taste tests. Earlier in 2018, English wines scooped 128 medals at the International Wine Challenge, which means the UK is among the top ten wine producing countries.

Among these medals were 12 gold awards, 58 silver medals and 58 bronze. One of the gold medal winners was a chardonnay hailing from the Lime Bay Winery in Devon.

Quality over quantity

So, why is there an increase in investment in the UK’s wine industry. According to UHY Hacker Young, the accountancy group that carried out the research, it’s down to quality rather than volume.

They said: “Vineyards within the UK have become increasingly fashionable among City workers looking to invest their bonuses. English wine continues to be popular due to its high quality. UK vineyard owners typically aim for quality rather than volume when producing wine as British weather does not allow the growth of large yields.”

Low pound boosts popularity

The way English wine has been priced has also helped to boost its popularity. Due to the recent fall in value of the pound, it has become more competitive against wines coming over from the Continent. This has led to more people trying it and realising that it is of a high quality.

This research has coincided with a decision by a major pub chain in the UK to stop selling wines from Germany and France, and only to stock those from the UK. It remains to be seen whether any others will follow this move. It seems unlikely that the joys of wine from Italy, Germany, France and other countries won’t remain popular, but it also seems the UK is making a name for itself in the wine industry.

Why you should drink your reds chilled this summer

Anyone enjoying a summer holiday in the Mediterranean will most likely be served local red wines chilled, straight from the fridge. The old advice that red wines should only ever be served at room temperature is outdated, and there are loads of reds that taste great when served slightly chilled.

If you fancy trying something new this summer, chill your reds in the fridge before dinner. But don’t overcool – around half an hour is all most red wines need.

Light and fruity

The best wines to serve chilled are light, fruity and fresh reds. Cooling the wine sharpens the fruity flavours and makes the alcohol seem more subdued, which makes it perfect for a leisurely picnic or barbecue.

However, if you select a red heavy on the tannin then chilling it can result in a bitter flavour. This is because cooling accentuates the tanning, which leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Fortunately, there are loads of lighter red wines lower in tannin, such as those from the Beaujolais region and some Pinot Noir wines.

Low in tannin

Beaujolais wines are made with the Gamay grape variety, which is naturally pretty low in tannin, so they work well when served chilled. They’re often packed with fresh berry fruit flavours and taste fantastic when served cold.

Another good red comes from Australia’s Brown Brothers. It’s made from the Tarrango grape and is a light, pale red with a very fruity hit of cheery and plum flavours and a spicy note. Served with seafood straight off the barbecue is a great summer’s day combo. Reds from Piedmont are also worth looking out for, with their simple and fresh flavours, slight acidity and cherry flavour.

Overall, the best reds for serving chilled are those low in tannin, with a light, fruity flavour. They go amazingly with everything from fresh duck salad to a summer berry pudding. Look out for vibrant plum colours and fruity, light style and you won’t go far wrong.

Fizzy red

If you fancy a bit of fizzy wine for your summer garden party, then try an Italian red Lambrusco. Packed with blueberry flavours but retaining freshness and bite, it’s delicious served with summer foods. Don’t chill it for too long, in fact around 20 minutes in the fridge should be plenty. When it’s gently chilled it’s fresh, fruity and deliciously bubbly. Perfect!

English Wine Week vineyard visit for tourism minister

English Wine Week has just wrapped for 2018, after a seven-day celebration of everything wine-related. As part of the programme, the UK’s tourism minister was invited to a vineyard in Kent as a special trip to understand the link between English wine and the food and drink tourist industry.

Michael Ellis is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, and since his appointment at the start of this year has been keen to learn how people are working to boost wine tourism.

Wine tourism Boost

He was hosted at Chapel Down Winery near Tenterden in Kent, where he was given a presentation about plans to boost wine tourism in the UK and the wider food and drink offer to both domestic and international consumer markets.

Chapel Down chief exec Frazer Thompson, along with Sandra Mathews-Marsh from Visit Kent gave Mr Ellis a tour of the working winery and the vines. He also met representatives from other major vineyards across Kent, including James Osborn of Squerryes and Charles Simpson of Simpsons wine Estate.

Championing English wine

As well as the tour of the vineyards, the minister gathered updates on the Wine Garden of England partnership, as well as the international Gourmet Gardens Trail, both of which are supported by VisitEngland’s Discover England Fund and headed up by Visit Kent.

He said: “English Wine Week is about championing British produce and helping to position our growing wine industry as a new tourist attraction. Through our Discover England Fund, we are supporting the Wine Garden of England to increase international visitors to the region and raise awareness of Kent’s incredible vineyards.”

World-class producer

English Wine Week is a good opportunity to publicise the fact that the UK is now a world-class wine producer. Linking the future of the tourism industry in England with the growth of wine production is a logical step and further demonstrates the massive opportunities wine tourism can bring t the UK.

The Discover England Fund is a £40 million, three-year government investment into supporting the growth of the tourism industry in the UK. Its main aim is to offer more world-class products to international markets, and wine is one of the main areas of focus.

Visit Kent has benefited from £1 million support from the initiative and will be launching a series of itineraries aimed at showcasing vineyards, breweries, food outlets and accommodation initially to visitors from the Netherlands and Germany.

Ideal wines for a Spring wedding

We may not know exactly what the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex drank at their wedding reception recently, but we do know some good wines to go with a more down to earth Spring wedding.

Spring is a great time to get married. The weather is generally reliable, and in the UK increasingly hot and sunny during May, making it the ideal time to enjoy a refreshing white while you celebrate.

Red and white

For those of us without the budget of Harry and Meghan, simply providing enough wine is usually the main focus of a wedding. Whatever your budget, finding a simple, relatively inexpensive red and white is a good plan.

As most people getting married have an eclectic guest list, ranging from the young to the old, sticking with a French red and white can be the easiest option. This will be a general crowd pleaser and ensure people enjoy their meal and drinks. Try a Langeudoc red and white, for example. The smooth and peachy white wine is a popular choice and bound to go down well.

Another option along these lines would be the red and white from a brand such as La Vieille Ferme. This hails from the Rhone area and is usually priced between £7 and £8 per bottle. The white comes I at 12.5% alcohol and the red at 13%, meaning they’re not too strong.

Choose your fizz

When you have the red and white sorted, you can’t forget the fizz. Everyone needs something for the toasts, whether you go for a vintage Champagne or a cheaper sparkling. A good option is always a decent prosecco, but you could try the cheaper Cruset Blanc de Blancs for a different take on fizz. It’s similarly soft and creamy but can be found for very reasonable prices.

Of course, as with all the wedding choices, it’s very much down to the bride and groom’s overall budget. For those with a bit more cash to splash, a vintage Champagne could put the finishing touch to the perfect day.

What was on the wine list at the Royal Wedding reception?

The whole country has been abuzz with Royal Wedding fever over the last week. Plenty of street parties and wedding viewing parties up and down the country would have seen lots of wine, Prosecco and Champagne being quaffed in honour of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Whether you’re a Royalist or a Republican, or somewhere in between, it’s been a time for celebration and enjoyment. We’ve seen details of the bride’s dress (£200,000 custom made Givenchy), the ceremony itself and we know the contents of the goody bags given out to the lucky people invited. But what we really want to know is, which wines did they drink at the reception?

Pol Roger Champagne

On the day itself, the Palace confirmed one of the wines being served at the reception of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was Pol Roger Champagne. Steeped in British history and already with a Royal Warrant, Pol Roger was the Champagne of choice for Sir Winston Churchill. After his death in 1965, the producer added a black border around the labels of the bottles of Brut NV destined for the UK.

Pol Roger Brut Vintage is usually a blend of 60% Pinot noir and 40% Chardonnay, although this can vary. The wine at the reception at Windsor Castle was a non-vintage version, Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV.  It’s a blend of 30 base wines going across three vintages and is available for between £40 and £45 per bottle.

Royal favourite

It’s the same champagne that was served at the last Royal Wedding between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seven years ago, so is clearly a Royal favourite. While we’d love to know the other wines served at the wedding, unfortunately this has remained a tightly held secret.

Speculation has included the chance of a Californian wine, as the Duchess of Sussex is known to like wines from various producers in her home state in the United States. It’s was also touted that an English sparkling wine might make the cut. Chapel Down was served at William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, and Camel Valley from Cornwall has just been awarded a Royal Warrant, so perhaps either one of those were served to lucky guests.

Another wine that could have been included is the Great Windsor Park sparkling, which is known as the ‘Queen’s English Wine’ as it’s actually made on the Windsor Park estate, very near to the celebrations.

Tuscan wine

Meghan Markle has also gone on record as liking the ‘Super Tuscan’ wine Tignanello, produced by Antinori. Whichever wines were served at the 600-guest reception in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle, we know that beer pong was also on the menu for the American guests!

How the English answer to Champagne is created

There are few areas in the world where it’s possible to start a brand-new vineyard from scratch on a large scale. Given the changes to the English climate over the last decade or so, East Sussex is one such place.

In 2013, Cameron Roucher spotted this opportunity and left his home country of New Zealand to start up a vineyard in East Sussex. His vineyard produces 80,000 cases of sparkling wine every year and, five years after he arrived, the Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir varieties from his vineyard are hitting the market.

Year-round work

Cameron has 20 years’ experience as a viticulturist (concerning the study, science and production of grape varieties) in the wine industry. As such, he’s well used to the hard work that needs to go into the establishment, upkeep and maintenance of a working vineyard. He said: “Winter is pruning, spring is a lot of preparation and planting new vineyard areas. In summer, the vines need a lot of looking after, and autumn is our harvest. There is never a quiet time.”

His vineyard is established on the Rathfinny Estate, which covers 650 acres and started out as an arable farm. Near the Seven Sisters cliff formation, the vineyard is situated on the South Downs, which consist of very chalky soil.

Harvesting grapes

During harvest time in September and October, around 70 people work on the estate, which is on its way to becoming the largest in the UK. The vineyard itself covers 170 acres of the farmland, and so needs many man hours to cover the work.

Many of the grape pickers are students or city workers who use the experience as a kind of ‘working holiday’, as it includes bed and board as well as above minimum wage pay. In 2017 the vineyard produced 200 tones of fruit, which represents the first harvest since the vineyard began that was up to its full production. Cameron said: “It finally felt like all the work was worth it.”

Industry expanding

Following last year’s success, the vineyard is expanding with new planting areas being mapped out. Across the country, the UK wine industry is increasing at its fastest ever rate. In 2017 there was a 64% increase in bottles produced, when compared to 2016.

However, there are challenges in growing vineyards in the UK, including the fact that it takes longer to grow than they would in more traditional wine growing areas. Wine growing is not an exact science, particularly when working in non-traditional climates, and with tools and supplies that have to be ordered from overseas in many cases.

Weather conditions

The chalky soil and mild weather climate of the south of England are said to be pretty similar to those in France’s Champagne producing region. However, southern England has to contend with strong winds in a way that rarely affects the French vineyards.

The winds can dehydrate the vines and break the early shoots, which sets the vineyard back and risks the crop. However, this exposure also decreases the risk of the grapes catching wind-borne diseases, and so offers a different kind of protection.

It will be fascinating to see this young industry in the UK expand and grow over the next few years. The possibilities are many, and we can expect to see more and more vineyards cropping up, particularly in the south of England.