This month I've been tasting a lot of English and Welsh wine: around 90 sparklings for a Decanter panel tasting to be featured in the August issue, then another 84, plus about 60 still wines, as a judge for this week's Decanter World Wine Awards.
The results of these tastings are currently embargoed, so I can't name specific brands here, but there are a few general opinions which are worth sharing.
- Most importantly, it's clear that the quality of UK sparkling wine continues to maintain very high standards. Any fears of inferior quality due to young vines or oversupply seem to be unfounded for the moment. It's an increasingly competitive category, and producers are raising the bar for each other with each successive vintage.
- The most impressive subcategory overall seems to be Blanc de Blancs.
- Rosé sparkling is much less consistent in quality terms - this tends to be true for all genres of sparkling wine.
- An increasing amount of non-vintage wines are being released, though virtually none of them yet follow the champagne formula of blending in older reserve wines, because nobody has the stocks. Vintage wines still dominate the marketplace, and while this presents logistical problems in terms of volume variation year on year, there's no compelling reason to switch to a non-vintage model.
- Many producers still use non-champagne varieties to create sparklings, and some of them are perfectly respectable - but there is no question that the best UK fizz is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
- Still wines are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the best examples deserve much more attention than they are currently getting.
- As with sparkling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the flag-bearers - but Bacchus should not be overlooked.
- English and Welsh still wines may achieve excellent quality, but price is always going to be problematic. Whereas people are prepared to pay the premium for sparkling wine, it is much harder to justify spending £20 on an English still wine when there is so much competition from around the world.
Witnessing English and Welsh wine evolve is a real privilege, but what's even more exciting is the potential over the next few decades. The world of wine is already taking notice, and from what I've tasted recently, there's every chance that UK wine will become more and more respected and admired.