Recent data from leading wine exhibition and forum Vinexpo forecasts that the UK will overtake France to become the second-largest wine market in the world by value in 2018. The UK spend, according to the figures, will be second only to the US thanks (researchers suggest) to a shift towards premium products.
Could it be that the UK now out-Frances France when it comes to les vins? That’s a little hasty. There’s one glaring factor here: the high retail price and the hefty taxes that we must pay in the UK. This warps the figures. Nevertheless an £11bn (€14.5bn) annual market is not to be sniffed, rolled around the glass and slurped at.
So where do we stand product-wise? In terms of retail British supermarkets have consolidated years of promise and now offer a selection of wines that may even outmatch a French regional hypermarché, where local loyalties still mean that wines from even as close as Spain don’t find their way to the shelves.
In terms of production, of course, the UK is still gallons behind our French rivals. But need it stay that way? More and more vineyards are springing up and the good ones that are already here are refining and perfecting their offer. With a little global warming even the Scots might end up getting in on the act by the middle of the century.
What about a comparison of that key theatre in which we enjoy great wine: restaurants Most observers would say that the snobbery associated with wine connoisseurship here in the UK is long gone – and good riddance. Now, in London as it is across the English Channel, you can readily find restaurants with beautifully selected wine lists and great sommeliers: passionate people who can help bring your food to life and maybe even demystify wine for the uninitiated with clever or playful pairings.
One issue that worries me is that there remains something occasionally unconvincing about how we market both the British national enthusiasm for great wine and the nation’s more recent mastery of it. Just look, for example, at the plethora of vineyards in the south of England following the denizens of Reims and Épernay when it comes to producing sparkling wines. Sure the English varieties are not as complex but there are some great products from the Gusbourne Estate, Nyetimber and Camel Valley so why don’t we have a proper name for them? “English sparkling wine” lacks, well, a little sparkle.
If we are going to be the world’s second-biggest wine market let’s make sure that we talk the talk as well as walking the walk. We need a name: our own Champagne. Britagne is the best I’ve heard yet; pronounced “Britannia” but with a cheeky spelling in tribute to, or maybe as a challenge to its near neighbour in France. After all there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition. Vive la difference, as they say.
Tom Edwards is executive producer of Monocle 24.