We Brits first fell in love with wine back in the disco days of the 70s and 80s. But, as Gary Carter of Birmingham Wine School reveals, our tastes today couldn’t be more different
Those of us ‘of a certain age’ can vaguely recall when wine culture first arrived in the UK. Historically, due to our climate most Brits drank beer rather than wine, and not being a significant wine producer ourselves, many wine-producing countries started to promote their wares in the 1970s and 1980s to the unsuspecting British drinker.
However, today’s choice of styles and quality is light-years away from the ‘first wave’ of wine to wash up on our shores, where the novelty of wine – any wine at all – took preference over quality. Anyone under 50 will not remember this, but when venturing out to places like a Berni Inn to enjoy your prawn cocktail, steak, and Black Forest gateau, the wine list to go with it wasn’t something that would be recognisable today.
As well as a selection of very basic wines from behind the Iron Curtain from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, we had mass-produced semi-sweet German wines with labels such as Blue Nun and Black Tower. Many German wines are indeed off-dry or medium-dry, but the great wines of Germany are made with the Riesling grape, have a beautiful floral and fruit nose and combine racy acidity with the sweetness to create a beautiful balance.
German Riesling is a unique style of wine, made nowhere else in the world. Because of the history of German wine in the UK, it is a very difficult sell and many retailers have either given up or stock only a very small range. The good news is that because it’s a hard sell, it’s amazingly good value. Seek out those long-tapered bottles, but make sure the word Riesling is on the label to avoid revisiting the 1980s!
Moving on down the list, we also had some semi-sweet rosé wines such as Mateus Rosé. This wine is from Portugal, is produced in huge quantities and was allegedly the favourite tipple of Saddam Hussein. The finest rosé wine is produced in Provence in France, is bone dry and is today incredibly popular.
South Africa in the 1970-80s was still an isolated apartheid regime, desperate for international trade. The country’s winemaking business suffered from obsolete equipment and a focus on quantity rather than quality. Today, South Africa is one of the most dynamic of wine-producing countries and their Old Vine Chenin Blanc can be truly stunning.
Finally, Beaujolais Noveau, a wine made from the fruity Gamay variety, is made and bottled by the middle of November. It was accompanied by a huge amount of hype but was almost undrinkable. Beaujolais suffers from association with the Nouveau style to this day. However, a well-kept secret is that certain specific villages in the Beaujolais region produce a very different style of wine indeed. Still using the fruity Gamay grape but treated with real respect, wines from Fleurie, Brouilly, Morgon and most especially Moulin-a-Vent are like mini Burgundies but without the price tag. These wines are some of the best-value French red wines available.
If you want to revisit the 1980s, but with MUCH better wines, I’ve picked out four great choices for you to try… Enjoy!
GARY’S 4 TO TRY
Doctor L Riesling (Germany) – This wine embodies the elegant and racy style of the steep, slate-soil vineyards in the Mosel valley. It is fruity and low in alcohol with a refreshingly crisp taste that cools the palate. Drink on its own or with lightly spiced Asian dishes. Available from Asda for £7.
Château Pigoudet ‘La Chapelle’ Rosé 2020 Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence AC – Super-light and the colour of bright pink petals, the nose boasts red apples and ripe cherries and flower petals. Fresh and citrussy, this aromatic rosé lingers on a beautiful mineral finish. Enjoy with Salade Niçoise. Available from Majestic for £12.99
Darling Cellars Old Bush Vine Chenin Blanc, Darling, South Africa, 2019 – This dry Chenin Blanc displays a medium light straw hue in the glass. It’s made in a ripe style; elegant, serious and bold. Tropical flavours of ripe yellow peaches, white pear, a touch of vanilla blossoms, toast, butterscotch, orange skin and pineapple. Great with rich fish or cream-based chicken dishes. Available from Frazier’s wines for £16.99.
Chateau Des Jacques, Moulin-a-Vent AC – A very different style of Beaujolais. It is barrel aged to create a wine with rich and succulent red Gamay fruit as well as having the concentration and structure to develop in bottle. Enjoy with grilled and roasted meats. Available from Sainsbury’s for £16.