With Brexit talks coming to a head, the Great British wine drinking prowess may prove to be a key negotiating tool.
Winemakers are lobbying leaders across the Block to soften their stance in face of serious hurdles getting their plonk into our glasses. Currently over £2.2bn of wine is imported into the UK from the EU; double that of non-EU markets. But the possibility of a no-deal Brexit could shift the balance of what we see on our shelves. The question is, what will we end up drinking instead?
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties that are commonly found in the Bordeaux region are grown all over the world – not least in California, where their best examples regularly beat Bordeaux’s finest in blind tastings. That said, the lofty price tags of the USA’s finest will be unlikely to sway bargain-hunters searching for a Bordeaux equivalent should we leave the EU with no deal.
Also challenging is attempting to pin down an analogue for the everyday Claret we all know and love. The gravel and sandy soil on the left bank is perfect for Médoc’s Cabernet Sauvignon, ensuring perfect minerality and essential drainage, while also reflecting sunlight to help ripen the grapes.
I find some South African wines can present as quite jammy and peppery, but Journey’s End retains a restrained, balanced and diverse style, offering exceptional value. With Stellenbosch benefitting from a similar climate and terroir as that of Bordeaux, the Gabb family, who were wine merchants in England before setting up Journey’s End, are well placed to fill that entry level, Bordeaux-shaped hole in our lives.
Journey’s End Pastors Blend, £11.90
The terroir of Burgundy is even harder to replicate than that of Bordeaux. Characterised by the solid chalk basin that runs up to the Champagne region, our favourite Burgundian whites have a wonderful, crisp elegance.
This same chalk bed runs under the Channel and pops up in Dover, welcoming travellers to the UK with our famous white cliffs. While our annual climate is not as consistent, it is changing in our favour (so far as wine is concerned), with a string of remarkable vintages climaxing with the stunning crop of 2018 wines. Simpson’s Roman Road vineyard in the South Downs brings to mind an accomplished Meursault. While the prices aren’t exactly low, you can impress your guests (or households) by making them taste it blind against French counterparts.
Simpson’s Roman Road, £156 for six
Botrytis “noble rot” – a necrotrophic fungus that saps the water content from grapes – gives Sauternes its natural sweetness. Conditions need to be very specific for botrytis to work its magic, making it difficult to replicate outside of the EU.
That said, there are examples of Semillon/Sauvignon wines made using the same process. Dr Bortoli in Australia produces a very worthy contender called Noble One, which held up to some of Sauternes’ biggest names in a recent blind tasting at our Wine Club.
Dr Bortoli Noble One, Waitrose, £19.99
Once again, a worthy alternative lies on our doorstep. As the second largest export market for Champers, producers in the Champagne region is rightly concerned about the impact of a disorderly Brexit, with some even investing in vineyards here.
The last five years has seen an incredible uplift in quality; favourable vintages, maturity of vines and overall planting has allowed some of the established UK houses to build better stocks of reserve wines, which gives our homegrown wine better maturity.
Without the burden of strict rules faced by Champagne houses, UK producers are free to use any techniques they wish to improve the wines. Numerous examples have blown me away recently, but none more so than Gusbourne’s Blanc de Blancs. The fine mousse and crisp minerality remind me of some of the greats from across the Channel and I anticipate this will age beautifully in the cellar. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit talks, we will retain a ready supply so long as our Sussex vignerons can make it past the lorry queues in Kent.
• Dom Jacobs is Wine Director at The Fitzdares Club