DOES the New Year bring promise for the world of wine in Britain? I fear not. There appears to be a spirit of neo-temperance abroad. It is not surprising that there is concern about the drinking habits of the young, but the Government seems to think that the way to deal with this is by penal taxation. The fact that this has been shown not to work in Scandinavia seems to be irrelevant.
I am intrigued, however, by the Scottish decision to ban the price promotion of alcoholic drinks. This makes sense. It is apparent that many breweries rely on supermarkets to use their products as loss-leaders. As far as wines are concerned, many of the promotions are spurious. As duties and taxes already form a large proportion of the cost of a bottle of wine in this country, the only way in which a BOGOF (buy one, get one free) promotion can be financed is by artificially inflating the original price. Thus, a £4 bottle of wine is sold for £8 — and an extra bottle is given away. It appears that almost two-thirds of the sale of wines in supermarkets is now “on promotion”. Consumers cannot resist an apparent bargain.
What are my other wine wishes for the New Year? I am hoping that the fashion of Pinot Grigio as a varietal wine will decline. Why? Because most of what is offered under that name is insipid plonk, which reflects badly on the noble origin of the grape. During the past year, I have tasted great wines made from this variety from Alsace, New Zealand, and Slovenia, under a variety of names — but they stood out in a sea of mediocrity.
If we abandon Pinot Grigio, what should replace it? I suggest the Viognier. This variety was grown, until recently, in only a small part of the northern Rhône vineyards: now, everyone seems to be getting in on the act. I would particularly recommend the Finca las Moras from San Juan in Argentina (Co-op, £4.79). If you want a Fairtrade wine there is the Equality Chilean Chardonnay-Viognier 2007 blend, from Booths, Morrisons, and Threshers (£5.99).
I would like to see more consumption of Fairtrade wines. While many churches now serve Fairtrade teas and coffees, how many serve only Fairtrade wines? They are now available from a range of outlets. This might restrict us to wines from South Africa, Chile, and Argentina, but this is a simple way of helping the needy. We should encourage the buyers for the multiples to support the wine producers of, for example, Bolivia and Peru — but we must buy the wines if they become available.
What country is going to come through in 2008? I have a feeling it might be Spain, where the big investments made in its wine industry, with support from the European Union, are beginning to bear fruit. Look out for wines from regions such as Calatayud, Cariñena, Campo de Borja, and Jumilla. If you like full-bodied red wines, there are great bargains to be had. Two are Comado Tempranillo 2006, Campo de Borja (Majestic, £3.59), and Gran Tempranillo 2006, Cariñena (Sainsbury’s, £2.99).
May 2008 be a good wine year for you.