From Jacob’s Creek to the booming English wine market, our columnist charts the changes of our favourite tipple. Learn about rosé, prosecco and other drinks.
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Frankly, neighbours thought we were potty at the time,’ says Bob Lindo, recalling his first months on the Cornish sheep farm that he and his wife Annie turned into a vineyard. The year was 1989 – the same one in which the first issues of BBC Good Food ran off the press. It’s fair to say that back then, English wine wasn’t so much considered a joke as it was an oxymoron – if it was considered at all.
‘We had no money to lose and did all the work ourselves,’ says Lindo. ‘Annie and I dug 8,000 holes, hoed for three years (while looking after 300 ewes) and, magically, the first wine [we produced] won a medal.’ Three decades on and English wine is booming, attracting serious plaudits and city money as well as – perhaps the ultimate accolade – investment from that other sparkling wine region across the Channel, Champagne.
Thirty years is a long time in drink. In the late eighties, Jacob’s Creek was a relatively new import and Australian wine was an adventurous drinking choice. Supermarket shelves were filled with Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon. Rosé was more often sweet and dark than pale and dry, a drink to make a serious wine lover shudder in disdain. Boxed wine was for cheapskates. And, on the third Thursday of every November, Britain celebrated the race to bring the first newly bottled beaujolais nouveau into the country by drinking this thin, astringent red wine and pretending to enjoy it.
Now? Jacob’s Creek is still here and it’s very good (especially the riesling and chardonnay). For adventurous wine regions, you should look to Tenerife, China or Slovenia. Supermarket shelves are piled with sauvignon blanc and prosecco. Pale rosé is respectable – in fact, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH has just bought a domaine in Provence that specialises in it. Boxed wine is now chic, and beaujolais is drunk by hipsters who prefer a cru, such as Fleurie or Morgon (ideally from a producer that works ‘naturally’ using wild yeast and minimal sulphur).
Of course, it’s not just wine that’s changed. A bottle of Sol with a wedge of lime lodged in the neck has become a can of craft beer, such as a Brewdog Punk IPA. An eighties G&T involved Gordon’s and Schweppes – now, take your pick of gin, because I can’t keep up. There are now more distilleries in England than in Scotland (166 versus 160), while tonic comes in a multitude of flavours and brands.
And then there’s the boozy influence on actual fashion. On my school bus in 1989, girls used to fasten Grolsch caps to their shoes in homage to Bros. Today’s alcohol-related accessories are more likely to be what the writer Martin Amis called ‘lettersweaters’ bearing slogans such as ‘Keep Calm and 'Drink Gin’ or ‘This Girl Needs Prosecco’. I’m curious to know what the next 30 years will bring – especially for English wine, for which I think the journey has only just started.
This month I'm drinking...
Sandeman white port – buy from Slurp (£12.95)
Yes, port can be white. Poured over ice, topped up with tonic and served with lemon slices, it makes an excellent Indian summer drink. It pairs well with salted almonds.
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Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her most recent book is the The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta).
All prices correct as of August 2019.