Fifteen years ago the English wine industry was very much in its youth, commercially speaking, and back then the Co-op was one of the few retailers getting behind English wines – in those days there really wasn’t much interest and the quality was indifferent at best.
In the last few years English wines have been hitting the headlines for all the right reasons with some of the sparkling examples taking on champagnes in tasting competitions – and winning. English fizz has really carved out an enviable reputation for itself of late and this should really come as little surprise, given that most producers are using the same grape varieties and methods as champagne.
The most recent development is that the quality of English still wines has also seen a marked improvement and demand for them is growing across the restaurant trade and the customer base as a whole.
Same soil, same quality
A common thread between the wines of Champagne and the sparkling wines of England is the soil upon which they are grown. In the Champagne region you’ll find chalky soil which is known as Kimmeridgian – so named after the town ‘Kimmeridge’ on England’s Dorset coast. So whether it’s the onset of global warming, better wine-making methods, more attention being given to them – or a combination of all three – the quality we’re able to now source is tremendous.
Right time, right place
At the Co-op we’re proud of our reputation for good value, quality wines. English wines – and their sparkling wine in particular – fit this bill, rivalling champagne for quality while matching or beating them on price.
As a retailer we’re focusing more on local products and last year the time was right for us to renew our focus on English wine. Compared with fifteen years ago there were more options for us to explore in terms of finding a producer able to produce on the scale we needed and with the quality we demanded.
Before Christmas we introduced two new wines to a selection of our stores in the UK.
Balfour 1503 Foxwood Cuvee NV (Denbies) – At £16.99 this is the same price as our own-label champagne. Now I’m biased but I prefer this! It’s a different style, very fruity, much lighter. Made using the same grape varieties and same methods as champagne it’s more accessible in style than many champagnes. Fish and chips is a fashionable partner for champagne so I’d recommend drinking it with that – what could be more English? It’s a very serious wine. It’s only in 100 or so stores at the moment, and it’s a case of just seeing how it goes. We’ve already had a tremendous reaction from the press and there are already plans for us to extend the distribution this year.
Co-op Irresistible Limestone Rise (Hush Heath) – At £7.99 this is a very competitive price. As the name suggests it’s a limey, citric style of wine. Very well balanced. We think it’s got a good life ahead and will age well. It’s in around 700 or 800 stores.
Best of British?
We’ve been very bullish on the labels about the fact that these wines are English. Too often when you see English wines on the shelves in the multiple grocers, their origin is almost hidden apologetically. English wine deserves to stand up for itself and be proud of its quality.
Customers like that variety and quirkiness. That’s what the Co-op wine team has been about for years – we’ve sold Mexican wine, Moroccan wine, Cypriot wine – you name it.
What’s worrying is that there is an entry-level product appearing on the shelves of British supermarkets which is made from grape juice concentrate, tends to sell below £3 and is too often of highly questionable quality. Legally it is sold as “British-made wine” although there is little about it that is British – the grapes were grown elsewhere. How can a customer be expected to know the difference between something like this and a premium-quality English wine?
We clearly have some work to do in helping our customers understand the nuances of English wine but I’m convinced that these wines are here to stay and it’s heartening to see the positive reception which they’re receiving from the wine press and customers alike.
Co-op Wine Buyer
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