Wines and whiskies
Sales down, prices up – but 2018 still had its bright moments, writes David Williams
David Williams picks his favourite bottles
Alot of the news about wine in the UK this year was about what we’re not drinking. Sales are on the slide, inching downwards by around 2% in the past year, and with the largest specialist wine retailer, Majestic, reporting a big drop in pre-tax profits in November.
Not even the big success story of the past decade could ride to the rescue: imports of prosecco fell by 7% this year – cue headlines about the end of prosecco-mania – while champagne endured an even worse slump.
What’s behind it? Well, teetotalism and moderation are on the rise, both full-time, and thanks to initiatives such as Dry January and Go Sober For October, temporary. This trend has contributed to the success of one of the wine types that we are definitely drinking more of: low- and no-alcohol wines were everywhere this year, although for me, sadly, they were no more palatable than they ever have been.
The main cause of wine’s struggles is Brexit. The fall in the pound has continued to push up prices of wines from all over the world – compounded by yet another above-inflation duty rise in the October budget. You’d struggle to find anyone in the trade who believes this situation will improve. Many of them started stockpiling wine in the summer, in preparation for no deal or another currency shock.
Which means that 2018 was the year when £10 replaced £8 as the point at which you can reasonably expect, rather than hope, to find interesting wine. That’s not to say there aren’t still decent bottles in the £5 to £10 range, but you have to cuddle up to a lot more frogs to find those increasingly elusive princes.
One such £5.99 princeling was an addition to the Aldi range over the summer (it’s since sold out), a wine that was also noteworthy for signalling a move to the mainstream for a pair of trends: Aldi Orange Natural Wine, from Romania, was a creditable budget example of natural and orange wine, both of which categories continue to produce intriguing wines.
I’ve also tasted excellent wines from Canada and China, Crete and Croatia, and been delighted anew by sparkling wine from Kent, Trentino and Limoux. In a normal year, any of these would be making the wine news. For now, British wine drinkers may find consolation in the idea that, even as our tipple gets more expensive, the good stuff itself has never been more diverse.