I’m back in Blighty for a few days. It’s been a chance to visit family and to catch up with old friends. It’s also an excuse to gloat over how lucky I am to be a wine drinker in Spain.
I’ll admit, the UK does have a pretty good selection of international wines. Go into an average bar in Spain, and you’ll likely have to choose between Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Albariño or Verdejo. And you’ll rarely get offered anything from outside Spain.
Plonk yourself down in a London pub and you will invariably be able to choose from something French, something Italian, something from Down Under, something from South America – and yes, even something from Spain. So I have to admit that it’s not a bad place to sample the world’s wines.
But the advantages pretty much stop there.
For a start, whilst the choice of countries is relatively broad, the styles of wines within them are limited. Reds are invariably full bodied and loaded with fruit (even if they are promoted as “medium and textured”). Think blackcurrant jam meets liquorice lolly sticks. And the whites are often too sweet and too flowery. Subtlety seems to be something that happens elsewhere.
But the worst are the prices. I had lunch in a bar on Whitehall yesterday and they wanted 30 quid for a mediocre bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir. 30 pounds! That’s silly. I know there’s the cost of shipping the wine halfway round the world and then duty slapped on top of that. But 30 pounds for something that was just drinkable at best is taking things too far.
And the problem is these prices often put wine out of reach of a lot of people. Latest figures for 2022 show that the percentage of 25 – 35 years olds drinking wine in the UK is falling, while consumption in the +55 category is on the up. Couple that trend with the increased duty on wine this year, and wine increasingly looks like a luxury item for those on good salaries, rather than something to be enjoyed by the masses. And that in turn gives wine an air of the elite. It feels like something exclusive – posh even.
That’s the real shame. Because wine is an agricultural product. It’s a peasant drink. My Spanish mother-in-law grew up in a rural house with an earth floor. Yet they grew their own grapes – along with wheat and other crops – and made their own wine. It wasn’t something for the upper classes. It was a drink for everyone. So they grew up knowing what wine was, how it was made, and even how to adapt the process to refine it to their tastes.
Speak to most Spaniards and they will be able to hold a decent conversation about wine and tell you where to go to drink a good one. And for us international residents who have chosen to call Spain home, we have a wealth of choice when it comes to buying it. Aside from the Riojas and the Verdejos you’ve got wonderful crisp Treixaduras, fruit-laden Bobals, clean, dry Palominos, fragrant and fresh Mencías – all at prices that make them accessible to just about everyone.
So, much though I have enjoyed my trip to the motherland, I can’t wait to get back to my beloved Spain where I can open up a bottle of delicious wine and raise a glass in appreciation of my good fortune at living in a country where great wine is for everyone.