Harry Christie is head of wine at Bel & the Dragon Group
As 2018 draws to a dark and damp close, it’s an attractive time to look ahead to the wine we’ll be drinking in 2019. For starters, there are many who think it won’t be Italian sparkling wine. Have we reached ‘Peak Prosecco’?
The figures would suggest so. Sales in 2017 rose by their lowest amount this decade and eager consumers are now exploring other forms of fizz, in particular Cremant – French sparkling wine made using the same traditional method and style as Champagne, but at a fraction of the price tag and without the levels of sugar that Prosecco often carries. Look for Cremant from Burgundy (usually made from Chardonnay) and the Loire Valley (Chenin Blanc) as a great starter. Franciacorta, also made in the same way but from northern Italy, is a similarly intriguing alternative to Prosecco.
Staying on the subject of exploration, 2019 could be the year for lesser-known areas to enjoy their time in the sun, especially Eastern Europe, Greece and southern Italy. These regions have centuries of winemaking pedigree, often use fascinating local varieties and come with an attractive price point that makes trying something new a low-risk affair.
Hungary, for example, is better known for producing world-class sweet wines in the Tokaj region, but its dry whites from indigenous varieties such as Furmint are also superb. Look also for all styles from Puglia, Campania and Sicily in the south of Italy, and even Romanian Pinot Noir.
A little closer to home, the first release of 2018’s English still wines will be well worth keeping an eye out for. Often we’ve struggled in the UK for sufficient ripeness to make premium-quality still wines, instead focusing on top-notch fizz.
But thanks to that scorcher of a summer, which brought nigh-on perfect growing conditions, we should see both quality and quantity of wine surpassing all previous levels – exciting times for such a young industry. Crisp, citrus-led Bacchus and similar German hybrid varieties have flourished here for a number of years now, but with this year’s increased temperature levels, it could be that richer, fuller bodied wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc come to the fore.
One trend that looks set to continue is ‘drink better, drink less’ – consuming less by volume, but instead spending on more premium or exciting options. Thanks to the likes of the Enomatic machine and Coravin device, bars and restaurants now have a number of tools to hand to enable them to open up more premium options by the glass without the commitment of opening the whole bottle.
If you’re only having one glass of an evening, why not make it something a little special? The British winter is dark and cold enough as it is – don’t deny yourself wine as well.