Quality of English Albariño stuns the Spanish

England’s first attempt at Albarino wine gets a stamp of approval in the country best known for growing the popular grape.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association took an English Albarino to Madrid to test Spanish wine experts in a blind tasting – the outcome surprised everyone.           

Chapel Down Winery in Kent are the only UK vineyard to have been brave enough to make a wine from 100% Albariño  – a grape associated with Galicia in northwest Spain.

Its 2014 vintage comes from England’s first Albariño vineyard in Sandhurst planted on clay. Thanks to an early spring that year, this small corner of Kent experienced similar weather to the Galician climate giving the Albariño grapes a longer time to ripen.

The fruit was pressed and 30% of it was fermented and matured in old French oak barrels while the remainder fermented in stainless steel vats. This was followed by 9 months maturing on the lees.

The result of this process is a wine that stunned the Spanish for its ‘full’, ‘rich’ and ‘artisanal’ qualities.

The two wines going up against each other were Chapel Down Albariño 2014 limited edition, which retails at £25 alongside a bottle of Paz de San Mauro 2016, Rias Baixas, Albariño from Galicia which sells in Spain for €13.40.

The top team of wine connoisseurs taking part in the blind tasting included Pau Roca, Secretary General at Federación Española del Vino (FEV),

James Blick founder of Spanish food and wine tour firm Devour Tours, Juan Manuel Bellver, Director of Lavinia specialist wine shop and restaurant and WSTA Chief Executive Miles Beale.

Pau was sceptical at first that the English could produce a decent Albariño and was confident it would be clear which one was the Spanish and which one the English.

Both Pau and Miles incorrectly identified the origins of the wines. Juan identified that the Spanish Albariño saying it was clearly a wine made on a larger scale and James also correctly assessed which wine came from which country – but admitted he was stunned that one of them came from the UK.

All the tasters came away impressed by the quality of the English wine.

Pau said:

“I am astounded. I really thought the English wine was the Spanish and the Spanish was the English. I was sceptical when I was asked to taste and English Albariño and would not have thought that the grape would adapt well to English climate but it is a very good wine. I liked both wines but the English one was rounded and full of flavour.”

James Blick who runs the Spanish food and wine tour company Devour Tours, said:

“The English Albariño took us all a little by surprise. It was tight, racy and well-balanced. A very good wine that at once reminded you of a white from Rías Baixas and yet clearly had its own thing going on. This rather informal Judgement of Madrid reconfirmed that the English have the know-how, determination and - most importantly - terroir, to make great wine.

Juan Manuel Bellver, Director of one of Spain’s leading specialist wine shops and restaurant Lavinia, said:

“The English Albariño is a very interesting wine. It is full on the nose and rich in the mouth. I am impressed with the artisanal style of the wine. The winemaker has taken time to create something which tastes good, he knows what he is doing.”

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

“Unlike my fellow tasters I had the advantage of knowing that in England we are very capable of making excellent quality wine, but even I didn’t expect it to taste better than an Albarino from Spain. In my opinion it packed more of a punch, which was why I thought the Spanish one was the English. I was delighted that my fellow tasters were equally impressed by the Chapel Down Albarino. It is yet another example of how English wine makers are proving their products can compete with top quality wines across the globe.”

Josh Donaghay-Spire, Chapel Down Head Winemaker, said:

To have had the opportunity to make England’s first Albariño was incredibly exciting, for it to then receive such a positive reception in its spiritual home is truly humbling and shows the potential of the great terroir we have here in Kent.”

English sparkling wine has been gaining international recognition over the past few years, leading to a trophy cabinet bursting with awards and attracting Champagne houses, such as Taittinger and Pommery, to invest in English vineyards.

There are over 500 Vineyards in England and Wales and around 150 wineries producing 5m bottles of wine a year.

In the last ten years the area of vines planted in the UK has more than doubled and is set to grow by a further 50% by 2020.

The UK is a valuable market for Spanish wine and is the second largest market by value and 4th largest by volume. Britain accounts for about 12% of the Spanish wine export market and 6% by volume.

This summer UK consumers drank over 23 million bottles of Spanish wine up 4% on last year, worth £165 million.  

British gin sparkles at the Ambassador’s home in Madrid

Spain takes the crown as the biggest quaffers of British gin on the continent spending a record breaking £94 million last year.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association visited Madrid this week to share some of the gin gems from all corners of the British Isles.

In a joint event with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the WSTA invited Spanish importers and gin enthusiasts to the British Ambassador’s residence to sample some of the latest creations crafted by the UK’s top distillers.

From seaweed infused gin made in the Shetland Isles to Lavender gin made in Yorkshire, down to the City of London where gin comes in bottles designed to look like St Paul’s Cathedral and ending up on the south coast in Sussex for gin made from grape skins – British gin makers put on a sparkling showcase.

British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley CMG, generously opened up his home to host the gin fest in support the British distillers’ and their ambitious plans to expand their export markets.

In 2016 Britain exported the equivalent of 29 million bottles of gin to Spain worth £94milllion.This was a 10% value increase on 2012. The volume of British gin exported to Spain has increased by 25% since 2012.

Gin has proved to be a firm favourite with the Spanish and makes up a third of all UK spirit products exported to Spain.

Whilst total UK spirit exports have decreased over the last 5 years, gin is bucking the trend and total British gin exports have increased 32% by value to £475m, a fifth of that value comes from Spain.

Simon Manley said: 

“I was delighted to host such an innovative group of distilleries, covering the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I hope we will soon see their excellent gins in the supermarkets, bars and restaurants of Spain.”

Trade Association colleagues across the Channel have vowed to keep the “special relationship” with the UK wine and spirit industries and join the fight for a free trade agreement. 

Partnering with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), spiritsEUROPE and the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins, the WSTA suggested that it was up to industry to nail down key issues and together the associations have signed up to a joint Brexit position paper.

Despite the successes of the British gin industry, British government continues to punish its entrepreneurial gin makers with excessively high duty rates. In the UK, 76% of the money paid for an average priced bottle of spirits goes straight to the Treasury. The UK’s spirit duty rate is 4.3 times higher than Spain’s, for example.

This is not just punishing on the public’s purse, but it is holding back some British spirit makers, making it harder to invest in their business and take advantage of new opportunities overseas.

In the last two years we have seen 89 new distilleries opening in the UK bringing the total up to 273, according HMRC records.

A large majority of these are SME’s who are pushing the boundaries through innovation to secure a place in this competitive market. The hugely unfair tax burdens facing these start-ups mean that cash flow is severely restricts small businesses.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:

“British gin is the fastest growing spirits category in the UK. The UK exports more gin to Spain than to anywhere else in Europe. It is beneficial for both governments to secure tariff free trade deals for their wines and spirits.

“The WSTA has been working closely with our European trade partners on what is a shared ambition for a frictionless Brexit.

“Closer to home, we are calling for the Chancellor Philip Hammond to support the British gin industry by freezing spirit duty at the Budget on 22nd November. Gin is a standout British success story, and its potential could be a tonic for UK exporting. It needs support from government though – freezing excuse duty and abolishing automatic annual rises would be a good start.” 

British Gin makers call for Chancellor to put spirit duty rise on ice

Gin makers have joined forces to call for the Chancellor to freeze spirit duty and head off a painful tax bill set to stifle the British gin boom.

21 distillers have so far teamed up with the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and written to Philip Hammond and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, raising serious concerns over a planned increase to spirits duty at the Budget in November.

Gin duties collected in the UK will go up around £25million on last year if Philip Hammond puts the boot into booze at the Budget and raises duty again for the second time this year.

In March the Chancellor increased spirit duty by inflation at 3.9% which added 30p to an average priced bottle of spirits. Yet despite the rise, the Chancellor now plans another increase to spirit duty again, just 8 months after the last one, by 3.4% adding another 26p to bottle.

The sneaky inflationary increases are part of a government policy planned to last for the duration of this Parliament, which means the Government is set to claw in £2billion from British gin over the next five years.

Entrepreneurial spirit makers are warning that the tax burden will stifle the growth of innovative, creative start-ups who have helped drive the gin renaissance and allowed British gin to break records both home and abroad.

The gin distillers’ plea for a freeze comes a week after frustrated English wine producers signed a joint letter to Hammond calling for him to scrap planned wine duty hikes and support the home grown wine industry.

Matthew Gammell, Co-founder of Pickering’s Gin in Edinburgh, said:

“In 2016 Summerhall Distillery paid 31% of its annual turnover in duty alone. Our bottles retail at £29.95 which means that 45% of the money spent on a bottle of Pickering’s gin goes on duty and VAT.

"These hugely unfair tax burdens mean that cash flow is severely restricted when a business like ours is trying to grow. The current proposed increase in duty of 3.4% would mean an increase in duty of £24,500 which for us is the equivalent of another employee. We would like to continue to grow and help boost the British economy but it is becoming increasingly tough to remain competitive in the marketplace.”

The small distillery has big ambitions and have launched projects including gin bauble Christmas decorations and a range of gins made for Cunard, but say they need Government support to fulfil their potential.

Alex Wolpert, founder of the East London Liquor Company, said:

“We absolutely support a freeze to spirit duty, particularly as this is an opportunistic second increase this year at a time the government knows only too well that alcohol sales increase considerably over the festive period; duty already accounts for approximately 40% of our bottle price. With the current economic landscape, including the cost of living increasing and wages at an all-time low, the consumer ends up being the one to foot the chancellor’s duty increase, perpetuating the problem of the public’s expendable income being further reduced.”

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:

“The gin renaissance has benefited from the craft cocktail craze which has been sweeping the country in the last couple of years. We have seen a rapid growth in the number of distilleries in the UK and a new wave of UK and spirit makers are turning their hand to gin production in a bid to keep up with the thirst for new gin experiences.

"However, government is stifling the gin boom by adding to its already high tax bill this year. British gin is a global phenomenon which is why we are asking the Chancellor why he is penalising what Britain does best? By freezing spirit duty he would be allowing industry to invest, create jobs and grow.”

2016 was dubbed the year of gin by the WSTA after sales in the UK broke the £1billion barrier.

British gin is now worth £1.2billion in sales to shops, pubs, bars and restaurants with over 45 million bottles sold last year, an increase of 36% since 2012.

In the last five years, the number of distilleries in the UK has more than doubled to 273, with 40 opening in 2016 alone. The most notable increase was in England with 84 opening in the last five years.

The UK is the biggest gin exporter in the world. British gin exports are now worth more to the UK than beef with exports, valued at £475million last year.

The WSTA has calculated that if the government goes ahead with its punitive plans for duty hikes, lasting the duration of this Parliament, then tax on a bottle of gin will go up by over a pound from £8.05 in 2017 to a predicted £9.13 by 2021.*

Following the cut in spirits duty in the 2015 budget, spirits duty income increased on the previous year by £124m (+4.1%) from April 2015 to March 2016 inclusive.

Supreme Court backs minimum unit pricing in Scotland

The UK Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) against minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

This means it has rejected the remaining ground of challenge from the SWA which argued that MUP restricts the free movement of goods and is disproportionate under EU law.

Seven Supreme Court judges ruled the measure was “appropriately targeted, lawful and a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”

The judgment shows that the Supreme Court rejected the claim that less restrictive measures (duty, VAT) could be used to achieve the same outcome.

After the Supreme Court verdict Scotland will be the first country in the world to establish a 50p-per-unit minimum on any alcohol sold in an attempt tackle alcohol misuse.

The ruling said the aim of MUP is “to strike at alcohol misuse and over consumption…in the health and social problems suffered by those in poverty.”

It said: “minimum pricing targets cheap alcohol and the groups most affected in a way that an increase in excise or VAT does not”, claiming it is “easier to understand and simpler to enforce.”

The judges noted that MUP will be experimental. The provisional nature of MUP - as indicated by the Sunset Clause – and the requirement to review the effectiveness of MUP against the aims of the legislation were a significant factor in the Court’s judgment. 

Miles Beale Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

“We accept the UK Supreme Court’s ruling on Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland.

The WSTA remains committed to working with the Scottish Government – and all UK governments – on policies that have already proved effective, like partnership solutions that are locally-targeted, promote alcohol education and better enforce existing regulations.

We look to the Scottish Government to provide clarity to businesses on how Minimum Unit Pricing will be implemented and to give them sufficient time to do so as efficiently as possible. Equally, MUP’s impact on businesses and on all consumers must be rigorously and objectively monitored and evaluated over time.”

English vineyards call on Hammond to freeze wine duty

Philip Hammond is being urged to scrap planned tax rises to support the home grown English and Welsh wine industry.

Frustrated English wine producers have put their concerns over Government’s lack of support for the industry in a letter to the Chancellor and Environment Secretary Michael Gove calling for a freeze on wine duty.

In the letter signed by 12 of the WSTA English wine members says the significant tax burden is restricting growth and is damaging to rural communities.

Britain’s biggest wine producers want to understand why the Government insists on taxing what we do best most heavily.

Sam Linter Managing Director and Head Winemaker at Bolney Wine Estate:
“We find it difficult understand why the Chancellor insists on continuing to tax so heavily this great British product. We can now proudly say that our wines are competing with some of the best all over the world, and it is disappointing that we are being taxed so heavily at home. We are fully behind the WSTA’s call for the chancellor to freeze wine duty and help the English wine industry continue to grow.”

Mark Driver, founder and owner of Rathfinny Wine Estate with his wife Sarah, said:

“When two thirds of wine produced in England is sparkling wine and it’s widely perceived as some of the best sparkling wine in the world, it seems illogical that the duty on sparkling wine is 28% higher than still wine. In fact it’s the most harshly treated of all alcohol categories. We support the WSTA’s call to freeze wine duty and we’d like to see the government support our growing domestic sparkling wine industry by harmonising the rate of duty between still and sparkling wine.”

In March the Chancellor increased wine duty by 3.9% which added 8p to a bottle of still wine and 10p to sparkling. Yet despite the rise, the Chancellor now plans to increase wine duty again, just 8 months after the last one, by 3.4% in the November Budget adding another 7p to still and 9p on sparkling.

The rapid spread of English vineyards making top quality wine has led experts to comment that the UK is where New Zealand was 30 years ago in the comparative size and the success of its wine industry.

To have a chance of emulating New Zealand’s successes English and Welsh wine industry needs its governments backing.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

“English wine is a great British success story and we are now producing top quality wines for the home market as well as to export. The UK has the potential to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand’s trail blazing wine success story, yet the industry is being held back by the staggering amount of duty it has to pay. By adding to its already high tax bill this year, the Chancellor will hurt the industry's ability to grow, invest export and create jobs.

We therefore urge the Chancellor to support this home grown industry and freeze duty in the November budget.”

Following the freeze in 2015, wine duty income increased by £136m, up 3.6%, on the previous year.

The current Chancellor’s harsh duty policy is a stark contrast to how other countries treat their vineyards and wine makers.

Around two thirds of the wine made in England and Wales is sparkling wine which attracts the most duty, at £2.77 on a bottle of fizz. UK consumers pay £2.16 for a bottle of still wine.

In New Zealand they pay less than half the duty at £1.18per bottle of still or sparkling wine.

In France, where the wine industry is heavily supported, consumers pay the equivalent of just 7p a bottle on duty for sparkling and 3p for still.

In the EU only Ireland, with no domestic wine industry, has a higher rate of excise duty on sparkling wine.

The UK alcohol industry is one of the most heavily taxed in Europe, with British drinkers paying an extraordinary 68% of all wine duties collected by all 28 EU member states. This is by far the most of any member state despite accounting for only 11 per cent of the total EU population.

English sparkling wine has been gaining international recognition over the past few years, leading to a trophy cabinet bursting with awards and attracting Champagne houses, such as Taittinger and Pommery, to invest in English vineyards.

There are over 500 Vineyards in England and Wales and around 150 wineries producing 5m bottles of wine a year.

An English wine producer selling 250,000 Bottles of sparkling wine in the UK this year will face a duty bill of close to £692,500. The rise in March added £26,000 to this bill and the Government’s planned rise will add a further £24,000 in November. This is money that could have gone in to investing in new land, vines, machinery, growing its workforce or helping it export.


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