The British Are Coming
Any day now, wines from England (yes, England) may turn up in your local wine shop
Connoisseurs have long hailed England for its dry gins and heady ales, but British wines have been another story. Still, if you're in Rhode Island any time soon, feel free to give them a shot. Four new white wines from Kent are now selling in the nation's smallest state, with the importer, English Wine Imports, hoping to expand into (appropriately enough) New England and beyond.
As some of the very first English wines to give it a go in the United States, Chiddingstone's Seyval Kerner and Chapel Downs' Bacchus, Downland Oak and Heron Valley (the last two are blends) will surely encounter an uphill battle proving themselves to be more than a novelty. But then again, maybe not. After all, there is wine in England—about 400 wineries all counted—with most of them located in the Kent countryside south and east of London. Unbe- knownst to most people with an interest in wine, the fruit of the vine is the basis of a legitimate industry in Kent, with proprietors tending to their vineyards just like they do in France or Germany. But in chilly England, the only grapes that can be made into commercially palatable wines are variations of Seyval, Müller-Thurgau and other less-than-noble varieties like Bacchus. At the end of the day, these grapes of mixed ancestry cannot compete with Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Grigio.
One thing they have going for them is that they are 100 percent British, which is what Steve Celico, a partner in the group that imports and distributes the wines, is banking on. "We know these are simplistic whites," he says. (And they are.) "But they are dry, clean, well-made wines. We believe there's a market for them in the U.S. Chapel Down is a good winery that already makes a proprietary blend for British Airways."
Exactly where the wines might sell after Rhode Islanders get their fill of $12-$14 blends of Schoenburger and Reichensteiner (Heron Valley) remains to be seen, but Celico is hopeful that with a push from the British government, the rudimentary packaging can be improved, thus raising the image of the wines. "We are working with the Kent Business Link, a local/state development agency, to try to get them to match money put into label development. We're also talking to Food From Britain about support. Admittedly, now the labels aren't the best."
And the wines? We say fine with Chinese food and seafood paella, but curb your expectations. Absolutely fabulous, they're not.
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