I don’t know how I happened across a publication with this title, but I did. It is a thick volume by James Warre (of Port fame) of over 500 pages published originally in the early 19th century. It is a comprehensive review of the drinking habits of the UK, submitted to parliament in 1823 to prove that government revenues would increase if wine duty rates were reduced. This was an attempt to influence parliament to reduce rates specifically on wines, port and sherry and to increase them on spirits. There was even a strong nod towards the improved health of the nation were wine sales to be increased. Even back in the day there was a health lobby worth listening to.
As we approach the point where Britain leaves Europe it is interesting to read about the historic bickering between the UK and France that has been going on for centuries. Back in 1678 parliament decided to ban all imports of wine from France in a trade war escalation. This ban extended for 7 years and saw imports of French wine go from 16000 pipes (around 11 million bottles) a year to effectively zero. The beneficiary of this ban was Portuguese wine which went from a low base to an annual figure of exactly the same as what the French lost in market share. Bear in mind the population of the UK was about 5 million at the time. This meant as a nation we were only drinking a couple of bottles of wine each a year. A pretty paltry rate of consumption compared to our modern day rate of about 25 bottles of wine each per year.
The French ban not only affected Portuguese wine consumption. Wine merchants started to look further away to get their supplies. As we moved into the start of the 19th Century they were trying to get wine from places like Italy. Mr Lancaster, a venerated wine merchant & one of the expert witnesses in James Warre’s 1823 book, writes “I have seen none of the Adriatic wines in the market for thirty – three years, nor of those from Greece. Very little comes from Italy. It is given that many of these wines are not suitable for use in this country — that something in the air of the Thames is fatal to them. They will go round Cape Horn, or the Cape of Good Hope, and get consumed in Java, but yet not stand coming up the Thames.”
He obviously wasn’t a fan of Croatian, Greek or Italian wines then!
We like to think that our present moment in time is unique. That our opinions are informed and that our relationship with wine and our European brethren is somehow special in our timeframe. What we drink has been formulating for a while though. I always thought that our move towards white wine consumption was a new trend, not so, again I quote Mr Lancaster in 1823, “white consumption had increased, owing to the habits of the present generation. More wine is now drunk at table (with meals) and less afterwards. Red wine is drunk afterwards. White wine is more generally introduced among the middle classes. When the cork of a bottle of white wine is drawn, a portion is drunk, and it remains till next day without much injury to its quality. Red wine spoils if not drunk at once. People do not now sit down and drink so much at once as they used to do.”
I’m not sure what sort of red wine he was drinking, but my red wine is fine to drink for days once I’ve pulled the cork out! Not that it does actually last for days in my house.
I very much hope that the UK and Europe get over their centuries old rivalries and that some sort of compromise is achieved when it comes to trade. No good ever came of falling out. I certainly don’t want another French wine ban. Although, to be fair, I do like a wee spot of Portuguese vino too. Cheers!