Why doesn’t English wine get the royal stamp of approval?

King Charles III’s first state banquet shone a light on British produce but largely snubbed English wine. David Kermode says the UK’s vinous output is more than worthy of a royal reception – and not just the sparkling stuff

Words by David Kermode

english wine

Whether you’re persuaded of the merits of our monarchy, it is difficult to dispute the power of its patronage, so it was disappointing to read the widely reported wine list for King Charles III’s first state banquet at Buckingham Palace last week.

Though the lavish event, in honour of South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, blasted off with an English sparklerRidgeview’s classy Blanc de Blancs 2016 – that was where the support for Britain’s burgeoning wine scene seemingly stopped.

Much has been made of the King’s commitment to sustainability and his admirable demand to keep it local when it comes to provenance. Hence, guests enjoyed a menu of grilled brill and stuffed Windsor pheasant, accompanied by seasonal, locally sourced vegetables, including carrots, squash and kale (rather than air-freighted avocado, asparagus or mange tout), with an apple-inspired pudding. So far, so British…

Ridgeview’s Blanc de Blancs 2016 was the only English wine present at King Charles III’s first state banquet
(photo: Ridgeview)

Glancing at the wine list, however, you would think that this country didn’t produce still wine. It had a French bias that would frankly embarrass General De Gaulle: Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle, Château Feytit-Clinet Pomerol 2000 and Château Rieussec Grand Cru Classé Sauternes 2007. These are, of course, magnificent wines – but they also represent a missed opportunity.

The first official banquet for a visiting head of state since President Trump graced us with his presence in 2019 was bound to be high profile, with the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Wessexes also in attendance. We hear a lot about the ‘soft power’ of our Royal Family, so just imagine the attention that English still wines might have been afforded at this gilded, headline-grabbing event?

I can easily think of still English wines worthy of a bash at Buckingham Palace

Britain’s wine industry is a success story to be celebrated. The area under vine has more than doubled in a decade, there are now vineyards in most of England’s counties and Wine GB has a solid sustainability programme fit for a King who has been ahead of the curve on the climate crisis. I still hear the odd mutter, usually from someone wearing pink trousers, that our still wines lag well behind the sparklers in terms of quality. Once upon a time, I might have agreed, but not anymore. I can easily think of wines worthy of a bash at Buckingham Palace: think Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay, Gusbourne’s Cherry Garden rosé or Lyme Bay’s Pinot Noir, an IWSC trophy winner, this year considered one of the ‘best in show’.

gusbourne rose english wine
English rosé like Gusbourne’s Cherry Garden would have been a worthy contender at the table, says Kermode
(photo: Gusbourne)

Britain’s grape growers do not enjoy much, if any, government support. Costs are high, the tax regime punitive – so surely they deserve to be draped in royal ermine instead. Ridgeview was rightly recognised for its role as a sparkling pioneer, but the entire meal could have been paired to this country’s offerings, including pudding (though sweet wines are admittedly somewhat scarce).

Imagine if the roles were reversed, with President Ramaphosa doing the hosting? Failing to offer South African wines would, rightly, be considered a scandal.

It’s all the more ironic, when you consider that the new King and Queen Consort have some previous form supporting our wine industry: Camilla, whose father was a wine merchant, is an official patron of Wine GB; Cornwall’s Camel Valley vineyard has a Royal Warrant from Charles, when he was Prince of Wales – still the only such warrant for an English wine producer (though a few venerable importers, the likes of Justerini & Brooks, Corney & Barrow and Berry Bros enjoyed them from the late Queen) – and an excellent sparkling wine is produced from vines planted within Windsor Great Park.

camel valley vineyard english wine
Camel Valley vineyard in Bodmin, Cornwall has a Royal Warrant from the King, but was snubbed at the banquet in favour of French bottles
(photo: Camel Valley)

The Royal Family represent tradition, of course – as exemplified by the fact that the banquet menu is written in French – but they should also represent the best of modern Britain. A decade ago, it might have seemed eccentric to offer a locally-sourced wine list at a Buckingham Palace banquet. But our still wines have earned the right to be considered in the same class as our sparklers, so somebody needs to get a glass in front of the King.

What David has been drinking…

  • Roebuck Estates, Classic Cuvée, 2016 (£40 Selfridges), from a relative newcomer to England’s exciting sparkling wine scene, from vines in Petworth, West Sussex, a deliciously fresh, crisp russet-apple-driven wine, with ripe greengage, zesty citrus and an autolytic almond croissant note.
  • ‘Alesia’, Rhys Vineyards, Santa Cruz, 2018 (£43 Justerini & Brooks), from the mountains behind California’s Monterey Bay, the cooling influence of the Pacific and the light-touch vinification is evident in this delicately crunchy Pinot Noir, with its bright berry fruit, bitter orange amaro, and cool stone finish.
  • ‘Ameri’, Domaine Bousquet, Malbec, 2020, Gualtallary (£28, Vintage Roots), from a winery established by Jean Bousquet, who sold up in the South of France to tap Argentina’s potential, a top-notch altitude Malbec, with an elegant floral nose, followed by fresh, leafy blackcurrant and foraged blackberry; the pure fruit balanced by fresh mountain acidity, the tannins lithe and the finish long. It’s perfect for pairing with fillet steak.
David Kermode 2021
By David Kermode

David Kermode is a journalist and broadcaster, with two decades of experience across TV, radio and print media, and a lifelong love of wine and spirits. Don’t miss his weekly podcast, The Drinking Hour.