The chairman of the 2005 English & Welsh Wine Awards has criticised restrictive EU regulations on alcohol levels in table wine.

The regulations make it compulsory for all chaptalised wines with alcohol levels above 11.5% for white, and 12% for red, to go through the Quality Wine Scheme. If a wine misses Quality status, it cannot then be sold as a table wine.

‘These restrictions are ridiculous,’ said Julian Brind MW, at the presentation ceremony at the Houses of Parliament last Friday. ‘They mean that many wines end up insipid and light; producers should be able to push the alcohol if they need to, in order to achieve the right balance.’

Owen Elias, winemaker for English Wines Group and winner of the McAlpine Winemaker of the Year Trophy, disagreed.

‘English wines don’t need to be higher in alcohol – indeed, they don’t have the structure to carry it. The whole point of difference of English whites over many other white wines on the shelves today is that they are light and aromatic.’

‘More of a problem,’ he continued, ‘is the severity with which the regulations are applied. If a wine is 0.1% higher in alcohol than it should be, it’s out.’

Summing up the opinions of the judging panel, which tasted 201 entries (up from 160 last year), chairman Julian Brind said that while dry whites produced in England and Wales are improving, none of the entries in this category were outstanding, and most lacked character. The standard of the oaked and non-dry whites he described as ‘variable’.

The stand–out categories among the red wine entries were Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. But unsurprisingly, it was sparkling wine which swept the board, praised by Brind as ‘the highlight’ and ‘world-class’. Sussex-based sparkling producer Nyetimber won five of the 12 trophies awarded, four of them for its Classic Cuvée 1999.

Written by Amy Wislocki