WHILE UK alcohol consumption as a whole doubled in the half-century from 1950, wine drinking per head here went up a staggering (possibly literally) 17-fold.
More affluent post-war lifestyles and, specifically, foreign holidays fuelled this increase in demand, but residual conservatism put the early focus on white wines – albeit not those we recognise today.
A popular choice then, white Graves, is now largely much more sophisticated fare. Try, for example, 2011 Chateau La Garde (£21, The Wine Society) which adds sauvignon gris to the sauvignon blanc to create a smooth, toasty and vibrant wine with lemon and textured greengage flavours and a mouth watering grapefruit edge.
As the 1960s wore on, Germany took over the market for the sweetish, uncomplicated wine for which UK drinkers still yearned – but adopted brands to replace their own 16-character Gothic names. The best known of these – Blue Nun – is still produced today, but the quality of the wine has shot up (as has the proportion of riesling it includes) while the sugar level is down by a third. Consequently, 2011 Blue Nun Rivaner Riesling (£5.25, Morrisons) is a presentable, modern, off-dry wine with soft apple fruit and slightly prickly acidity to keep it fresh and is good for drinking on its own.
The other white to secure an early following here was Portugal’s vinho verde, with light, fresh and slightly pétillant flavours that perfectly suited the times. Nowadays, the style has been given a makeover to create delightful (and pretty dry) examples such as 2012 Torre de Azevedo Vinho Verde (£6.99, Sainsbury’s). This still leads with lemon, apple and soft orange fruit but has moderated the spritz element and added mellowing depth and texture.
Among the first red wines to secure a UK foothold was light, fruity and low tannin Beaujolais. Initially, the annual race to get the newly released bottles here heightened its profile, but the increasing cheesiness of that race and declining quality eventually killed off demand. There are reliable current versions though, so try 2011 Beaujolais (£7.99, M&S) with its juicy (but, admittedly, very light) cherry and raspberry fruit, chocolate finish and underlying acidity. Sainsbury’s has a slightly more substantial Beaujolais Villages for around the same money.
Another retro red to capture British imaginations was chianti – in those unmistakable wicker flasks that made table lamps substantially better in quality than the original content of the bottle. If you hanker for those days, M&S has recently introduced a tasty chianti in a traditional flask. 2012 Chianti Flask (£9.99) delivers all the usual cherry flavours but supports them with lively acidity and noticeably less tannin than is often the case.
Finally, as we came of age, we embraced the quirky delights of Oddbins – and, for example, the Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon it sold to the chattering classes. Apart from some exceptional luxury-end bottles, Eastern Europe’s wine trade largely went down with the Berlin Wall but some inexpensive versions survive. Sainsbury’s Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon (£4.79) is full and aromatic with cherry and plum fruit and the familiar vanilla finish but the tannins are pretty sturdy so may demand decanting or especially robust food.
This collection of wines would, I suggest, form a perfect base for a retro party. Black Forest gateau anyone?
• 2011 Maison Fort du Roi Chablis, France, 12.5 per cent
This has all the delicacy and sophistication you expect from good chablis. It starts with soft and gentle touches of orange, develops a layer of lime-centred freshness but finishes with Granny Smith apple crispness. £7.99 (down from £11.99 until 1 October), Tesco
• 2011 Luis Felipe Edwards Merlot Reserva Colchagua Valley, Chile, 13.5 per cent
Another award-winning star from the LPE stable, this time with ripe and concentrated cherry and blackcurrant fruit supplemented by a mocha and vanilla finish and some excellent acidic freshness.
£5.99 (down from £8.99 until 6 October), Morrisons