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England Articles

Wines of Olympic Proportions

Published in Wine Spectator July 2012

What do you serve 4 million guests from around the globe? London has plenty of options, including English bubbly

If you invite a lot of people over for a party, you're going to need to serve drinks. And London has invited the world for 17 days beginning Friday, as the Summer 2012 Olympic Games officially begin. Which means the organizers have stocked plenty of wine.

The summer of 2012 has already been an iconic period in the United Kingdom's history, after the Diamond Jubilee in June marked the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II ascending to the throne. Now with the Olympic and Paralympic Games taking center stage, the festive mood of the city is bubbling over—even as residents grapple with added traffic and security.

It is estimated that the Games will give a £5.1 billion ($7.9 billion) boost to the economy. And an estimated $1.93 billion will be spent on wine alone in London this year, up 35 percent compared to 2011. The city will swell with over 4 million expected visitors during the Olympic period, and food and drinks vendors will pick up a great deal of this business both inside and outside the Olympic venues.

All this has particularly benefited the English wine industry. While English wine production is very small, sparkling wines in particular have risen in popularity over the years and have become this summer's celebratory drink of choice in London. English sparkling is produced mostly in southern parts of England and made in the traditional method of Champagne from the same grape varieties—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Wine producer Hush Heath Estate, located in Kent, had its sparkling rosé included in the 48 officially chosen wines to be poured by Prestige Ticketing, the official hospitality vendor at the Olympic venues. “This is a wonderful opportunity to put English sparkling wine on the world map and increase export opportunities,” said Rupert Taylor, sales manager at Hush Heath. “This unique set of events and the connection with our wines has without doubt increased consumer awareness of both the quality of English sparkling and the great grapes we can grow here in Southern England.”

The list of 48 official wines to be poured at the venues spotlight a variety of Olympic participants, including aged white Bordeaux, Savagnin from France's Jura, a Riesling/Pinot Grigio blend from Brazil, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, and a Hungarian Tokaji to name a few. While the wine selection represents the great diversity of world wines, the inspiration for the food was "Best of British." The firm worked with chefs to source the best local ingredients. The menu for Prestige Ticketing's opening ceremony event includes seared diver scallops, Cornish crab, wild nettle risotto and roasted saddle of aged Kettyle lamb in sloe gin and rowanberry jus.

Another first in Olympics history was to commission certain wines just for the world sporting event. Three wines were custom made by U.K. wine company Bibendum—a white and rosé from South Africa and a red from Brazil. “It was a crucial point to make the wines from the same vintage as the Olympics, thus we had to go south where the Southern Hemisphere regions harvest earlier in the year,” said Kirstie Papworth, Bibendum’s commercial director.

While the Brazilian red is a nod to the Games going to Rio in 2016, the choice to work with a South African winery, Stellenrust, was a matter of logistics. Given their tight deadline, Papworth explained, South Africa made sense as it would take much less time to ship the wines compared to Australia and New Zealand. Other key challenges were to ensure the wines were fair trade and bottled in fully recyclable PET bottles.

The white is a Chenin Blanc, while the rosé is a blend of Pinotage, Shiraz and Merlot. The red comes from Campanha, Brazil, near the Uruguay border, and is a blend of Shiraz, Tempranillo and Gamay Nouveau. Bibendum's goal was simple, easy-drinking wines, that were well-made and perfect for the task at hand—keeping a half-million Olympic venue visitors refreshed each day.

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