Zoiks! English wine time! Or why it's not all rosé in the English garden.

Happy new year to you all. Whether you're embarking on the first abstinent day of thirty-one, as some friends are, or at least attempting two dry days in every seven, 1st January tends to be the time of year for giving that old sparring partner booze the boot.

Not in the slightest. The Mayor of London wants us all to welcome 2013 by raising a glass of English wine.

"I have drunk a prodigious quantity of wine over the past few decades without bothering to learn anything about the difference between one vintage and another.

I tend to look for bottles that are in the middle of the price range and have a colourful label or zany vineyard - and if they offer the extra convenience of a screwcap, so much the better.

In the course of getting in some supplies the other day, I found myself pausing in front of a bottle that seemed to meet all my criteria... Then I looked closer. Hello, hello, hello, I said to myself. This wine comes from England! I almost left it at that, and passed on to the adjacent offerings from other EU countries or the New World. And then my hand wavered back, as if of its own volition. An English wine - of the kind that the Romans grew, and briefly favoured; an English wine of the sort that flourished here during the warm period of the Middle Ages.

Imagine if we all bought English wine, as well as British beef and British milk. Imagine if every government-funded function were refreshed with English wine, rather than Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Think of the boost for jobs and growth in the wine sector in this country. Think of the difference to the balance of trade - now about as bad as it has been in our lifetimes."

Crumbs. The English wine industry should be thrilled that Boris Johnson's eyes settled on a bottle of homegrown plonk (a rosé). He even rounds off by saying it was "terrific". What the wine was though, Mr Johnson does not reveal. It might be the Stopham Estate Rosé, made from dated Dornfelder but featuring a strikingly modern label with stylish silver swans (£16 from the Wine Pantry). It could even be the Avonleigh Organic Rosé (£11.99 from the Wine Pantry), with its impressionist painting of a vineyard and sun (or full moon?), improbably channelling both Van Gogh and Woodstock.

However, the article also carries a stipendiary  photograph of "the highly successful Chapel Down vineyard in Kent", so it is probablytheir English Rosé. Top-notch PR operation down at Tenterden, of course, home to that inauspicious English Malbec.

Whichever it was, Mr Johnson's endorsement is a reassuring start to a year that every person involved in wine's home front hopes is kinder than the last. Yet herein a hitch in the Mayor's grand patriotic plan. English wine is a bit of a bugger to make (and to make well at that).

Regardless of the warnings (or hopes?) of global warming soothsayers, in the here and now our marginal climate means that in every decade, an English vintner might expect two good years, four mediocre years and four awful years (of which one could be an utter write-off, such as 2012). Only occasionally will one experience a stonking year like 2009.

What's more, I will agree that the type of cheap, soupy New World wines served at events in Westminster leave a lot to be desired, but then so do many English red wines, which tend not to thrive on these shores (at the moment). The dry whites and sparkling wines are not cheap either, and I can picture the pained and spitting expressions of Pecksniffian small-state types on discovery that the Government's wine bill has doubled overnight (or that politicians are allowed to imbibe the stuff at all).

An English wine race, therefore, ought to be encouraged carefully, mindful of the fact that it is perilously seasonal and - for a multitude of reasons - uncompetitive. The recent collapse of Wickham Vineyards in Hampshire, which only six months ago was serving its wines to the Queen, is an apposite reminder of the risks of overreaching oneself and the cash running out when market conditions deteriorate.

Nevertheless, there is a genuine excitement around English winemaking. In September, Julia Stafford's English-only Wine Pantry wonDecanter magazine's Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year award. Julia has since opened up another site amidst the Victorian grandeur of St Pancras station.

And Red Squirrel Wine customers have raved about Tinwood Estate's 2009 vintage, which we have been offering exclusively since launch. Reports are of it causing quite a buzz at many Christmas drinks parties - and not just for the gimmick of English sparkling wine, but because it is jolly good.

So let's all rejoice, and most certainly raise a glass, to the ongoing success of English wine in all its guises; but let's not forget the real struggles, limitations and risks of what is still a young and tiny agricultural industry. Good English wine is a very special product. At its best, it is world-beating. Though there's some time to go before our very own Central Valley sits astride the South Downs.


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