Maybe you'll all be a little more receptive to our own wine now that English Wine Week has just finished. Still sceptical? Well, that was just how the folks at the Careys Manor hotel in the New Forest reacted when Roger Marchbank, chairman of the UK Vineyards Association, walked in clutching samples of his members' wines. In truth, they were actually giggling. Not for long though. Sales of English wine here have surprised them all - guests and staff alike.
It was all Maurizio Redaelli's idea. The new deputy general manager had already tried to sell English wines at his former posting, London's Jolly Hotel St Ermin's, where he was food and beverage manager. His bosses there were reluctant to let him have any more than three English wines on his list. "To be honest, sourcing any more than that was tricky - not many suppliers carry English wines," he says.
Then he moved to the Careys Manor hotel in Brockenhurst, which is in the process of a major refurbishment - upgrading from the three-star hotel it has been for the last 20 years, to a four-star hotel, complete with Thai-style spa and Thai caf‚, taking the number of restaurants up to three.
A great excuse, then, to upgrade the wine list in the hotel's posh nosherie - the Manor.
"It used to be the usual country house hotel wine list, heavily dominated by France," explains Redaelli. "Now France makes up just 25% of the list, and we have wines from all over the world." He's not wrong - there's a page called "Regions of Interest", which includes wines from Lebanon, Cyprus and even China.
Plus English wine - all 29 of them, making it the largest selection in the country (and the world, presumably). OK, so Redaelli and co aren't selling vast numbers of the stuff - about a bottle a day is the norm since the list launched, he says. "But we've been pleasantly surprised by the reaction to it," he says.
There are 250 bins on the list in all, split by country - until you get to England, right at the back. English wine is split by style, with wines from Lymington to Leeds: dry white blends; oaked white blends; dry whites; off dry and medium dry whites; reds; and sparkling wines.
Whites sell best, with the local vineyard a mile down the road proving the most popular choice to date (Setley Ridge Dry White, £16.50), followed by the Beaulieu Medium Dry, (£15.95). So far, though, there's not much interest (not surprisingly) in the reds, or the sparkling wines (which is odd, as this is something we can do particularly well).
"You've got to remember that 99% of our clientele are British," says Redaelli. "One of the big surprises for us is that customers are willing to spend between £15 and £20 a bottle on English wine." The stuff ain't exactly cheap, so mark-ups are lower on the English wines, and even lower on the English sparkling wines, to encourage interest.
Marchbank has taken on the supply line himself. "It would have been a logistical nightmare otherwise," says Redaelli. Will they still have 29 English wines on the list this time next year? Watch this space.
French Champagne rut While the Brits are drinking more Champagne than ever before, the French are drinking less, according to a new report from Mintel. In 2003, some 125 million litres of Champagne were sold in France - the same as in 1998, with the market valued at a little over g3.5b (£2.33b) in 2003, which is just below the market value of 1998.
Said Mintel analyst Michelle Strutton: "In France attempts have been made to attract younger consumers by targeting trendy bars and clubs, but suppliers have been turning their attention to the more attractive export markets, such as the UK." In case you need reminding, the UK is the still the largest export market for Champagne - we drank 26 million litres last year, an increase of an impressive 51% since 1998.
It's often said that the state of the economy can be judged by the Champagne market - so if this is true, the UK is clearly booming.
Vodka, honey? New Zealand's 42 Below has launched its Manuka Honey Vodka in the UK. The coveted honey (my local Holland & Barrett keeps supplies under the counter for true aficionados) is being used by the Wellington-based drink company to complement its current range of South Pacific natural flavoured vodkas (Feijoa and Passionfruit).
The honey is taken from special beehives placed in New Zealand's Manuka tree plantations, then vaporized by applying direct heat, driving off steam that condenses to a rich essence, which is then infused with the vodka. Though forget your usual breakfast honey - this is darker, richer, more savoury, with oaky flavours and a hint of caramel.
Recommended is Honey on the Rocks (the vodka served on the rocks with lemon and orange zest and garnished with peel) and the Manuka Mule (the vodka is muddled with fresh lime juice and crushed ice, topped with ginger beer and served with a lime wedge).
Cider comes up roses Let's hear it for Camra's Gold Champion Cider - Gwynt Y Ddraig of Llantiwit Major in Glamorgan (01446 795709). It was a first win for a Welsh cider, and owner Andrew Gronow was excited, to say the least: "We use no chemicals, keep everything spotlessly clean and have chosen our apple varieties very carefully," he said.