Wine Rack est mort, vive Wine Rack! Or so, at least, the London and suburban residents of the 20 locations now served by the revamped Wine Rack are hoping. When the premium arm of the Thresher group decided to offload its entire chain in November 2009, it looked like curtains for the ailing high-street brand. But after Venus plc bought the company with 13 stores, refurbished them and added seven more, Wine Rack has once again made a startling comeback. Mind you, holding its press launch on the day of Majestic's spring tasting wasn't the best timing in the world.
It was inauspicious because comparisons, however odious, were inevitable, as Majestic is the competition to beat. Where the high street has contracted in recent years, Majestic, like a mighty salmon swimming upstream, has expanded. It has improved its offering, and, by reducing the minimum purchase from a dozen to six bottles, brought in new customers. It trains and retains its loyal staff, not least a skilled wine-buying team that juggles existing suppliers with bringing new ones on board and sourcing great "deals" like the recent parcels from Houghton and Ravenswood.
With its nose to the ground, Majestic's buying team has also started to snap up surplus wines from premium suppliers, selling them under a new Prestige Parcels label. Like good journalists, they won't divulge their source, but the 2009 Prestige Parcels Pinot Gris, from Marlborough, £9.99, buy two = £7.99, is an example of the type, a vibrant, fresh, pear-fruity ringer for an Alsace dry white. There's a Gewürz in the same series but I'd pay the extra for the pot pourri-scented, refreshingly dry 2009 Spy Valley Gewürztraminer, Marlborough, £12.49, buy 2 = £9.99.
Among other smart white buys, the 2009 Domaine de Villargeau, Coteaux du Giennois, £9.99, buy 2 = £7.99, is a snappy, gooseberry fool-rich sauvignon blanc, and a perfect alternative to pricier sancerre. On the reds front, I was struck by the quality of the 2008 Givry Rouge from Antonin Rodet, £13.99, buy two = £11.99, an elegant raspberryish pinot noir spliced with an accomplished touch of toasty oak, and, on Bordeaux-style lines, the vivid, intensely cassis flavoured, 2008 Craggy Range Te Kahu, Gimblett Gravels, £13.99, buy 2 = £11.99, from New Zealand's Hawkes Bay.
Back to Wine Rack, who've been fashioning their new list. There was an old-fashioned flavour, however, to the proceedings: a plethora of negoçiant burgundies and Bordeaux petits châteaux, some drab and tired, apparently bought off-the-peg from UK agents rather than the result of footslogging research. Of the sauvignons, the 2010 Mudhouse Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, £11.49, stood out for its elderflower and tropical fruit, as did the lemongrassy 2005 Elizabeth Mount Pleasant Hunter Valley Semillon, £9.99.
Fine reds included a youthfully mellow 2004 Baron de Ley Reserva Rioja, £13.99, a vibrant and powerful, raspberryish 2007 Vacqueyras, Domaine Grand Montmirail, £13.49, and a damson-rich, satisfyingly mature 2004 Clos Les Fites Priorat, £23.99. With so many new wines, some looking a little pricier than they might be, there's still a work-in-progress feel about the list. But with 5 per cent off any six wines until tomorrow, it's a good time for Wine Rack locals to check out whether the phoenix has the wings to fly or not.