In its efforts to communicate the pleasures of wine, this column tends to focus on supermarkets because they sell eight in 10 bottles. Some of the best wines though are often only available in a few branches or online. Worse, some still promote the half-price (or less) offer as if the wine is a bargain. Twitter at #wineripoff focused on this cynical ploy recently with Tweeters sending pictures of ‘shelf barkers’ showing both Tesco and Sainsbury’s claiming big price slashes for wines worth nowhere near their stated price.
It’s heartening then to see so many new wine merchants thriving in the face of the supermarket onslaught. My stint this year judging the Decanter retailer awards brought home to me the sheer numbers of quality wine merchants both new and established. In London for instance, we shortlisted Lea & Sandeman, Philglas & Swiggot and Roberson, adding a new name, Bottle Apostle, and two pioneering ‘try-before-you-buy’ operations, The Sampler in Islington and South Kensington, and Vagabond Wines in Fulham.
They are model wine retailers well worth following if you’re looking for interesting, high-quality wines often made only in small quantities. I can’t see a supermarket stocking wines like these from The Sampler: a richly concentrated apple and honey-flecked 2010 Chinon Blanc from Domaine de la Noblaie, £16.40, the immensely complex and intensely nutty 2008 Go de Godello, Bierzo, £20.50, or the youthfully modern blackberryinfused Cahors malbec, the 2009 Le Clos d’Un Jour, £17.90.
It was also good to see in the national merchant category smaller companies like Goedhuis & Co and Swig going head to head with the big boys Majestic and Berry Bros & Rudd. One of the hardest-fought sections was the regional category. Locals should be delighted to have the services of wine merchants such as Cambridge Wine Merchants, Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton and the Secret Cellar in Tunbridge Wells, along with Hangingditch in Manchester, Exel Wines in Perth and Direct Wine Shipments in Belfast. Who else has made an impression recently? Caviste (caviste.co.uk/shops; 01256 770397) has three shops in Hampshire and Berkshire stocking wines like the superbly well-crafted white Burgundy, 2010 Domaine Bachey Legros, £15.95, and the Vouvray-like 2010 Ludovic Chanson Chenin Blanc, £17.
Jascots (jascots.co.uk; 020-8965 2000) has an impressively broad range with wines like the pepper-scented 2010 Pinot Sivi Libertin, £10.95, from the Bolfan Winery in Croatia and the fragrant All Saints Rutherglen Muscat, £15.80, half-bottle. There’s a new online kid on the block too, Wine Hound (winehound. co.uk), which stocks the likes of Paulett’s savoury 2007 Polish Hill River Shiraz and its limey Riesling, both £12.95. Long may these antidotes to the supermarkets flourish.