Anthony Rose: 'Rumours of the death of the high-street chain may be a tad exaggerated'
Only ghouls and Majestic Wine could have watched the car crashes of the Oddbins and Wine Rack chains with any satisfaction. Poor judgment by Oddbins' previous owner and asset-stripping by Wine Rack's venture capitalists left a disorderly trail of lost jobs, empty-handed customers and second-hand bottle shops in its wake. Their demise left a vacuum in the high street only partly filled by Majestic, Bargain Booze and independents.
Judging by two encouraging press tastings this autumn, it would seem that rumours of the death of the high-street chain may be at least a tad exaggerated. Squeezed by commodity wines in supermarket locals and discount stores and by quality wines at independent wine merchants, the high-street offie could still be an accident waiting to happen, but Oddbins and Wine Rack are doing their best to make a go of things.
Last year we reported that Whittals' multimillionaire founder Raj Chatha had created a new slimline Oddbins from the ashes of the 150 branch debt-ridden crash. Since that encouraging start, Ana Sapangiu has taken on the lead role in building on the skills and innovation for which Oddbins made its name. Quirky it may not be, but this autumn's tasting demonstrated an ability and determination to flesh out the 34-store range with interesting, quality wines.
I was impressed with the sparkling wine range, which includes not just the Pol Rogers of this world but fine fizz such as the apple and honey-rich Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Triple Zero Montlouis Pétillant, £17.50. Exciting white listings include the lemon-lime citrusy zing of the 2011 Lothian Otter's Claw Riesling, £8.75, from the Cape's Elgin, and wonderfully rich, mineral-dry flavours of the 2012 Hatzidakis from Santorini, £13.75. There's quality, too, in the black-cherryish 2008 Paolo Leo Salice Salentino Riserva, £10, and intense, spicy-edged 2010 Quinta dos Roques, Dão, £12.25.
Wine Rack opened the first new store of its 22-strong chain last Thursday in West Byfleet. Taking on two ex-Waitrose stars in Diana Hunter and Master of Wine Susan McCraith, it showed seriousness of purpose with a number of excellent additions to the expanding range.
There's a crisply refreshing 2012 Albariño Eiral, £11.99, a classically white-peppery, concentrated dry 2011 Grüner Veltliner Zull, Weinviertel from Austria, £11.99, and brilliant, citrus-zesty 2006 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon, £11.49, but it was the reds that impressed most. There's a fine 2010 Animus, £9.49, a Douro red that's all sweet, ripe plum and blackberry concentration, a polished, claret-like 2011 Meerlust Red, £10.99 and a rich powerhouse of spicy oak and damson flavour in the 2010 Clos de Tafall, Priorat, £12.99. With Christmas offers around the corner, I'll keep the best of the Wine Rack's powder dry just for now.
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