Independent wine merchants offer a unique service. Pity, then, that two of the best are selling up, says Richard Ehrlich

The standard image of corporate takeovers still has a lot to recommend it. Little fish charming but weak and vulnerable. Big fish: ruthless, bad and powerful. Big fish: swallows little fish. Economic muscle triumphs. Workers lose jobs. Profits swell at Big Fish plc. Consumers don't care, don't matter, or don't notice. End of story. It works that way some of the time, but in the wine world it's slightly more complicated. Sometimes the big fish is not evil.

The standard image of corporate takeovers still has a lot to recommend it. Little fish charming but weak and vulnerable. Big fish: ruthless, bad and powerful. Big fish: swallows little fish. Economic muscle triumphs. Workers lose jobs. Profits swell at Big Fish plc. Consumers don't care, don't matter, or don't notice. End of story. It works that way some of the time, but in the wine world it's slightly more complicated. Sometimes the big fish is not evil.

I am not referring to this year's big wine-retailing takeover story, which saw WM Morrison swallow up Safeway. It's two smaller bites that concern me here, first of all the acquisition by Berry Bros & Rudd of Morris & Verdin. You may not know the name of Morris & Verdin, an outstanding London agent (importer) and merchant with particular strengths in Burgundy, Austria and California. It sold a lot to trade, with just a mail-order business for retail customers. But its name was synonymous with high quality in every area it dealt with. The managing director, Jasper Morris, is one of the country's leading Burgundy experts, and an outspoken advocate of what's best in wine - someone who would always offer an honest opinion, even when the opinion reflected less than gloriously on one of his own producers.

Morris and his partners sold out to Berry Bros because they were made a good offer, and because he was tired of running certain administrative aspects of his business, and because it was a perfect fit. Though indisputably one of Britain's best wine merchants, Berry Bros wanted to do more buying direct from producers rather than going through middlemen - which is precisely what Morris & Verdin has done from the outset, and done very well too. Berry Bros got the whole list, or pretty much all of it (Morris says that none of his suppliers jumped ship after the takeover), so the M&V wines are still there, though flying under a different flag.

The result: the strengthening of what was already a strong list, three highlights from which are signposted to the right. I can't think of a happier takeover.

The second, and more recent, takeover occurred when the Jeroboams group bought out the London micro-chain La Réserve. Jeroboams already had a decent wine list to sell through its cheese shops, acquired when it took over the excellent merchant Laytons several years ago. Now it has acquired La Réserve, which in turn had taken over the whisky specialist Milroy's of Soho. This saddens me personally, as I am a great admirer of La Réserve's guiding light, Mark Reynier, and always liked browsing round its principal shop in Elizabeth Street, London SW1. Reynier will continue to serve as a consultant for a while before departing to look after his interests in the whisky business: he owns the independent bottler Murray McDavid and is the managing director of the wonderful Islay distillery Bruichladdich, an old favourite of this column. Scotland's gain is London's loss.

Once the consolidation and rationalising of the two companies' stocks is done and dusted, some of the La Réserve wines - it always bought especially well in the Rhône - may well disappear. There may well be less individuality on the shelves. But this is not a case of a big, bad conglomerate chewing up and spitting out a good individualist, because Jeroboams is a fine company (check it out at jeroboams.co.uk) and it's as committed to quality as Mark Reynier. I just thought that it was worth noting the passing. There are too few independent wine merchants, and it's always a little sad to see another one go. Even when it goes into good hands.

Top Corks: Three Berry good whites

Domaine de la Cessane Marsanne/Viognier 2003 £6.95, Berry Bros, tel: 0870 900 4300, www.bbr.com A delicate, peachy, mineral-rich beauty with fine acidity and good length.

Tokaji Mandolas 2002 £8.95, Berry Bros Hungary's Tokaji is associated with glorious sweet wines. The exception is this dry one, with almondy fruit and a creamy texture. Weird and wonderful.

Mâcon la Roche Vineuse, Vieilles Vignes 2002, Domaine Olivier Merlin £13.25 Berry Bros From a brilliant producer, this creamy treasure shows how good the semi-lowly Mâcon can be.

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