My Round: Show some bottle

Don't opt for safe supermarket wines this Christmas - you're better off braving the world of independent merchants
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Just a couple of weeks away from Christmas but there is still time to do what's best both for your palate and for the world of wine retailing: buy from someone other than the supermarket where you buy all the rest of your festive fodder. Remember: if you want to preserve real choice in wine buying, you have to support independent wine merchants. If you don't buy from them, they will go out of business.

Just a couple of weeks away from Christmas but there is still time to do what's best both for your palate and for the world of wine retailing: buy from someone other than the supermarket where you buy all the rest of your festive fodder. Remember: if you want to preserve real choice in wine buying, you have to support independent wine merchants. If you don't buy from them, they will go out of business.

I'm not asking this in the expectation that you will have to make great sacrifices. With courier vans criss-crossing the country in a virtual tailback, you can get any wine you want without leaving your armchair. Some of the mail-order kings are long-established: Berry Bros & Rudd (tel: 0870 900 4300, www.bbr.com), Lay & Wheeler (tel: 01206 764 446, www.laywheeler.com), Adnams (tel: 01502 727 222, www.adnamswines.co.uk). These can meet all your vinous needs apart from cheapo party plonk, and delivery terms have done nothing but get better in recent years. In many cases, you get free delivery if you spend over a certain amount.

Practicalities aside, these merchants figure large in the wine lover's list for three reasons. One is their ability to snag wines whose individuality rarely lets them through a supermarket's automatic door. Second is their ability to give expert advice. Third (and I admit this is a personal view) is the potential for producing a list that is not just functional but is really interesting to read. How many supermarkets have you seen mention Peter Mandelson in their wine lists, or recommend a bottle by saying "this is absolutely revolting... please don't buy any"? Well, Swig (tel: 08000 272 272, www.swig.co.uk) does both.

Swig is one of the smaller, newer companies which pop up from time to time, suggesting either that there's life left in the independent wine sector or that some people just never learn. The firm began life as a single shop in north-west London but has been trading as a mail-order-only proposition for a few years now. Its South African list won an award in the International Wine and Spirits Challenge (IWSC) a year ago, but it gets my vote as a good all-rounder with a small but carefully chosen list. A star buy here: Château La Dournie "Cuvée Elise" St Chinian 2001 (£13), fabulously loveable ripe fruit and new oak from the Languedoc.

Another example of recent vintage is Stone, Vine & Sun (tel: 01962 712 351, www.stonevine.co.uk), which is all of two years old. It recently won two IWSC awards, for Rhône specialist of the year and South East merchant of the year, and its Rhône list is indeed a marvel. It also does a good job in the rest of France, though its Languedoc line is inevitably overshadowed by that of another relative newbie, Terroir Languedoc (tel: 01756 700512, www.terroirlanguedoc.co.uk).

The list of names could go on well into the new year. Yapp, originally a Rhône specialist but now with equal strength in the Loire (tel: 01747 860 423, www.yapp.co.uk). Lea & Sandeman (tel: 020 7244 0522, www.londonfinewine.co.uk), another really fine all-rounder. Noel Young Fine Wines (tel: 01223 844 744, www.nywines.co.uk), ditto - with Britain's best selection of Austrian wines. The Wine Barn (tel: 01962 774 102, www.thewinebarn.co.uk), with a herd comprising German wines exclusively, all of top pedigree. Howard Ripley (tel: 020 8877 3065, www.howardripley.com), originally a Burgundy specialist with few peers but now with Germany added to the portfolio.

Go on, be a devil. Let a supermarket have your money for digestives and detergent. Buy wine from a specialist.

Top corks: Three from the indies

Danford's Merlot 2001, Coastal Region (£9.99, Laithwaites, 0870 444 8383, www.laithwaites.co.uk) A blockbuster of a South African - silky, with sweet, oak-scented plum fruit.

Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir (£27, Swig, 08000 272 272, www.swig.co.uk) One of many New Zealand Pinots causing sleepless nights in Burgundy. Swig sells several cheaper than this, too.

Château de Chamboureau Savennières 2001, Cuvée d'Avant (£12.75, Yapp, 01747 860 423, www.yapp.co.uk) Off-dry, startling acidity; perfect as a low-cal substitute for Christmas pud.

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