the drinker | merchant deals

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Even if talk of corporate takeovers normally makes your eyes glaze over, hang around for this one. Principal Finance Group (PFG), the venture-capital arm of Nomura (most famous for not buying the Millennium Dome), has stumped up £225m for a high-street off-licence. OK, that's for 2,600 branches, but it still seems a lot to pay for a business dealing with people who walk in off the street rather than clicking on their mouse and awaiting a delivery by one of Britain's famously persecuted delivery vans.

Even if talk of corporate takeovers normally makes your eyes glaze over, hang around for this one. Principal Finance Group (PFG), the venture-capital arm of Nomura (most famous for not buying the Millennium Dome), has stumped up £225m for a high-street off-licence. OK, that's for 2,600 branches, but it still seems a lot to pay for a business dealing with people who walk in off the street rather than clicking on their mouse and awaiting a delivery by one of Britain's famously persecuted delivery vans.

The business Nomura has bought is First Quench, which sells under four retail names: Victoria Wine, Bottoms Up, Threshers and Wine Rack. Nomura's venture-capital boffins like buying businesses where they see "undervalued assets and people", and this purchase suggests that there's life left in the high-street wine biz.

Nomura's move is part of a continuing consolidation in the UK wine-retailing business. Unwins bought Fuller's shops earlier this year. Seagram, owner of Oddbins, is trying to sell it. They're all battling against the dominance of the supermarkets, of which Tesco is the leader.

A key difference between First Quench and Oddbins is that the latter is identified solely as a wine merchant. The First Quench shops include many (especially Victoria Wine) that make most of their money from beer and tobacco. A certain amount of rebranding will take place, though Nomura doesn't yet know what form it will take. But the major growth will be "wine-led". They're looking at having more wines, different wines and upgrading the range in general. There may be some closures, but about 400 unprofitable stores were cut under the previous ownership (Punch Taverns and Whitbread), so this isn't the primary concern.

On the subject of the internet, the new owners can be described as sceptics. Many of the on-line wine retailers have set out to make wine shopping a leisure-time experience, but Mike Johnson, transaction director of PFG, disagrees with that approach. "If you're a consumer looking to buy on-line," he says, "enjoyment doesn't come into it." I'm inclined to agree. A writer I know once said that he got ideas for new projects by looking at the book next to the one he was searching for in the library. The same applies to new wine experiences: you make discoveries by looking at the bottle next to the one you went in to buy.

Whether Nomura and First Quench make a good blend remains to be seen. It will be disappointing if the new owner rationalises the list by eliminating small producers who don't have the financial clout to pitch in with promotional support - but I don't get the sense that that's what it is after. Venture capital, a dirty word in some quarters, may be a shot in the arm for the high street. All those bottles, right there before your eyes, with (if you're lucky) at least one staff member who can guide you towards the bottle of your dreams. Still the best way to buy wine.

While you're waiting to see what happens, here's a bottle (from another retailer) to enjoy: João Portugal Ramos Trincadeira 1999 (£7.49, Waitrose, pictured). This red, from one of Portugal's best wine-makers, is a supple bundle of juicily ripe, plummy red fruit, generously but smoothly oaked, and delicious. If the wine were a food, it would be a perfectly grilled Aberdeen Angus steak - which is exactly what I'd like to drink it with. Waitrose has been making a number of wise buys in Portugal, and this is among the best. You'll love it, I promise.

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