As supermarkets and off-license chains continue to implode (Morrisons' takeover of Safeway is just the latest example), the independent wine sector is alive and well.
As supermarkets and off-license chains continue to implode (Morrisons' takeover of Safeway is just the latest example), the independent wine sector is alive and well. The flourishing state of these merchants was confirmed by the fact that Johnny Depp's wine merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd (established 1697), pipped Waitrose and other worthy contenders to the Wine Merchant of the Year trophy at this year's International Wine Challenge.
Berry Bros' saliva-inducing list and modern, professional service have ensured its survival, but its success is no fluke. Increasingly, independent wine merchants are filling the vacuum left by shrinking wine ranges in the high street (viz. Oddbins and the domination of New World brands). With specialist areas and the ability to stock wine from small estates that you can't buy over the counter, independents can offer a range of quality and breadth of style, not to mention service, that supermarkets can only dream of.
The internet now brings the independent's shop window right to your door and on to your dinner table. No matter that Valvona & Crolla is in Edinburgh or Stone, Vine & Sun in Winchester. Type Valvona & Crolla into Google and you'll get an instant picture of what this excellent Italian specialist is about. Ditto the excellent new merchant, Stone, Vine & Sun, specialising in quality estate wines (and, most recently, Burgundy and South Africa), whose website displays mouthwatering tasting notes and easy instructions on how to order.
Download The Vine Trail in Bristol and there you have a specialist list of small- domaine French wines, extending to champagne with two of the best value growers' champagnes: Benoît Lahaye Grand Cru, a snip at £16.50, and Larmandier Bernier Non-Dosé de Vertus, £19.50, made for lovers of the elegantly dry style. Keen to explore small, quality French domaines? Then try one or two other companies recently set up to specialise in the area, such as A & B Vintners, or narrow it down further to Terroir Languedoc, whose wine list has just won an award for excellence.
Where specialists are thin on the ground in the high street, the internet can point you in the right direction. Italy, for instance, where, among interesting new specialists, is a new company, Dodici, launched recently by Angus Mitchell to sell quality Italian (and Spanish) wines by the case. It's an excellent list with some superb value Italians such as the excellent 2003 Planeta La Segreta Bianco, Sicily, £8.75.
Equally important is the thriving sector of more general merchants, established and recent, bringing quality wines to a wider audience. Haynes Hanson & Clark, for instance, is an established burgundian specialist branching out into interesting new areas such as Spain, where their 2002 Finca Sandoval, Manchuela, £18.15/£16.36 bottle/case, a serious, syrah-based red with vibrant blackberry fruit, unearths an exciting new region. Also in the latter category, you'll find excellent generalists like Uncorked, whose latest offer includes reductions on fabulous Italians including the 2001 La Spinetta Rosso Monferrato Pin, reduced from £33.95 to £27.16.
Next time you reflect on whatever happened to your Safeway or Victoria Wine, remember the many wine merchants whose tempting shop windows are just a click away.
Correction: In this column on 4 September, the phrase 'decrepit rival' should have been applied to The International Wine & Spirit Competition, not the IWC. Our apologies.Reuse content