Food & Drink: Crossing the blue Channel: Anthony Rose noses around Calais to judge the effects of the easing of excise duty last year

The French Channel ports seem to have been taken by surprise at the onslaught of British shoppers - tabloid newspaper readers on discount trips, bootleggers in vans, tourists toing and froing. Despite this, the new Sainsbury's in Mammouth's shopping mall in Calais, minimally signposted, looks empty compared with the bustling aisles of Mammouth itself. Prices are not that much lower than in the UK, but it was not so much cost as label which was holding back the few customers.

'We didn't want to bring a Sainsbury's label back from France,' said one. 'Since I'm in France, I might as well buy French,' said another.

The only person actually buying anything was Dave West from EastEnders, the swashbuckling Calais cash-and-carry warehouse. A former Romford costermonger, Mr West opened his warehouse six years ago but has really made hay since the relaxation of the excise duty guidelines in January last year. His buying ranges from job lots from people 'with cash-flow problems' to wines on promotion in hypermarkets, which he sells when the promotions end.

Others, though, are less buccaneer. Because of prohibitive setting-up costs, and the fact that it was not clear whether the Chancellor would cut or abolish excise duties, the British wine trade has been cautious about establishing outlets in French Channel ports. The success of the first wave has recently encouraged the big boys to follow. Tesco, which has bought the northern French chain Catteau, has plans to open a much bigger shop than Sainsbury's in the new Cite de l'Europe at the French entrance to the Channel tunnel, probably in 1996.

Shopping in any of the ports can be a hit-and-miss affair with considerable variation in the quality, range and styles of alcohol. Wines, in particular, vary from monotonous negociant blends to some excellent estate wines and growers' champagnes. In the more enlightened retailers, such as the Grape Shop in Boulogne and La Maison du Vin in Cherbourg, new world wines can be found, too.

The quality acts recently set up across the Channel, and a handful of existing French retailers, have exposed the inadequacies of the French supermarkets. Pandering to chauvinism, they stock almost entirely French wines with top-heavy sections of cheap, appellation controlee-dominated merchant blends. Where they do often offer good quality and choice, however, is in chateau-bottled clarets which, as bulk buyers, they can purchase at knockdown prices. If it is claret you are after, my advice is to have a wine merchant's list, or the useful sort of list put out by Unwins or Davisons, for price comparisons.

Since 1 January 1993, the trade in alcoholic drinks, both legal and illegal, across the Channel has increased to about 10 per cent of the UK market. The Wine & Spirit Association claims that the Government is losing pounds 1m a day on excise duties, while Whitbread suggests that cross-Channel shopping for booze cost the Treasury pounds 470m last year. The solution, they both say, is to bring duty rates down to narrow the gap between the UK and mainland Europe.

Some merchants with a foot in both camps claim their UK trade has not suffered. The Wine Society, with its corner shop at Hesdin in the Pas de Ca1ais, says it sold about 12,000 cases to members in 1993 with no loss of business in the UK. According to Neil Cotton at Calais Cash and Carry, an offshoot of Marco's wine warehouses in London, 'the superstores in the UK are a bigger threat to the independent merchant. The trade here is expanding the market overall.'

Customs and Excise put the revenue loss at pounds 200m, of which pounds 35m is from bootlegging. Speaking to the Off-Licence News Conference in April, Sir John Cope, Paymaster-General, said receipts from duty and VAT were up in every category, after a year of the single market, to pounds 6.3bn. 'If we were to cut the rate of duty, there is no way we would get more than a fraction of the billions of lost revenue back from increased UK sales,' he said.

There was brief panic among merchants on both sides of the Channel earlier this year when a Brussels official suggested that UK customers could now order their drink direct from France without having to pay UK duty. The official quickly had his knuckles rapped. With the big boys starting to colonise northern France, and with little prospect of the Government changing its mind on duty or duty-free mail order becoming a reality, it looks as though cross-Channel shopping will be a significant factor for the foreseeable future.

Guidelines for travellers bringing back alcohol from EU countries: beer 110 litres; wine 90 litres (of which 60 may be sparkling); fortified wine 20 litres; spirits 10 litres. Bring back more, and you must prove it is for personal use.

Next week: Anthony Rose makes his Channel port wine selections

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Sport
football
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn