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
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service