Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category

Following my latest post about the cost of producing a bottle of wine, I have just read a very interesting article written by an old friend of mine – UK wine journalist Tim Atkin MW. Although he is not actually commenting directly on the production costs of wine he is, in effect, talking about the price pressures often put on producers to reduce their selling price (and certainly their profit margin). If this downward pressure is allowed to continue then, inevitably, the only thing that can and will suffer, is the quality of the liquid in the bottle.

In the final line of his article he says “More than ever, we need a strong independent sector to preserve diversity, quality and individuality.” In this case he is referring to independence in the retail sector, but allow me to say that the very same phrase could easily be applied to the wine producers themselves.

He is a link to Tim’s full article.

Black Friday 13th

November 27th, 2015

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Crowds flock to the high altarBlack Friday is a comparatively new phenomenon in Europe, which is hardly surprising when you consider that we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I am not altogether sure about the origins of Black Friday but I believe that it was created to celebrate the life of Saint PayPal, the patron saint of shopping (from the High Church of Amazon). His followers now make an annual pilgrimage, the day after Thanksgiving, to their nearest centre of worship, sometimes referred to as a “Mall”. Worshippers can be extremely fervent and have been known to become completely overwhelmed by their shopping experience – a true ethereal, frenzied, almost violent experience.

Very thoughtfully, the weak, infirm and overfed (from too much turkey) are also catered for, as it has now been made incredibly easy to ‘worship’ online.

A couple of weeks ago we had yet another significant Friday in our calendar – Friday 13th. Now, I personally don’t suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, but there were a couple of coincidences that made me stop and think for a moment. We were planning to bottle of a tank of wine, and one of the dates pencilled in was Friday 13th. Generally, I wouldn’t think twice about it, until I realised that we were planning to bottle tank 13, and that the allocated sequential Lot No. for this bottling was also to be 13…… We bottled on 11th instead!

Posted in Odds & Sods, Retail

Wine not wineAnswer: When it’s a ‘wine based drink’!

Reading back labels might well be a boring pastime, and you might consider it to be the reserve of the so called ‘wine anoraks’, but actually they might well discover something that you don’t….. The small print could indicate that the ‘wine’ that you think you are enjoying might not be wine at all, but rather a ‘wine based drink’ containing only 75% of real wine.

The make-up of the other 25% is not quite clear, as legally, ‘wine’makers are not obliged to specify, but speculation is that it could be water, grape must, or a combination of water and sugar. Whatever, the unknown constituent, the wines have been described as ” lacking genuine character, dilute, unpleasant, contrived and manufactured”….. they sound delicious!

Having said that, the problem is not so much the flavour (as consumers will inevitably vote with their taste buds), but more the fact that they are being sold alongside real wines, with no obvious distinction between the two. Of course this is not only highly misleading, but could potentially damage the integrity of our industry.

Posted in Retail, Winemaking

Black Friday booze

November 24th, 2014

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Black FridayBlack Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year in the United States, traditionally signalling the start of the Christmas buying period. For many years it was common for the larger stores to open their doors as early as 6am, but this has gradually been eroded in recent years, whereby many sales now actually start at midnight on Thanksgiving Day itself! To take this one step further, on-line retailers have now started to ‘open their doors’ for Black Friday business as much as one week in advance. Amazon, for example, started selling their special offers today, but not just in the United States…. Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated outside the States, many other parts of the world have now caught Black Friday fever (largely as an excuse for retailers to kick-start the Christmas rush), and shoppers are joining the annual stampede in countries around the world.

Out of interest I had a quick glance at the Amazon site to see what was on offer, and to be honest I was more than a little surprised by what I found. Looking for a bottle of Louis Latour Chablis? Well, it’s being offered on Amazon! The price and level of discount has not been posted as yet, but I have to say that I really didn’t expect to find Burgundy on offer – I’m not exactly sure why, it just seems a bit odd to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought a fair bit of wine on the internet in recent years – but just not on Amazon, and certainly not in a Black Friday sale!

Posted in Odds & Sods, Retail

Fish and Chip PieIn France the English are (not so) affectionately known as ‘Les Rosbifs’, simply I guess, because of our affinity with this Great British dish, although calling someone a ‘Roast Beef’ hardly constitutes an insulting nickname. More derogatory is our nickname for the French…. ‘the Frogs’, which you could probably argue is because of their taste for eating frog’s legs. Anyway, that anecdote has really got nothing to do with today’s story. 

The other dish that the Brit’s are well known for consuming in copious amounts is fish & chips. In days gone by a large proportion of this delicacy would be consumed in the street, packaged and kept warm by wrapping the food in old newspapers! Sounds pretty uncivilised I have to admit, especially by today’s largely obsessive hygiene standards, but when I was a boy, eating fish and chips out of a newspaper, seasoned with a liberal sprinkling of salt and malt vinegar, was always something of a treat. (I should add that there was always a layer of greaseproof paper between the outer wrapping and the food, to prevent the latest news headlines from being reproduced on on the side of your portion of fish!)

So, only today I learned of a very original, new interpretation of this national dish – fish and chips….. but baked in a pie! It has been developed as a ‘ready meal’ by one of the UK’s top (and most respected) high street retail chains, Marks & Spencer. Judging by the photo, it’s not quite as disgusting as it may sound, albeit we do know that food photography is quite notorious for being PhotoShopped (even more than some celebrities). Unfortunately this is not something can I can order from Amazon, and so I will have to wait until the next time I visit the UK to try it – and try it I will. Watch our future blogs for photos and tasting notes! 

(Incidentally, the green layer at the bottom of the pie is ‘mushy peas’, almost like a pea purée, but then that’s another story)

My last bottle….

January 2nd, 2014

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My last bottleOpening the last bottle of a wine that you cherish is always a very sad occasion, whether it be the last of a particular vintage or simply something that is no longer available. What ever the reason there is always a certain reluctance to pull that final cork.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a great Champagne lover, and more especially those with a bit of bottle age. Of course it would be easy to select only Grande Marque Champagnes, although in truth, they might not necessarily be the best available and almost certainly won’t represent the best value for money. For me the answer is to source a Champagne made by one of the multitude of smaller Champagne houses, often as good, if not better than some of the Grande Marque brands. The downside is the time and effort that it takes to determine which are the best – as with all wine, it simply comes down to trial and error.

Two or three years ago, in a Spanish supermarket, I decided to try one of these lesser known brands, a Louis Barthélémy Cuvée Améthyste Brut NV. It ended up providing me with a very pleasant surprise indeed – a ripe, fruity, well-balanced Champagne, it’s richness coming from a blend dominated by the two pinot grapes of the appellation. The full bodied flavour was further enhanced by the price – a good few Euros less than any of the well-known brands on offer. Over time this Champagne became a staple in my cellar, and a good stock was always maintained in order that I could store them for a while to enhance their bottle age. Indeed, after 12-18 months of additional ageing they were quite delicious (or at least for my own personal taste).

Then suddenly, several months ago, the stock in my local supermarket started to dry up, and as it appeared that this was my only source in the whole of Spain, I immediately hurried out to buy all the bottles that I could find. Sadly, over the holidays I arrived at the very last bottle, but at least I am happy to tell you that  it tasted just as delicious as the very first….. I guess that now I will just have to revert back to the Krug Clos de Mesnil.

Vintage Sherry?

June 26th, 2013

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La GuitaWhen I was a boy (a long, long time ago), I still remember that my mum’s favourite drink was Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry. Harvey’s was a Bristol wine merchant dating back to 1796, that was famous for centuries as an importer of sherry. It still exists today, but now as a wine museum and tapas restaurant, still serving it’s most famous beverage – Bristol Cream Sherry. Unfortunately I don’t remember too much about its taste, except to say that it was desperately sweet and sticky – if not for drinking then it could probably have served as some type of glue – an early adhesive for the Post-It pad perhaps?

On the subject of sherry, one of my own favourite drinks, and something that we nearly always have in our refrigerator, is Manzanilla. Of course anyone who drinks Manzanilla will know that one of the single most important factors in enjoying this fortified wine is that it is fresh, from a recent bottling. Of course this is quite ironic coming from someone who encourages consumers to drink their albariño with a bit of bottle age! The brand that I chose to drink is La Guita (not to be confused with La Gitana), not just because I like its taste, but also because I believe it is the only brand of Manzanilla to include the exact bottling date printed on the back label. You will often see me in my local supermarket sorting through the bottles on the shelf to find the newest wine….. 

Of course, by far the best way to enjoy a fresh glass of Manzanilla is to visit the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz where it is made. The distinctive Manzanilla wine acquires its dry, slightly salty tang from the seaside environment and the moist poniente wind that blows from the west along the Straights of Gibraltar. Its style is also derived from the distinctive chalky soil, the grape variety and from the local climate, which is cooler with high humidity, resulting in a higher level of flor yeast. As with our own wine it is absolutely perfect with seafood.

Yesterday I was out shopping with La Guita on my shopping list – there were only three bottles on the shelf. Upon closer examination one bottle was from 2010, one bottle from 2011 and the most recent bottle from March 2012….. doesn’t say too much for their stock rotation, and suffice to say that I didn’t buy any of them. I will look for some newer stock elsewhere.

Posted in Odds & Sods, Retail

Choosing your wine

March 19th, 2013

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Whether you find yourself in a shop, a supermarket, or in a posh restaurant, making your selection of wine is not only a very, very daunting task, but it is also, of course, purely subjective. The wines that I like or recommend could very easily be hated by someone else. I know this from experience, as in my previous life as a wine buyer the question that I was most often asked was “what wine should I drink”? My reply was always the same….. “drink what you enjoy” – in other words no one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.

The next problem might be that if you do find yourself in an expensive restaurant then your situation becomes even more complicated. Firstly, you don’t want to make what could be a very costly mistake, and secondly you don’t want to choose something that is repulsive with your food – hence the fact that there should be an experienced sommelier to help you. If they know their job properly then they should be able to guide you safely through the minefield that is their wine list, and make the appropriate recommendations.

So what do you do in a supermarket? Buy the same wine week-in week-out just to be on the safe side? On a supermarket shelf the two bottles adjacent to each other might be from the same country, but they could be wildly different in style. So what’s the answer?

One UK supermarket chain has at least come up with an original idea – to arrange their display by wine style rather than just by simple geographical origin (as most do). Instead the signs in their aisles will direct you to Fresh, Smooth, Sweet or Intense wines. The supermarket in question, William Morrisons, have also taken the idea one step further…. they have devised a test to help guide you to a specific category of wine that you might enjoy. Perhaps a bit too sophisticated an idea for your average supermarket shopper, but an idea that breaks the mould and for that reason alone, has to be applauded. Incidentally, I took the test myself and was just a little perplexed by the result, telling me that my preference was for sweet wine (which is actually not the case), so if you want to play along just click here and take the test yourself. It’s simple, it’s fun and it’s actually quite well made even if you don’t agree with the result.

Château la Pompe

January 1st, 2013

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In my former life as a wine buyer I often travelled around the wine regions of southern France, and very occasionally found myself visiting the odd wine co-operative. They nearly always had a shop area where locals could pop in and buy a few bottles of quaffing wine to drink with their meals. (Twenty odd years ago it was inconceivable that a French family would sit down to eat without a bottle of table wine alongside the water bottle on their dining table. In today’s France this is perhaps not quite such a common occurrence as the government recommends drinking only “in moderation”, with compulsory warnings on every bottle).

In the corner of many of these co-operative wine shops there was often a corner reserved for the pumps. Large hoses protruding from the wall with metal nozzles on the end, looking pretty much the same as petrol pumps. The difference was that they were not delivering your average 98 octane or lead-free…… they were pumping red, white or rosé to pour at your table!

Locals would arrive with large plastic containers or bottles in hand and fill them with their favourite local table wine. Forget the thoughtfully designed labels or fancy shaped bottles, this was wine for quaffing.

So, although this idea has been around for some time now, it is only in the last year or two that it has turned up in the aisles of French supermarkets, and whilst it is not uncommon to top up your car at the supermarket fuel pumps, you can now top up your bottles at the wine pumps too. Now, all you need to remember is to top up your olive oil!

Posted in Retail