Saturday, 6 December 2014

Think About It...!

It’s just over 2 weeks before Christmas and the shop is buzzing.  My colleague is already busy with a customer and I can see another one coming up the steps to the shop. The phone rings.  Do I answer it or leave it for the answerphone so that I can serve the next customer?  I gamble and grab the phone, after all it may be an enquiry I can deal with quickly and still get to the customer who’s just arrived....
 “Good morning. Wines of Interest” and I wait for the person who’s called to speak.  Before they do there is the unmistakable sound of a call centre in the background and my heart sinks.  We get calls like this at home as well.  No doubt you do too.  You know what’s coming and within only a fraction of a second, sure enough, there is the distinctly Asian voice at the other end is asking to speak to “the person who deals with our gas and electricity”.  It’s not always gas and electricity of course, nor necessarily Asian (Glasgow and Cardiff crop up frequently too).  You could equally substitute Business Rates, Website Design, Search Engine Optimisation, Telephone Systems....the list is almost endless.  I know they’re only doing their job but calling a Wine Merchant 2 weeks before Christmas with this sort of thing is just daft.  It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the person you’re calling.  You might as well ask a Minister of the Church if he’s doing anything special at Christmas!  Seriously chaps, just think about it!
Our burglar alarm company rang up last week to arrange a “service review” (which means they want to sell us something) and apparently it had to be done that week.  We were actually quite pleased when the chap due to visit phoned in sick.  Not pleased he’s sick you understand, just grateful that an unnecessary December distraction could be moved to January when the customers have all gone into hiding and we actually have time to deal with such things in the careful and considered manner they deserve.
Visiting another small local business last week (where the owner is a prominent local businessman and keen champion of similar businesses) my colleague was discussing Small Business Saturday with him.  Apparently he had been invited by the powers-that-be to go to Norwich for a big launch for this flagship event.  The organisers were terribly surprised when he refused.  The asked why? “Because I run a small business of course!” he replied “I’ll be open and it’s 2 weeks ‘till Christmas!”  Seriously chaps, just think about it!
The icing on this particular cake of idiocy came in two formats last week.  Firstly an envelope landed on my desk from the Office of National Statistics asking for our turnover figures for November.  A piece of legislation dating from 1947 meant that I was legally obliged to respond.  Failure to do so would apparently result in my family being tarred and feathered and my business partner hung, drawn and quartered.  Distractions we could do without frankly.  Many thanks HM Government...
Then the email landed.  It was from a publication called “The Wine Merchant”.  Hard copy of this lands with us every week and is a decent read – it is clearly written by people who seem to understand our part of the trade.  The email contained a link to a survey which had been designed to ask us what particular challenges faced businesses like ours at this time of the year.  I hit reply (ignoring the survey) and typed “The biggest challenge to our business at this time of year are people wanting us to complete surveys asking what the challenges facing our business are at this time of year”.  They seemed terribly surprised... they’d obviously not thought about it either!
I have concluded that next time I have “Michael from Mumbai” on the phone I shall simply ask him how many pallets of Champagne he wants... just to see if that might make him think about it (probably won’t though).
Just for the record, our December blog articles are not written when we should be busy doing other things like selling wine.  We write them in our spare time, usually at 4am when we can’t sleep because we’ve been lying awake thinking about ordering, stock levels and how we can best avoid conversations like the one below which occur annually on about 22nd December:
Customer: I’d like a case of ABC please”
Us: “I’m very sorry, we’ve run out of ABC”
Customer: “What do you mean you’ve run out of ABC? It’s Christmas!”
Us: “Yes, we know. That’s why we’ve run out”
Seriously chaps...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Black Friday...?

So, Black Friday cometh. Cometh from across the pond with banners waving and all to generate an anticipated retail feeding frenzy for one day.  Just to make it absolutely clear, we at Wines of Interest will not be participating.  This is because we publish a range of discounted offers, individual price reductions and multi-buy offers at the start of the season and we stick to them until the end of December.  We believe that our customers deserve consistency.  The only reason to buy now instead of later is to avoid the potential disappointment of us having run out of the very thing you’re after!

Of course, there is every reason for retailers to make the most of the Christmas trading period (especially in a seasonal trade like ours)! But encouraging hasty impulse purchasing and discouraging customers to think through what they’re buying before parting with their hard-earned cash strikes us a form of retail trickery that we could do without.  If the only way you can get customers to spend money with you is by fooling them (or in this case rushing them) maybe you’re in the wrong line of business!

Energy companies do it with a myriad of tariffs making it almost impossible to work out whether you’re on the most suitable one.  Insurance companies do it by excluding some things in the smallprint to make their premiums seem cheaper.  The train companies array of ticket options is truly bewildering and then there are all those extra charges that the “budget” airlines like to sting you for! Even our bank has a range of different tariffs which, curiously, all produce about the same level of annual charges whichever one we choose!  You’ll notice that I haven’t even mentioned the behaviour of the supermarkets yet…!

There will be a promotion of sorts after Christmas of course.  Selling wine after Christmas is more of a challenge (especially if the Pleasure Police are out there ordering you to have a dry January) so stay tuned for those, but in the meantime click here for our current offers.

So, at Wines of Interest we’re pretty clear.  The deals and offers are available to everyone for the length of the offer.  There are no special prices on Black Friday, Blue Monday, Ruby Tuesday or Sheffield Wednesday.  Just special prices on some lines for the duration of the season.  We don’t do deals for “Brand New Customers Only”, just customers, because you’re all important.  We think this is clear, straightforward and we like it that way.  We hope you do too.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Another Fantastic Evening!

Wow! What a fantastic evening!  As ever we are humbled by the support we receive at our annual Christmas tasting, both from our suppliers and, more importantly, from our customers.  It was great to see some new faces this year as well as our loyal regulars.
The Wines of Interest 2014 Christmas Tasting gets going!
Based on the orders we have seen so far there are certainly a few highlights which seemed to be particularly popular.  On the Spanish table the Botani Moscatel Secco from Bodegas Jorge Ordonez won lots of friends.  It’s not cheap certainly, but you’d be paying this sort of price for decent dry Muscat from Alsace.  Equally, it was great to be able to give the Pedro Ximenez Reserva de Familla Malaga from Lopez Hermanos an outing.  It’s effectively liquid raisins so what could be better with mince pies or Christmas cake?  Actually it did have some competition for this slot – more on that later!
David Benito and Fernando Sastre of C & D Wines
present a selection of Spanish wines
From the Italian selection everyone seemed to enjoy the Prosecco and perennial favourites Colle dei Tigli and Rosso Passo from Cantine Lenotti hit the spot again.  Be warned though – the equally popular Malintoppo 2007 is running out and there is no more so jump quickly if you’d like some.  The undoubted star of this table was the Rosso di Montalcino from Verbena - Tuscany at its best and on offer too for the rest of the year.
Ian and Jan Steel from For The Love of Wine
have a super range of Italian wines from individual producers.
On the French table my own personal favourites were undoubtedly Alain Chavy’s Bourgogne Chardonnay (which comes from vines located in Puligny Montrachet) and the fantastic Cairanne “Le Ventabren” from Domaine des Escaravailles.  So often it’s easy not to look beyond the brighter commercial lights of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas in the southern Rhone, but lesser-known villages such as Cairanne are well worth sniffing out.

Jonathan Kinns regularly discovers fantastic small producers from all over France.
There was certainly a buzz spreading around the room about the 2014 vintage of The Cloud Factory Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and the 2013 vintage of the Verdiccio dei Castelli di Jesi Pallio di San Floriano certainly stopped me in my tracks.  So often a wine that it’s easy to overlook.  Reduced prices on Grand Cru wines from Alsace are also difficult to ignore!  Popularity of the reds certainly favoured the more obvious delights of Pablo Y Walter Malbec and Coyam (one of the best Chilean wines you’ll ever taste).

Ed Fancourt always manages to produce an eclectic mix of wines from all over the world.
It was great to welcome Paul Boutinot to our tasting this year with a fantastic range from his winery at Waterkloof in Stellenbosch.  The Peacock Ridge wines were certainly a big hit (it’s so good to see South African Chenin Blanc taken to the heights it deserves rather than being left to produce the run-of-the-mill anonymous whites of old).  The flavours delivered by the Circle of Life pair are well worth their price tag too!

Paul Boutinot shows a selction of his wines from Waterkloof in South Africa
As for the “spirits” table… well I’d not tried a Swedish Whisky before and Mackmyra Bruks won lots of friends with its wonderfully soft character.  Seale’s 10 year old rum is wonderfully pure and Edmond Briottet’s Liqueur de Rose added a Turkish Delight note to a glass of Prosecco – it’s a bit of a room-splitter though, a “love-or-hate” experience!  Finally there was the Umeshu (plum-infused Sake) which is just about as good an accompaniment to mince pies as you can find.  If the PX Malaga was too rich a flavour for you then the gentle fruitiness and warmth of the Umeshu will have you curling up in front of a roaring winter fire in no time!

Helen Wainwright with her table of "funnies".
Swedish Whisky, wonderfully pure rum from Barbados,
Liqueur de Rose and Umeshu - a plum-infused Sake.
 Finally, a huge “Thank You” to our wonderful food stalls for also supporting our tasting again.  If you are looking for some festive spoilers then you won’t go far wrong with the locally produced selections from The Artisan Smokehouse, Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses, The Suffolk Pate Company and Stephens Beekeepers.  We have stocks of both the Spring and Summer variants of their honey in the shop now.
Tim Matthews of The Artisan Smokehouse
Jason Salisbury of Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses
Marie-Louise Miller of The Suffolk Pate Company

Chris & Marian Stephens of Stephens Beekeepers

If you missed this tasting we run a similar event in late spring/early summer and will publish the date for this in the New Year.  Once again, many thanks to all who supported us and enjoyed such a great evening!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Every Little Hurts...

If you like to keep up with the news and current affairs you have no doubt read about Tesco’s rather public slide into a significant pit of ordure.  Unhappily for them this latest transgression coincides with the approach of Christmas, a time when even sensible, level headed folks seem to think that we’re all in for a siege and lay in victuals as if the shops are shut until Easter.

Let us recap:  Tesco showed a £263 million profits overstatement which, unsurprisingly has triggered an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).  Although the SFO seems to have an interest in the operations of several, if not all departments, the booze crew is what we need to focus on and our trade press is releasing some fascinating information about how the Beer, Wine & Spirits section works.

When Wines of Interest lists a bottle of wine having recognized it as a quality product to start with, we buy it at the supplier’s price, put on a modest mark-up and flog it to one of you.  That’s it.  When Tesco lists a bottle of wine, first they lean on the supplier for a better price, they charge a listing fee and a shelf space fee over and above any promotions and deals, the costs of which are also found by the supplier; they demand further, retrospective discounts, payable at the end of the period subject to sales targets being reached.  Once all of these have been agreed the suppliers should know exactly where they stand, but on top of all the foregoing Tesco have been threatening suppliers with delistings unless further, unexpected “supplier contributions” are made.  These can be huge and make significant additions to Tesco’s overall profit, while further reducing the margins of hard-pushed suppliers.  “Every little Helps”.  Yes, but who? 

To illustrate the point one highly regarded, one-time buyer for Somerfield has shared her first-hand experience of inside pressure when the former found itself in trouble.  Harpers Wine & Spirit reports, “…she made it clear that the message from on high was ‘we need to bring in more.’ ‘The pressure was on to recruit marketing monies.  I felt that my integrity as a buyer was being compromised.  You had to say (to suppliers) ‘I know we did that deal but I now need another £15,000 from you’.”  Amongst other disagreeable chores “she says she was also told to delist wines to bring in products with more marketing revenues attached.”  For those of us who love wine, having to buy crappy brands with a gun to the head is just a nightmare.

According to the chief exec. of Sentinel Management Consultants (also as reported in Harpers Wine & Spirit), “Tesco’s demands on suppliers had become ’more frequent and quite creative’….Tesco had been asking for ‘pulled forward promotional trigger and annual bonuses.’ “  You have to chew your way through the jargon there but Sentinel’s CEO explains, ‘People can argue it’s not a crime if anyone’s dumb enough to do it.  But some (of the payments) are undeniably next year’s promotions.  You cannot possibly have earned them before they have taken place.  That’s a little trickier to get past the auditors.’ “

Tesco seem to have redefined the term “business partnership” - it all looks pretty one-sided from our perspective.  While the SFO evidently think there are good grounds to question the legality of these practices and we won’t pre-judge out loud in these litigious days, our opinion of the morality is that it stinks.  Among the many questions this affair raises is the one that asks, “How different is this style of buying from that of the other multiples?”  Tesco might have been the most aggressive, but it’s hard to believe that others have not adopted at least some of these tricks.  We’ll just leave that one hanging in the air.

With the rocketing popularity of the discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl, the more familiar supermarkets do not have it all their own way anymore.  As they make ever greater inroads into the customer numbers of the supermarkets, the latter are starting to take note of the methods of the newcomers and the signs are there that they are beginning to imitate them.  Tesco have advised the Off Licence News that they are reducing the number of wines on promotion this Christmas.  They featured 280 in 2013; this year that will be 100 to 120.  Apparently this is to provide the customer with better focus.  Nothing to do with being rumbled and not in a position to bully more money out suppliers, of course.

Aldi and Lidl do what they do with relatively few core lines, Victoria Moore wrote in the Saturday Telegraph of November 11th that these currently run at 50 and 80 respectively with additional offers flown in quarterly “coming and going around them”.  A big selection is expensive for several reasons and the discounters are prompting the big boys to reduce their own.  Victoria says, “Tesco – even before the accounting scandal hit – had already decided to reduce its wine range by about 150 lines.” She draws a couple of conclusions of which the most telling is this, “I’m also predicting a polarisation in wine-buying patterns that mirrors the way we now shop for food: small local shops for specialities, supermarkets for plonk. For years I’ve claimed that it was impossible for small outfits to compete in the £6-£9 price range because they simply don’t have the efficiencies of scale. But so many supermarket bottles at this level are now so wine-by-the-yard-lowest-and-I-mean-really-low-common-denominator dull that this is no longer the case. I’m beginning to send friends on tight budgets to independent shops and they are reporting back that they are thrilled not just with the quality and the individuality of the wines but also the click-buy-door-to-door delivery service.” 

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

What with the dodgy buying tactics, the equally dishonest, spurious £9.99 £4.99 pricing wheezes and that opinion from experienced and neutral writers, surely the time has come to buy more from the independents and less from the nationals.  Questions will continue to be asked not only by the SFO but probably in parliament in due course; shouldn’t consumers be considering their purchasing more closely too?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Why Isn't It Christmas Yet...?

It was a complicated set of domestic circumstances which meant that I was out walking the dog this morning whilst it was still dark.  I plugged in my ipod but in the early morning gloom selected the wrong playlist and before I had made it as far as the street outside I had Michael Bublé telling me that “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”.  Actually, it wasn’t.  I decided to go with the flow but not even Noddy Holder shouting at me made me feel remotely festive.  In a way I’m not surprised by this because it’s only mid November.  The Halloween pumpkins have only made it as far as the brown bin and there are still dead fireworks in the streets.

News reports tell us that Christmas starts earlier every year, sometime in August apparently so surely it’s OK to feel vaguely Christmassy in November? We tasted the candidates for our Christmas Mixed Case Offers back in September though as is always the case other lines have emerged since then which have equally grabbed our enthusiasm; suddenly there’s too much to choose from!

As I continued my walk the opening bars of Mistletoe and Wine by Sir Cliff set me thinking which various food and wine pairings might work well based on our current selection.  I skipped forward to the next song… Ker-ching! There was Roy Wood wishing it could be Christmas every day.  Now that’s a horrid thought, after all, if it really was Christmas every day you’d be mighty tired of turkey pretty quickly.  Turkey either means light red or full-ish white.  Red or white Burgundy maybe?  BourgogneHautes Cotes de Beaune Rouge perhaps, or Francois Lumpp’s Givry which is something we always seem to suggest, but it is so good and something we don’t think we will ever tire of!  Les Volets Chardonnay might be a good option at a more modest level, or what about those fantastic Grand Cru wines from Cave de Turckheim in Alsace (all nicely reduced incidentally).  Pinot Gris with smoked salmon, maybe even the turkey? Riesling with a posh fish dish of some sort, and Gewurztraminer with some wonderfully gooey cheeses.

For years we only had one CD of Christmas music in our house and the first song on it (played as the word “aperitif” drifted across the kitchen) is Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas” so as the shuffle feature on my playlist selected this track I immediately thought of Sherry (as you do…) and a good one too.  This year have we unearthed that most rare creature, a dry amontillado that doesn’t cost a fortune.  Delgado Zuleta are based in Sanlucar de Barrameda so their amontillado comes from Manzanilla base wine making it lighter and nuttier than most.  When there’s a bottle in our house it lives in the fridge… but not for long!

Next up was Wham! singing “Last Christmas” and I remembered that somewhere amongst my music collection was a version of this labelled as the “pudding mix” (child of the eighties? Who? Me?) which set off thoughts of Christmas pud, cake and mince pies.  Ah! Several options here then, Campbells’ RutherglenMuscat, Lopez Hermanos’ Pedro Ximenez or even the plum infused sake ShiraumeUmeshu from Akashi-Tai in Japan (you could keep all of these in the fridge too if you like).  If, like JH, you believe that Christmas pudding is an invention of Beelzebub and that a lighter dessert is the order of the day you’ll need to refer to this previous blog article for ideas on dessert wines and the sort of things they work best with.

Abba’s Happy New Year set me thinking of fizz.  Prosecco perhaps? Decent Cava? Even modest Champagne if you think it will be appreciated (Rasselet would be perfect – better than the big names and cheaper too)! How about the English equivalent of Champagne from Furleigh Estate in Dorset, or even a Sparkling Shiraz from down under?

It’s odd how these thought processes work, music can be very emotive, and as Mud began to sing “Lonely This Christmas” I looked forward to a Christmas with the family, but it did make me wonder, “OK, if it was just me, what would I eat and what would I drink?”.  Beef, I decided.  That would mean a big red of some description.  Domaine de la Mordoree’s “La Remise” perhaps (while we still have some left – we were only allowed to buy 6 cases).  If that’s all gone maybe the Pablo Y Walter Malbec?  If I fancied a “spoiler” it would have to be Coyam which probably is nearly too good to be shared with all but the most appreciative of friends anyway!

I’ve always been surprised that the Beach Boys made a Christmas song.  It seems wrong somehow for them to be singing about “Little Saint Nick” with those harmonies so evocative of summer.  Ah yes, summer, I remember that; my favourite season.  I love summer, it means rosé and Test Match Special, but then we reckon Boxing Day means rosé too with a turkey, stuffing and cold bread sauce sandwich and what could be better with that than a glass of cold pink!  Chateau Montaud from Provence perhaps, or if you fancy something bigger try Mediodia from Navarra or the Santa Digna Rose from Chile?

If summer is my favourite season winter probably comes second.  I like spring too as the days lengthen and nature wakes up, but winter is lovely as long as you haven’t got to go anywhere.  It seems to me that those short midwinter days (cue Jethro Tull singing “Ring Out Solstice Bells”) provide the perfect excuse for what are known in our house as “Drawbridge Days” namely the opportunity to shut the door, light the fire and open something rich and warming.  Garnacha del Fuego would be perfect – it even has a fire on the label!

By the time I was approaching home, I still wasn’t feeling particularly festive (though Steeleye Span’s splendid version of “Gaudete” came closest) and I concluded that really only a high volume playing of John Taverner’s “The Lamb” would do the trick and I really didn’t feel up to that yet, though the word “lamb” set me thinking…  Guelbenzu Azul…?  I could go on…

Too many wine merchants simply slap the tasting note “Great with turkey” on wines that they want to shift at around Christmastime, though I hope my random thoughts from this morning demonstrate that we really do love thinking up great wine and food combinations (even on a pre-breakfast dog walk).  In fact, we can’t help it!  So whatever you’re planning for your table this festive season we would love the opportunity to suggest something suitable from our range for you to drink.  Any budget, any taste, you only have to ask.  You might even get me feeling vaguely festive….eventually.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Don't Des(s)ert The Pudding Wines...

Isn’t it funny how we jump to conclusions? I probably do it myself outside my comfort zone of the wine trade, but occasionally the public do seem to take a quantum leap of logic.  If I buy a pair of blue trousers, say, that turns out to be uncomfortable, do I forever regard all blue trousers as poorly tailored?  Of course not.  Why then did the chap in the shop a couple of days ago glare at me in disgust when my recommendation of a particularly delicious, full rosé obviously failed to float his boat?  He declared, “I’m certainly not having that, it’s dark and all dark rosés are sweet.”  Well, the solitary example he had tried elsewhere might have been, but all ours are dry.  “But it can’t be - it’s dark,” came his wildly wrong but unshakably convinced reply.

I wondered, as I selected a particularly rough section of brick wall against which to bang my head, if by employing the tailoring analogy combined with your man’s bizarre reasoning, he would accept a pair of green trousers of precisely the same size, style and cloth and find them suddenly and miraculously a perfect fit.  Almost certainly, was the sad conclusion.

It occurred to me that the understanding of dessert wine is more likely than most to give rise to erroneous assumptions.  It’s not just as simple as whether you have a sweet tooth or not; there are people who will launch into endless variants of gooey pudding with great relish, but will not countenance the appropriate wine to go with it.  I am the other way around and cannot stand the vast majority of desserts.  A sliver of sharp tarte au citron or something light and waspy made of gooseberries perhaps and rarely at that, but come at me with a bowl of banoffi pie, forged in the kitchens of hell itself and I promise you will end up wearing it.  You don’t want to know where you’d find the spoon.  However present me with a well-selected, exquisitely balanced sweet wine instead and I will be in raptures.

 For many of us our first introduction to wine was something easy, unchallenging, probably sweetish….I can remember drinking Dad’s Mosel behind the garden shed when I thought he wasn’t looking.  A junior job in the trade and a desire to learn more began to reveal what I’d been missing, but I remained guilty for two or three years of lumping all sweeties into the bracket of Beginners’ Stuff.  Certainly I’d pulled away from the cheap, German pap of the 70’s but a little knowledge and a lot of inexperience had engendered a sort of snobbery.

I had jumped to the wrong conclusion and was clearly wide of the mark.  One day somebody put a glass of top Sauternes in front of me - it was Ch. Suduiraut 1967 and I will never forget it - and my perspective cleared.  Smitten in an instant, I was a changed man.

There are many regular wine drinkers who have not had the opportunity to taste beyond that initial slurp of rotten old Liebfraumilch and I do not blame any of them for feeling a kind of residual snobbery themselves, nor for not wishing to experiment any further.  All we can do is try and convince you not to give up on sweeties until you have given a chance to at least a couple.  You wouldn’t judge all red wine on the showing of a bottle of Beaujolais  Nouveau, after all.

There is less room for forgiveness when assessing sweet wine.  If you are on holiday in Europe and a carafe of rough, dry pink appears on the table you make allowances for the circumstances and get on with it.  If your host at a barbecue produces a rustic red, it might actually be exactly what his burnt offerings need and deserve. If somebody serves you a less than decent sweetie you can’t touch it: there is nothing more disgusting than poor sweet wine and nothing more delicious than a really good one.  The main deciding factor is balance.  Sweet wine should not be sticky, it should not feel like sugar syrup in the mouth.  Even at its richest it must have acidity to counter the sweetness and leave the palate fresh, if not actually cleansed.  That is the skeleton upon which to hang the other contributions: is it full or light, strongly flavoured or mild, unctuous in texture, old and mellow or young and sprightly?  Does it show the signature of noble rot?  Does the character of the grape shine through?  All these things matter in the whole complex recipe, but without acidity sweet wine is flat, mawkish and mouth-coating.

Chocolate can be a challenge, but it's not impossible
It’s handy to get your food matching right too.  If you are serving a sweetie with a dessert, you need to ensure that the wine is sweeter than the pud.  There are few wines that can take on chocolate; the ones that match work by countering the natural bitterness of high-grade, dark, not especially sweet speciality choc.  White chocolate puds are sickly and, frankly, universally horrid.  If you insist, don’t bother drinking anything with it as you will waste your wine.  If you still have room for such a vile confection at that stage of the meal, it means that you haven’t eaten enough of the sensible food before it!  Puds with variations of caramelized fruit like an apple tarte tatin are ideal, as are creams and custards.  Crème Brulée is perfect with Sauternes or Monbazillac.  Fruit-and-meringue offers a great excuse for a lighter, zestier style of sweetie.
Crème Brulee

There’s no need to restrict sweet wines just to desserts.  There is an honourable French tradition of drinking such wines with rich, smooth pâtés, classically foie gras, but a chicken liver parfait is super.  Try one with blue cheese - it’s the perfect foil for the salty character of Roquefort, Saint-Agur or even Stilton.  An agreeable way of tailing off dinner is with a basket of fresh nuts to crack and a glass of something sweet - Madeira is a delicious retro option.

We have plenty to offer across a wide range of styles, familiar and unusual, old and modern, if you want to give one a try and have increased the selection with some new faces earlier this year.  These can never be cheap wines and you should always treat apparently bespoke, but evidently inexpensive dessert wines with considerable suspicion.  The yields are necessarily tiny, picking is extremely perfectionist - sometimes one shriveled berry at a time and, with harvests essentially late, there is always the risk of deteriorating autumn weather affecting the crop.

If this is a treat that toots your flute, peruse our selection here where you will also find details of which foods work best with these delicious wines.  As ever, feel free to call us for any advice.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Domaine de la Mordoree

This might seem a bit hypocritical given the tone of our previous blog, but the arrival of our annual shipment from the extraordinarily fine Domaine de la Mordorée in the southern Rhône Valley always prompts a fresh wave of excitement at Wines of Interest HQ.  Obviously we are long term fans of the estate; so is Jancis Robinson and so is Robert Parker, both with their very different but equally valid palates and preferences.  Even some really great producers have their detractors, but Domaine de la Mordorée seems to be held in high esteem throughout the trade and ranks of writers and critics.

The property consists of holdings in Tavel, Lirac and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and excels in all three districts.  In Lirac, at least, it is considered to be the finest producer even by its peers, setting a benchmark which most others find hard to follow.  Here particularly the hard work on this estate has done much to raise the reputation of the commune as a whole and deserves significant praise.

Every line we take is on allocation to us - you might expect the top examples, made in smaller quantities, to be rationed, but Christophe Délorme - the head honcho - can sell everything he makes with ease and our orders are always ruthlessly trimmed back.  The estate’s growing following in America, spread by the aforementioned Mr. Parker, and Christophe’s viticultural perfectionism resulting in low yields, both ensure that quantities to little players like Wines of Interest will not increase.  Further, Christophe has been working towards biodynamic production for years, introducing plots to this demanding régime one at a time which also takes its toll on volume.

So what have we managed to coax out this time?  Not a lot, in all honesty, but a few precious cases each of 2013 Côtes du Rhône Rosé, 2013 Tavel Rosé and his white 2013 Lirac, “La Reine des Bois”; not much of the 2013 Côtes du Rhône Rouge and a handful of cases of 2012 Lirac, “La Dame Rousse”, 2012 Lirac, “La Reine des Bois” and a jealously guarded, tiny stash of the miraculous 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, “La Reine des Bois”.  We also have a small parcel of a relatively new red line in its 2013 variant, called La Remise de Mordorée, of which more in a few paragraphs.

The vintages are both excellent at this estate, but significantly different.  2012 is one of Christophe’s declared favourites, in his top five over the last thirty-ish years.  I will not presume to do any better than reproduce his own summary for you….

“The wines are harmonious, balanced, suave and fresh and at the same time incredibly fragrant, with a rare aromatic complexity and a subtle blend of floral and fruity aromas, a great vintage playing on its finesse, elegance and its refined concentration, one that makes you fall in love as soon as you taste it: a beautiful vintage.”

2013 clearly presented considerable challenges as a cold winter and cool, wet spring triggered a coulure - essentially the embryonic bunchlets shatter and flowers remain sterile with an uneven fruiting at best or even total failure.  In this instance the Grenache vineyards were badly hit with an 80% spoil rate on some plots.  Other varieties suffered to a much lesser extent and in the end the Syrah was “definitely the best for twenty years” and Mourvèdre, “despite the late maturing year are amazing.”  So not all bad then, by any means: Christophe summarises - “2013 was a tough year, one that never let us take a break; thankfully the quality of the wine is remarkable.  In conclusion, the wines are great, but will be extremely rare.”  We will have to see how much of the senior reds we are allowed next spring.

Now, back to “La Remise” which is a more modest offering with a completely different mix of varieties, very modern and beautifully put together now that the initial experimental phase is past.  It is a blend of Merlot with Marselan; Marselan is a vine of huge potential, a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache which has a particularly dark colour and substantial fruitiness.  It also has a good tolerance to oxidation which means that an open bottle will last for a few days without spoiling.  This particular wine is what is known at Wines of Interest, as “a big bugger”, very full with considerable body which can be drunk now with suitably hearty scoff like a robust braise of oxtail or cassoulet.  At this stage you can enjoy a big sock of youthful, primary fruit, but you could leave it for four years for a rounder feel and more developed flavours.

We now have a broad spread of different vintages going back for several years, though all in modest quantities and in various stages of maturity and drinkability.  Below is a list of what we have now and, I know we always say it, nonetheless it bears repeating, if you fancy any of these please jump quickly.  In two or three weeks time this list may have changed.  Please note that some of these are under bond and we will require notice to get them in for you.  This does provide you with a great opportunity to obtain a few bottles for tucking away in the medium term.  Please feel free to call us for advice.   

Domaine de la Mordoree - Available Wines

2013 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire
2012 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire

2012 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire

2012 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2009 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire

2012 Chateauneuf du Pape "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Good News From Gasull (Olive Oil Producer)

There has been much deserved publicity lately about the hunting of migrant birds as they fly over the Mediterranean heading north for the breeding season.  Malta has been singled out as perhaps the worst perpetrator, with a varied selection of means of destruction being employed, including reports of harriers being shot on the ground at night dazzled by torchlight and unable to escape.

It is heartening to relate that, in some small way, others are doing their bit for conservation.  Further north in Catalonia where our olive oil is made by Olis Gasull, this environmentally tuned-in producer has been working with the GEPEC group of ecologists to allow the reintroduction of barn owls into their olive groves.  They now have a signed agreement and three barn owls were hatched in the nattily named Centre de recuperació de Fauna Salvatge in Vallcent.  They will remain in captivity in full sight of the olive trees to acclimatise them to their intended future home and will be let out in a month’s time when they are old enough to hunt for themselves.

Gasull's olive groves

Gasull have been following a policy of general sustainability for several years now and pursue agricultural strictures which have eliminated herbicides and reduced the use of pesticides as much as possible.  They see this collaboration with the naturalists as a logical extension of their responsible methods of farming.

Although technically speaking they cannot claim to be organic, the fact is that they are trying harder than many and it is reassuring to know that their delicious olive oil can only benefit further from this laudable policy.

If you have not yet discovered our Gasull Olive Oil now is the time to give it a go.  At £7.20 for a litre, or £35 for a five litre tin of cool pressed, extra virgin, single variety Arbequina olive oil you have a bargain kitchen essential.  You are also supporting a small independent company endeavouring to discharge its environmental and community responsibilities as best it can and make a proven difference in so doing.  Buy Olive Oil here

Arbequina Olives

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Tabali Winery, Chile

I suppose it might appear to be a form of torture and you may well ask why we do it, but you cannot have enjoyed being part of the wine trade for as long as we have without being equally eager to explore food and wine combinations and developing an abiding interest in all forms of scoff.  I’m talking about watching Gennaro Contaldo producing a rich, gooey, artery-clogging lasagna on BBC2’sFood and Drink programme, while enduring a 5:2 diet fasting day and having to ratchet up the volume to cover the noise of my own stomach, protesting mightily at the injustice of it all.  Compounding the gastric angst was their wine commentator, Kate Goodman, who wheeled out three different Syrah/Shiraz and waved her glass spitefully at me on what has to be a “dry” day. 

While I wondered why the wine choices were not specifically Italian rather than international to go with this calorifically disastrous, unctuous celebration of home-cooking, I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised to see that the final wine of the trio was none other than Tabali Syrah Reserva.  Furthermore it received the most favourable reaction of the lot and they were all impressed by its unexpected elegance and rich depth of flavour.  It is good to see top French and Italian chefs knocked out by a southern hemisphere wine at a price below that of most Claret or Chianti.   It was also interesting to note that although the price you should expect to pay was given as “around £11”, the price at Wines of Interest is £10.20 with your usual 5% off if you buy one as part of a mixed twelve, taking it well below a tenner.
Tabali Vineyards

Two more wines from their impressive range have come onto our radar recently and have both added to Tabali’s impressive haul of awards and trophies.  Felipe Muller, Tabali’s brilliant winemaker knows the vineyards like his own face and in concert with viticulturalist, Hector Rojas, they have mapped out the distinct terroirs of the estate and planted them with varieties best suited to their particular conditions.  Their Talinay vineyards, about twelve kilometres in from the ocean, are reserved for three which thrive in the calcareous soil here: Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We were seriously bitten by the first and last which ooze class.  Descorchados South American Wine Guide (the equivalent to James Halliday in Australia or Platter in South Africa) has given it The Best Sauvignon Blanc in Chile award while, closer to home, it has won gongs in the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge.  Its mineral-driven, green-apple crispness, fine acidity and cleansing zip led Descorchados to declare it “a Sauvignon fundamental to understanding the wines of Limari,” which is a bit poncy, frankly, but means that Tabali’s Talinay version is the one that sets the standards for the whole region.  Drink with fish and shellfish, obviously, but try it with a ceviche if you feel a little more adventurous.

Felipe Muller

Talinay Pinot Noir has a structure and refinement derived from its unique site and combines freshness with a degree of richness and finesse with a sense of strength.  Pinot Noir is a cooler climate grape and does not naturally, nor should it be encouraged to, develop the psychotic level of alcohol or port-like mouth-weight which some manage to coax out of Shiraz in the heat of the Barossa.  In wine big is not always best, although there are plenty out in customer land who equate octane with intrinsic quality; hand-to-hand combat reds have their place with a big winter braise, but frequently a bit more restraint, suppleness and subtlety are called for.  This is a job that Pinot Noir was put on Earth to do and Talinay does it in spades with a touch of pretty Pinot scent and assured elegance.  The minerality so to the fore on the palate of the Talinay Sauvignon expresses itself as structurally in the Pinot with an appetising edge of tannin which puts it perfectly with food.  Drink with feathered game, guinea fowl or grilled lamb.  To balance this delicious duo, Descorchados has also awarded it the position of The Best Pinot Noir in Chile.  How’s that for the double?  

We have stocked a few wines from this fine estate for several years and have banged on about them to the point of boredom, but only because we don’t want anyone to miss out, for there is a widespread misperception that Chilean wines are perfectly sound and preferably cheap, but simply do not feature among the world’s best.  Oh yes they do.  To reinforce this point leading Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, published an article in January this year naming the two best winemakers of Chile.  In the article, Felipe Müller is honoured for his ability to understand Tabali´s distinctive terroir and use it to create remarkable wines, unique for Chile.  According to the newspaper: “Today, more than ever, the wines of Tabalí are among the best wines produced in Chile”. For his achievement Felipe Müller is nicknamed “The Interpreter” and chosen as “Best Young Winemaker”.

Best Sauvignon in Chile, Best Pinot Noir in Chile and Best Young Winemaker in Chile...surely this needs some investigating.  We are pleased to make available the two Talinay wines in an introductory offer so that you can see what all the fuss is about.

Now, just before you look at the price and declare swipe me, that’s not my usual budget; how much does a bottle of standard house red set you back when you eat out?  Exactly.  By comparison these are a bargain.

Price: £13.95 but £11.95 if you buy two bottles or one of each.

Price: £15.95 but £13.95 if you buy two bottles or one of each.


Fairtrade Fortnight - Bit Lukewarm Actually. Here's Why...

Any minute now we should all expect a tap with the “worthy” stick as retailers try to persuade us to buy Fairtrade.  Many of us will respond and pay the extra for what are, as far as anyone can tell, the same bananas/coffee/chocolate (delete as appropriate) we bought last week with the exception of the comforting blue & green logo on them.  But hey! That’s fine because someone at the other end of the line should be getting a fair deal, right?  Not according to one of our suppliers who, when exploring the idea of a range of Fairtrade wines with a major supermarket was told that whilst this was an idea they would love to take further, they weren’t prepared to pay any more for the wines.  Really?  Isn’t that the point?  Shouldn’t those of us who can afford to do so be prepared to pay a bit more for the reassurance of a better deal for the chaps at the other end?  This particular major retailer was not in the least concerned about these effects, it simply wished to bask in the glory of being perceived to be Doing The Right Thing. 

How many will be offering discounts on Fairtrade products during Fairtrade Fortnight, and who do you suppose is supporting these offers? Cutting prices on these products just at the point that’s supposed to increase sales is at best counterproductive; hypocritical at worst.

Please don’t get us wrong here though.  We are not against Fairtrade (and other similar schemes) in principle.  We just don’t like the fact that a well-intentioned scheme has been hijacked and used as a marketing tool.  There are a lot of front-end costs too which make us wonder just how much of the good that could be done gets siphoned off in bureaucracy.

Surely the idea is not to attract the bargain hunters with special offers just for two weeks of the year but rather to encourage people to switch permanently to lines which deliver a better deal for the producers?  Sorry, but you don’t achieve that with discounts.  All you do is attract the “price-is-all-that-matters” consumers who’ll be chasing the next deal in 2 weeks time and the golden opportunity for long term benefit will be lost.

There is only one thing that will clinch long-term support for Fairtrade lines and that’s delivering quality products at affordable prices (actually that may be two things so to get round that we’ll call it “value for money”).  This is where it all starts to fall down as far as the vast majority of Fairtrade wines are concerned because frequently the people in most need of help are working the poorest plots of land so you’re not starting with good quality raw material – silk purse, sow’s ear etc.

Oh we’ve tried plenty of Fairtrade wines certainly, but it strikes us that the reason people buy them is because of the badge and not because they’re any good (the supermarket tale above certainly suggests that’s what they think anyway) and that’s putting the cart before the horse.  Frankly, the wines themselves need to be better, both better made and more exciting.  It’s no use trotting out yet another predictable South African Chenin Blanc or Chilean Merlot which people will simply find “acceptable”.  There has to be a reason to keep buying these wines beyond the call of the badge.  You don’t drink the badge after all.

If you’re minded to try wines such as these during the dedicated two week period we would point you to the Santa Digna (Gewurztraminer and Cab.Sauv.Rose) wines by Miguel Torres and the Coyam and Novas reds by Emiliana.  They carry the Fair For Life badge as opposed to the Fairtrade one but they were good wines first and happen also to subsequently deliver a good deal for the people who grow the grapes.  These wines do appear on offer occasionally, though not at the demand of the retailer.  More importantly, they are all good enough for us to recommend them for 52 weeks of the year and not just two.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Call Time On Duty

Now that the smoke has cleared away from Christmas and the New Year celebrations we start to look forward to the late winter and spring tastings put on by our suppliers.  It’s part of the planning process to fill gaps in the list and to discover new lines and new growers, as well as consolidating existing relationships with more familiar faces.  In short it’s time to go shopping and, as it’s the only type of shopping either of us can manage with a smile, it is usually fun.  Sometimes it’s challenging or frustrating, but when we have written off the non-starters and filtered through the shortlist to emerge with a clutch of exciting fresh ideas for the Wines of Interest 2014/15 Wine List, we are confident that you, dear customer, will have plenty to get your teeth into over the coming year.

 Part of that process necessarily involves costing.  Obviously we would like to make a modest turn out of it - you can’t feed and clothe the children by giving it away.  One thing is for certain here and that is that no matter how much we sell, nobody makes more out of our labours than the government and it is the government which makes the major contribution to the expense of your favourite tipple.  Now, we all know that education, the NHS, the armed forces, the police and so on must be paid for somehow and that the principle of paying tax is sound, so we are not griping about excise per se.  Thus as Williamson bashes his calculator and redraws his spreadsheets after the spring budget, we understand why our industry is required to stump up, but what does irk is just how much.  Have a little trundle through some revealing figures to see the extent that we are lent on by No. 11 Downing Street….

Did you know that the wine and spirit industries are worth £20 billion annually to the British economy and support, directly or indirectly, £40 billion of economic activity in the UK?  The UK alcohol industries (ghastly description but you catch our drift) support nearly 2 million jobs in total.  Worth encouraging wouldn’t you think?

Since the introduction of the alcohol duty escalator in 2008 by Mr. Darling, wine taxation has risen by 50% and spirits by 44%, of which 25% for both categories was imposed by nice Mr. Osborne who picked up the baton when it became his turn.  Tax now accounts for 79% of an average-priced bottle of spirits and 57% of an average bottle of wine.  This will increase to over 80% on spirits and 60% on wine if the escalator is retained for 2014.  Don’t forget that every time the excise duty increases as part of our cost, the retail selling price also contains a growing amount of VAT.  You pay a tax on a tax.

As we stand now, the UK accounts for 38.8% of all duty paid in the EU – more than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.  Phew!

Next time you hear the talking heads pontificating about the UK’s alcohol problems, putting such troubles down to the cheapness of booze in this country, remember these statistics.

What beats me is just how the constant milking of our industry to this punitive degree squares up with government’s declared intent to create jobs and support growth.  It doesn’t look that way from here.  With the chancellor’s budget booked for March 19th the spectre of another increase looms large and, as the duty escalator’s rate is set at 2% over inflation, we could be looking at another significant hike.

This is not a partisan, anti-government rant; all the parties of whatever political hue have been equally unsympathetic to our trade down the years.  The fact remains that the UK, whilst apparently enjoying a modest measure of economic improvement, remains pretty well immersed in the proverbial cess pit, wherever you wish to lay the blame for that.  Thus we understand why tax revenues need to be guarded and we understand why the national belt has had to be tightened.  What we don’t understand is why our industry, which shows such obvious benefits to the nation, should once again be clobbered like no other sector that we can think of, which results in the long term stifling of one of our more successful industries and contributors of revenue.

In short, we’ve paid already.  Go and fleece somebody else for a change, George.  Oh, and don’t defer it for a year, DO IT NOW.

If any of you feel similarly but do not know where to express that frustration, please go to  hosted by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and endorsed by The TaxPayers’ Alliance, where you can find out more about this issue and send a pre-prepared, electronic letter to your local MP.  The words and major points are already there for you so please feel free to make your voice heard.  There’s an election in the offing and the current incumbents could do with a splash of popularity so it may well be a good time to nudge the chancellor in this direction.  If he sees sense but leaves it any later and it’ll look like a bribe.

Of course, if you actively wish to pay more for your booze and see further hurdles shoved in front of your favourite pub or restaurant and the vital tourist industry, please feel equally free not to do this…..

(Data sourced from Harpers Wine & Spirit Magazine, January 2014, issue 113)