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.