Archive for July, 2018

Wine without personality is not a place any of us want to be…

Friday, July 27th, 2018

Fellow Wine Lovers,

We had a nice conversation with one of our customers yesterday. Now, I’m not pointing this out to imply that all the other conversations we have with customers are not nice, far from it. In fact, now that I’ve got my spade out and need to start digging frantically, I would submit that every conversation we have ever had with any of our customers has been a joy and a life enriching experience that leaves a trail of enlightenment in its wake….

So, I’ll start again. One of our customers, who is also in the business of buying and selling things, predominantly craft beers, made an observation yesterday that resonated. One of the absolute pleasures and strengths of running your own small, independent business is having the freedom to do what you want.

I don’t mean the kind of ‘do what you want’ that involves sloping off to the beach on sunny days and drinking fine wines off the top shelf, I, or rather he, mean(s) the freedom of choice. No one tells me who I have to buy wines from and, in much the same way, no one has to sell their wine to me; no one has a gun to their head.

The result of this freedom is that we don’t tend to have big brand wines or beers, we don’t sell Veuve, The Ned or Peroni and no one is making us. The freedom we have is to deal with people we like. There are not a lot of rock star wages in the wine trade at any level and as a result one of the main draws, beyond the obvious vinous pleasures, is the people that populate this grape fuelled industry. We love buying wine and beer from Phil and Clive and Jack and Walter and Mary and Frankie and Simon and Mark and, of course, Louisa. They are real people who come in and talk to us about what’s new, about sport, about politics, about each other’s families and, occasionally, about wine. We don’t spend the same fortunes with them as their other bigger clients but they never make us feel like that matters and, significantly, they always give us a fair price and are very transparent about price changes when they do have to happen.

Recently, some of our other suppliers have not been showing the same generosity of spirit and in fact have raised prices with no warning, have shown a distinct lack of desire to increase their business with us when we have tried, some we haven’t laid eyes upon in over a year and thus we are parting company with their products – how long until they notice, I wonder?

When we first opened we decided our strap line would be Wines with Personality, mainly because wine without personality is not a place any of us want to be. This belief in personality is why we still deal with the people we enjoy dealing with and why, hopefully, you all still enjoy dealing with us, or at least Wayne because he’s less grumpy!

Thank you Adam, for reminding us why we’re doing this thing and now, you’ll all be glad to hear, the rant is over!

When we haven’t been delisting lines we’ve been busy watching the roads melting. Extraordinary! We’ve all discussed the weather enough already I know and actually, I would be grateful if someone could tell my family and friends in Devon that I already know what beaches, blue sky and ice creams look like without need for constant daily, pictorial reminders. Likewise, you chaps at the BBC do not need to keep showing us pictures of different patches of dried grass around the country – I have a back garden, I can see for myself. Finally, do I really mind if we break the highest temperature recorded in the British Isles – I’m not sure I do, I fully suspect it’ll still be toasty and warm even if we don’t!

Elsewhere, whilst glued to the Tour de France, one of our number has been reminding us of the time he broke his knee when he fell off his bike and then proceeded to cycle home, a mile down the road. To put his heroics into context, Philippe Gilbert threw himself over a wall whilst descending during the Tour this week, scrambled back up onto the road, got back on his bike, cycled a further 60 kilometres to the stage finish and picked the prize for most aggressive rider of the day. He too fractured his knee. Wayne, Philippe, we salute you!

In Stratford, the ladies have been playing Hockey in the Vitality Women’s World Cup. England have drawn twice, which has an eerie sense of déjà vu, and play Ireland on Sunday, who currently top the group. I have to tell you this because it’s nigh on impossible to find out elsewhere unless you have BT Sport.

The politicos are all on holiday, which feels like a bit of a mickey take, given the amount of Brexit plates that are currently spinning but slowing down. If we end up in a monumental pickle in March, I imagine we’ll all look back fondly on the 10 week summer break our leaders enjoyed?

And so, as often happens, we turn to drink. This weekend, as it’s the end of the TdF, we’ll taste two wines of French provenance, one from the Loire and one from Roussillon.

Domaine Champalou Vouvray Sec 2016 – £17.99 Catherine and Didier started the Domaine in 1983 and have gone on to become one of the most acclaimed producers in Vouvray. This cuvée comes from 35 year old vines and is lovely and crisp, with apple fruit on the nose. Somewhat rounder and richer on the palate leading to a lovely crisp dry finish. It’s unusual for either of us to start a tasting note with ‘delicious’ but in this case, both of us did!

Three Peaks Domaine Treloar 2014 – £14.99 A very classy blend of Syrah (65%), Mourvèdre (25%) and Grenache (10%) from Englishman Jonathon Hesford’s Domaine Treloar. A rich and spicy blend that spent 12 months in French barriques and shows lovely crushed forest fruit character, a touch of earthy minerality and maybe even a hint of leather. Not too heavy but with enough crunch to remind you of what top quality southern French wine is all about.

Now that is probably it from us, apart from a few AOB’s.

Wine School sign up is gathering pace (starts Wednesday 10th October) details attached, don’t miss out. Also the Wine & Cheese and Argentine Tastings are filling up too, so yes, don’t miss out.

Finally, as has become our custom, Saturdays in August we will close at 7pm.

And with that I’m gone – enjoy your weekends and keep topped up on liquids with personality!

School’s Out

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Fellow Wine Lovers,

School is out, almost.

We know this because we have just had two back-to-back evening tastings where phrases like ‘have a great summer’ and ‘see you in September’ were being bandied around with definite gay abandon.

We know this because we can offer a selection of parking spaces outside the shop for large parts of the day.

We know this because the Tennis has finished and the Golf has started.

We know this because we are suddenly selling out of gift bags and nice bottles of wine for favoured teachers, office staff, lunch helpers and TA’s:

ME: ‘do you know what they like to drink?

NICE CUSTOMER PERSON: ‘no, not really, my son is in Year 2, what would a year 2 teacher drink, do you think?’

ME: ‘champagne, definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely yes…’

(this section was sponsored by Ricards Lodge, Bishop Gilpin, WPPS, St Michael’s, St Cecilia’s et al)

We know this because the papers and the websites are filled with things to do with kids over the summer, best restaurants for kids, best picnic sites for kids, best suncream for kids, best swimming trunks for kids, best vegan ice creams for kids, best things to do with kids in the rain….

But in amongst all this Alvin Stardust’s eldest son, Shaun, was being lauded in not only the Times and The Daily Mail but also The Sun for his Summer Super Seven list of things that children should do before they disappear into their telephones and iPad each day. As a parent of two children physically incapable of eating breakfast, or indeed walking from one room to another without their phones being glued to their hands, I was intrigued by his list:

• Getting up, washed and fully dressed without being reminded;
• making, eating and clearing away breakfast;
• taking the dog for a walk (your own or a neighbour’s);
• getting some exercise – a swim, bike ride or jog;
• playing a board game;
• doing a household chore such as stacking the dishwasher;
• reading a book.

Laugh? I was almost admitted to A&E…!

In fact, by the time you read this, school might now be out!

So, with that in mind, how about some drinks…

We’ll have a couple of bottles open this weekend to help you face the dreaded/fabulous prospect of 6 weeks of extra family time. As some of you may have noticed, Wayne loves his velocipede, loves to watch other people on their velocipedes and loves to talk to fellow swift foot enthusiasts about the latest swift foot news from France. Is G racing for Froomey? Is he racing for himself? Is he racing for Sam Warburton? Is Froomey biding his time? Are we going to see a repeat of the Wiggins-Froome tantrum of 2012 but this time with Chris dressed as Bradley? Are we going to see the first UK born winner of the TdF?

These are all questions that should only be addressed whilst one has a glass of wine in one’s hand and, clearly, there is no wine more suitable than one made by the scion of a cycling family.

Marina Coppi is the daughter of the legendary cyclist Fausto Coppi, the first man ever to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. Though vines have always been planted at Castellania, a small village in southeastern Piemonte, it was only when Marina’s son Francesco, along with his wife Anna, took over the property that they began bottling their own wine. They focus on the native varieties of Barbera, Nebbiolo, Croatina, Freisa, Favorita and Timorasso to make wines that are vibrant and well defined – and with this in mind we’ll be opening Vigne Marina Coppi Sant’Andrea Barbera 2016 – £22.99.

For the white, maintaining the Italian theme, we’ll be opening a new wine from a producer we’ve had for a number of years. Many of you have tried their ripasso style Merlot but now the chaps at Gran Passione have made a white wine to go alongside. Made from 60% Garganega (the principal grape in Soave) and 40% Pinot Bianco this is a lovely floral wine with hints of vanilla on the nose. On the palate it is dry, crisp and fresh with ripe fruit flavours which balance out the acidity perfectly. Gran Passione Bianco 2017 – £13.49.

Come in and celebrate the summer with us!

A Taste of Argentina
Thursday 18th October at 8pm we will have our chum Juan Manuel Matas from Gourvid taking us through a selection of his wines from Argentina. So come along and taste Torrontes, marvel at Malbec and delight in the difference between Mendoza and Salta. As usual £20 gets you a chair at the table. So get in touch if you’re game.

School’s back in, almost
And we’re not talking any old school here, we’re talking Wine School!

The term starts again on Wednesday 10th October and finishes on Wednesday 21st November and costs £150 per person for the whole course. There’s a week off for half term in the middle on 24th October but otherwise it takes place every Wednesday for the 6 week course.

So, if you fancy learning more about what’s in your glass, what you would like to put in your glass in future and what you never, ever want to put in your glass ever again, thank you very much, then this is the course for you. Devised for the keen amateur, we aim to demystify the world of wine a little, whilst introducing you to things you might not normally try – and we’ll explain why!

If you fancy this, further, more formal details are attached – or come in and have a chat to us and we’ll talk you through it.

And that’s it from us. Enjoy the M3/M4/M5/A303, get the kids to count the caravans as you finally pass them by, swearing….

Wimbledon Tennis, Tour de France, drinking rosé, birdwatching and sending the kids to visit Gran for a few days

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Well that was fun wasn’t it? The England football team certainly went a lot further than this commentator expected and played some lovely football along the way; it wouldn’t have happened under Sam Allardyce, is all I’m saying….

I think I expected a bit more from Belgium and a bit less from England before the tournament but that has changed. We’ve changed our forecasting tactics after the Croatian loss and switched from wine to beer.

Beer World Cup, from our stock… England 11 Belgium 1

The upside of this is that we can refocus our attentions on more traditional summer pastimes…Wimbledon Tennis, Tour de France, drinking rosé, birdwatching and sending the kids to visit Gran for a few days.

Wimbledon Tennis has had quite a lot of upset this year. It started off with Murray opting to compete with Tim Henman for dullest TV commentator award rather than actually play any tennis; he even wore John Inverdale’s grey jacket.

Shock and upset hasn’t stopped there either. We saw an enormous number of the top seeds go missing in action the first week, careless work by the groundsmen I’d say.

Novak Djokavic seems to be continuing his return from his ‘Lost in Space’ turn of bad form. Playing some fabulous and dreadful tennis all at the same time, I’m fairly sure he scored all the points for both him and Nishikori in the first set of the quarter final on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer chose a really bad time to finally lose some sets, all in the same match is never a good strategy!

We should perhaps mention Rafael Nadal, watching him this year I couldn’t help but notice all his superstitious ticks and twitches. His routine of having two perfectly balanced towels behind him, adjusting his shirt, pinching his nose, and stroking his eyebrows now seems so perfectly timed that I am beginning to wonder if he has been replaced by a robot! I know they all get tested for performance enhancing drugs, but how do you test to see if he is a replicant? Perhaps we should ask Ridley Scott.

Last bit of Wimbledon news, is that apparently a men’s doubles match from last week has been reported for suspicious behaviour with regard to match fixing. Apparently in the hour before the game began there was a series of bets from accounts “with a history of wagering on suspicious matches”. The Tennis Integrity Unit is investigating and does not comment on operational matters.

Tour de France has been more eventful than the profile had suggested for the first week. Peter Sagan is beasting it, having two wins and two second places in the first five stages. Looks like the green jersey may just end up with his name on the back. On the GC front, clearly it’s early days with all main protagonists still in the frame, within a minute of the lead.

For those of you less interested in sport we can report that in the last week 30 species of bird have been spotted on Wandsworth Common including Pied Wagtails, Cormorants, Heron, Black Head Gulls and Collared Doves. The score for Tooting Common is a winning 32 species including Black Caps, Greenfinches and another Collared Dove. More unusually, a buzzard and a red kite have been spotted in the last month.

In other news Trumpolina, the USA’s toddler in chief, has been over this side of the pond. He started by upsetting people at the NATO summit in Brussels and then opted to visit the UK, where he didn’t visit London so as to not to be confused with a large hot air balloon but will visit Scotland where he should be able to get 18 holes in!

Drinking rosé has been happening, we’ve just got our top up shipment of Château de l’Aumerade Cuvée Marie Christine (£14.99 or 6 bottles for £78). Classic, top quality Côtes de Provence rosé that is our best-selling wine most years.

Meanwhile, over at Gran’s, your parents are showing an amazing affinity for Fortnite and your eldest daughter does appear to be rather taken with Werther’s Originals.

Tasting This Weekend

Reserve de Gassac Blanc 2017 – £11.29

A cracking blend of Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Petit Manseng and Chardonnay from the chaps who own Mas de Daumas Gassac (occasionally referred to as ‘Lafite in the Languedoc) but without the price tag of their top wines. Lovely warm, peachy citrus character with a nice weight and a long, gently spiced finish. Fabulous summer drinking, particularly with fragrantly spiced Thai treats, although Wayne is vehement about its positive influences on Syrian dishes.

Monte del Frá Bardolino 2017 – £12.99

Always lighter in style than Valpolicella and often overlooked, Bardolino is an absolute gem of a wine. Lovely aromas of soft cherry fruits with hints of brandy-snaps (kirsch?), too. One of our favourites this, with its palate showing cherry fresh fruits, soft tannins and a hint of soft spice on the finish, lightly chilled it’s just the ticket for tuna steak if you don’t mind the idea of red with some fish!
These will both be open from 5pm today and all day Saturday so come and have a swirl.

As a final note, due to a diary malfunction we now have 3 spaces available for our Wine & Cheese Tasting next Thursday 19th July – £20 per person, 8pm start. Save them from themselves – 9 people shouldn’t be eating 12 people’s portions of cheese!!

English Wines 2 Swedish Wines 0

Friday, July 6th, 2018

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Even those that normally scoff the most at us sports fans have been swept up in the current football fever.

They have learnt what VAR means, have become experts in simulation in the penalty area (which is something they would have frowned upon previously) and fail, like us, to understand how Neymar was in such excruciating pain when the linesman didn’t flinch as Miguel Layan stood on both their feet, simultaneously. Whilst learning how to spot the cheating they have also learnt to love the teamwork of the Japanese team, the nuanced short passes of the England defence and the electricity pulsing through the French team.

We even hear reports that one of the most disparaging critics of international sport we have ever met got so distracted by the England game on Tuesday – I was only watching whilst waiting for the news – that he completely destroyed a saucepan, and the broccoli within, as it boiled dry in the penalty excitement! Takeaways next week if we get past Sweden, I reckon….

However, we mustn’t dwell on sport when there’s wine to be talked about. If you think the tone of this missive drops when we talk about football, I’m not sure what you’re going to think of me when I mention my next topic – Ernst & Julio Gallo. Now, whilst we all love a drop of Gallo Family Vineyards White Grenache (which is, of course, pink) and what they’ve done with Moscato is extraordinary/criminal, one must occasionally look beyond such exceptional wines and boutique winemaking and examine their intellectual endeavours. A survey of 2,000 punters was published this week by one of their more premium labels, Dark Horse, with the following results:

• 73% are intimidated by the wine list when in a restaurant or wine bar

• 58% believe they do not know enough about wine to be confident ordering

• 36% have no idea what they are meant to be looking for when a waiter invites them to try a wine but will not admit it

• 29% only buy wine that is on offer

• 23% choose wine from the same country or region.

• 18% think about what they are eating when choosing wine

The most obvious thing that benefits Dark Horse here is that the punter feels under pressure and lacking in knowledge most of the time and will thus return to the wine they always buy – Dark Horse, of course which you’ll never find on a wine list.

The other obvious take home from these figures is that still, in spite of the fact that over the last 20 years wine consumption has seen near continual growth and the choice we have now is so much greater, most of us still feel the world of wine is a secret and impenetrable society.

73% are intimidated by the wine list. It’s funny for us to hear this in some respects because, as a result of many conversations with different customers when we ran a store Clapham, this was the thing that bugged people the most – what to choose on the list when out to lunch with your boss/on a first date/meeting the in-laws for the first time.

It’s funny purely because these conversations were going on way back in 2007. And back then we listened to our customers intently (!) with the result that we wrote a 6 week Wine School, with the unofficial sole purpose of ‘solving the winelist’ and generally de-mystifying wine.

11 years later, we still run this course and, if surveys are to be believed, ¾ of you reading this would like to go on it!





Tasting this weekend
The last part of the article that I got the stats above from was a nice punchline for us:
Brits typically spend £25 on a bottle of wine for a dinner party but one in ten will splash out £100.
10% of you want to spend a ton!? Do please step this way, madam, and let me recommend the Chateau d’Issan 2005, the Sassicaia or the Vega Sicilia Valbuena, all drinking beautifully and well within your pricepoint…..

Back on planet earth, we’ll be opening a couple of wines more for the everyday rather than the dinner party.

Les Vignoble Foncalieu Piquepoul Rose 2017 (£12.99) is a cracking dry rosé from the plain between Bezier and Narbonne in the Languedoc, France. Made from Piquepoul Noir which is a relatively rare grape variety more normally found as part of the blend in a Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. This wine though, is deliciously fresh and delicate drop with dry strawberry and redcurrant notes and a lovely freshness.

Bodegas Arráez Vivir Sin Dormir 2016 (£12.99) is an organic wine made from Monastrell grapes grown in Jumilla, Spain. We thought its dark plummy roundness would make it great with some barbecued food, winemaker Toni seems to think it a great partner for people who love to dance under the moon. The choice is, of course yours, but I might suggest doing both as it’s the weekend!

That’s it from us this week, busy day tomorrow with football, the start of the Tour de France and of course, the tennis.

I’ll leave you now with a conversation I had with a customer yesterday:

How many wines you got from Sweden, mate? And how many from England?

Strange question, I thought but I replied anyway:

England two, Sweden nil!

Bye now!