Crunch Time

POSTED ON 01/09/2008

Anthony RoseAnthony Rose

A warm welcome to all our members.

Yes, it’s in all the media just about every minute of the day. Worst of all it’s in your pocket, or rather was in your pocket. Wherever you look you can’t ignore the credit crunch. Evidence that it’s biting on the wine side comes from a variety of sources. This month’s national newspaper home pages have highlighted the good wines to be had at £7 and under, if sometimes by misleading readers into thinking that there’s no point in buying more expensive wines because it’s only a matter of personal preference.

Threshers is slashing its range from 6,000 to just 1,000 best sellers, then there’s Aldi and the discounters. Aldi tell us that its annual sales went up 45 per cent in June, 50 per cent in July and 61 per cent in August. With a sheaf of more than decent £4.99 wines that they’ll be discounting to £3.99 for the Christmas period, this is one space we’ll be returning to very soon. Speaking of belt-tightening, the spot for our regularly changing Bunch of Fives this month goes to five wines to beat the credit crunch.

A depressing mix of an ailing economy and the trend to convenience shopping has caused mayhem in the high street. Oddbins is the mercurial company we all very much want to love thanks to the thrills and occasional spills that did so much to make wine in the high street exciting and accessible. When it lost its independence to the giant spirits group, Seagram, it was probably only a matter of time before its owners lost patience with their demanding offspring.

Its new parent, Castel, the French group that owns Nicolas, totally failed to understand the loveably eccentric Oddbins ethos. Today, as we point out in our introduction to the section, its sale to Simon Baile of wine merchants Ex Cellar, raises the possibility that it just might get back on track. There’s a long way to go though still with so much blood on the high street carpet but this is another space to watch over the coming year and for everyone’s sake we wish Oddbins well.

Marks & Spencer is the success story of the year. It wasn’t that long ago that it had one of the thinner supermarket lists with its wines fleshed out by suppliers that M&S could rely on to supply them with a made-to-measure range of often indifferent wines. But Marks has reinvented itself with a much more adventurous approach to its wines, taking on excellent staff including two top winemakers who get closely involved with their suppliers and the making of the wines.

As a just reward for doing it their way, M&S were recognised at the UK’s two top consumer competitions, the International Wine Challenge and the Decanter World Wine Awards this month, with the award for, respectively, wine merchant of the year and supermarket of the year. Those of us present at the awards were delighted to see that, unlike others who seemed to expect the award to drop into their laps, the entire M&S team were genuinely thrilled to have edged ahead of arch-rivals Tesco and Waitrose.

This month we also look at Asda and Sainbsury’s, and, important as the high street and the supermarkets are, we also have a report on the mouthwatering 2007 South African sauvignon blancs, and we’re spotlighting a range of wines from two excellent wine merchants, Jeroboams and Yapp, the former a London-based generalist, the latter one of the best specialists in its area of the Loire and Rhône. Read on…


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