Issue 9: yoga, safaris and Tom Hanks

When independents get the chance to visit California, they usually return with stories about the amazing wines they discovered on their travels. Why, they wonder, aren’t more of them available in the UK?

The strange thing is that many of them are already being imported, but suppliers don’t necessarily give them as much attention as they could. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the California Wine Institute for a two-part special, highlighting some of the most interesting wines that the Golden State can offer, and which are available to order now. We’ve started with whites, sparkling and rose wines and continue the series in issue 10 with reds.

This issue also features a special report on Brazil, a country whose wines are increasingly hard to ignore, and a report from the Languedoc, where there’s a real confidence among producers about the quality of their wines. Tried any Bourboulenc blends lately? You probably should.

We don’t like to brag about our little fanzine but as usual it is jam-packed with news from the independent sector, and wine reviews and talking points galore. There’s a three-page profile of Bristol independent Clifton Cellars, an excellent David Williams appraisal of Hedonism, and, as always, a busy Supplier Bulletin section with updates from the likes of Louis Latour Agencies, Pol Roger Portfolio, De Bortoli Wines, Emporia Brands, New Generation Wines, Mentzendorff, PLB Specialist, JJ Brands and Le Bon Vin.

What else? A man in a pith helmet, a Tom Hanks lookalike, the truth about Oz Clarke and Superman, the world’s oldest vine, yoga lessons, Germolene aromas and a man with a flamethrower. And how much do we charge for all this? Not a penny. It’s yours with our compliments. Thanks for reading, for your feedback, and for selling such nice wines.

Graham Holter


Not oaky-dokey

Wood is meant to add some subtle seasoning to wine, but too many winemakers evidently prefer trees to vines. Doug Wregg lifts aloft a two-by-four and takes aim at the overoaked atrocities


A rare glimpse of a coopers’ training camp, somewhere near Marmandais

SO I SAID to my friend Carlo: “Let’s drink something dangerous.” In retrospect I’m not sure what I meant by that. Partly I meant “let’s spend more money than we would normally do on a bottle of wine and risk being disappointed”, but the sneaking, faux-natural, quasi-spiritual part of me wanted to sample an extreme wine that would trip the light fandango and send tiny squalls of reverberating flavours to the outer limits of my palate. Or something.

I order a rich Marmandais wine. The cuvée above the cuvée, so to speak. More is more, right?


At first the upfront fruit fronts up, but after a couple of snifters I feel like Woody Woodpecker rattling my beak against a solid oak tree. As the wine opened up it closed down, as if knackered by extreme lacquer, the classic old Duke of York style: It marched all the fruit up the hill, then it marched it down. A classic example of underwined oak.

And the wood tannins grow and grow and my tongue becomes enveloped in leather. That oak – not so much a structural corset as a dense overlay of toasty sweetness bruléed by an overenthusiastic blowtorch. I mentally contrasted this with a ridiculously drinkable, unassumingly rustic Marcillac (also from this part of south west France) from jester-grower Jean-Luc Matha that I had consumed the previous night, single-handedly. It had slithery red fruits, was tinged with graphite and edged with iron and blood and condensed the sentiment “I sneer at your oak and I generally thumb my bulbous nose at your extraordinary pretensions” into the concise command “Drink me!”

Continue reading “Not oaky-dokey”

No free copy? Why not subscribe?

Let’s be absolutely clear: The Wine Merchant goes out free of charge. It always will go out free of charge. People have offered to pay (genuinely) and we’ve always said no. If you own a specialist independent wine merchant, operating from a shop, you’re on the list.

The online version of the magazine is also free. It will always be free, even if someone explains to us how to build a paywall. Anyone can access it, from anywhere in the world, and they do. (Hello, United Arab Emirates!)

But. There are some people who would like their own printed copy of the magazine, who don’t run shops. We’ve politely declined their requests, but not any more. For just £30 a year, you can now subscribe to The Wine Merchant, which means 11 issues will be mailed to a UK address of your choice.

Subscriptions for Europe are priced at £60 and the rest of the world at £68.50.

Simply email your name and address information to us and we’ll send you the bank details you need.

Issue 8: education, education, alpacas

Welcome to issue eight of The Wine Merchant, 32 pages of hand-crafted editorial. Digital readers are ahead of the game this month: printed copies have only just been mailed, but we’ve assembled our 0s and 1s in double quick time for the internet edition. Click here for the proof.

Anybody who follows the fortunes of the independent sector won’t be surprised to hear that there’s a lot going on, as always, and we try to reflect as much of this as possible in our little magazine.

You may have noticed that several indies now run their own wine schools for customers, which is a trend we pick up on this month. There’s a four-page profile of Newcastle’s Carruthers & Kent; all the comings and goings in the independent trade (far more comings than goings, as usual); David Williams and Doug Wregg on top form; and a special feature on Chile’s new fixation with terroir.

The Supplier Bulletin pages contain useful updates on the wines independents should be looking at before Christmas. Louis Latour Agencies, Cellar Trends, Le Bon Vin, Condor Wines, Hayward Bros, Negociants UK, Patriarche Wine Agencies, Mentzendorff, McKinley Vintners and Champagnes & Chateaux are all present and correct. Stevens Garnier, Champagne Henriot, Ehrmanns, Robert Oatley, Emporia Brands, Vintage Roots, Seckford Agencies and The Waiter’s Friend are also warmly thanked for their support.

What else? One of the wines we review is “mental”, we reveal how many vineyards exist in the Netherlands, there’s a picture of a miner, and references to alpacas, Banksy and Alice in Wonderland. All for free. I commend it to the House.

Graham Holter


The great class elevator

Almost a third of students sitting WSET exams in the UK do not have a job in the wine trade

INDEPENDENTS PRIDE THEMSELVES on having a knowledgeable clientele. But who educates these customers, and how much do they really understand about the wines they buy?

Running a wine school, however informally, is an increasingly attractive option for specialist retailers. For consumers, it’s an enjoyable way of gaining expertise in a subject that already interests them. For the shop owner, it’s a way of encouraging trade-up and loyalty. But wine classes are not necessarily money-spinners in their own right.

Continue reading “The great class elevator”