Twelve unsettling wine commercials

You don’t see many TV ads for wine these days, and these examples may partly explain why.

Premier Estates Taste the Bush (2015)
An ad so bad it got banned. Whether that was deserved more for its feeble humour or the general inappropriateness is a moot point. We detect the paw-prints here of a couple of male 20-year-old interns whose brains short-circuited when they made the bush/pubic hair connection. Chortle!

Orson Welles likes Paul Masson California Champagne (Outtake)
Never work with children, animals or ageing film icons. It appears that a lubricated Orson Welles has been unwittingly parachuted onto the set of Abigail’s Party. He emits a fabulous Shakespearian wail, Brian Blessed-style, before scratching his nose and falling asleep. Cut. Take 21.

Bolla Valpolicella (1978)
Straight from the Mills & Boon school of wine commercials. When a lone “soft” woman is drinking wine made for “people who are in love” and catches the eye of a “full-bodied” moustachioed man who is also drinking wine made for “people who are in love”, it’s obvious: they fall in love. Who needs Tinder?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Now everybody’s a gin distiller

Adnams plans to give more of its customers the chance to make their own gin in-store as it embarks on a retail expansion programme.

The service is already available at its branch in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which is fitted with seven mini stills. Customers pay £95 to distil their own spirit and add a choice of botanicals in a process that takes two and a half hours and results in a bespoke bottle of gin.

Retail chief Neil Griffin says people are given gin and tonics to enjoy while they wait. He adds: “We’re quite keen on this customisation and personalisation trend that’s coming through.The Wine Merchant issue 63

“We give people a selection of botanicals and talk them through what each one of them potentially does. They put four or five of them into the pot still and distil it down, and you get the liquid at the end. We label it up with the name of your choice.

“It’s going really well. Customers are enjoying the experience and it’s climbing the Trip Advisor rankings in East Anglia.”

The concept is likely to be rolled out to future Adnams Cellar & Kitchen branches that are currently being scouted, though not in the pop-up that has just opened in the centre of Cambridge and will trade until the New Year.

Adnams spokesman Josh Wicks says Cambridge is a city that the company is “obviously keen to get into”. He adds: “The pop-up gives us flexibility and a bit of a foothold, and then we’ll look for something more permanent.

“It’s a busy and competitive place, but you don’t want to shy away from those places – you want to be in there.”

This article appears in the October edition of The Wine Merchant.

‘Sommeliers are the rock gods, independent merchants merely session musicians’

Our regular columnist Adeline Mangevine is tired of being put in her place …

It’s a quiet Monday afternoon and I’m “catching up” on Instagram. As I scroll through picture after picture of unicorn wines consumed over the weekend by people I don’t know, something grabs my eye. It’s a post by one of my suppliers of a group of four fresh-faced sommeliers from Michelin-starred joints standing in a vineyard on Santorini. “Awesome start to the trip!!” says the caption. “Time to taste some Assyrtiko!!!”

I am more than a little annoyed – and not just by the overuse of the exclamation mark.

I probably shift more of this producer’s Assyrtiko in a week than do all four somms combined in a month. I’ve championed it and built up a loyal following. Yet I have never been invited to visit the place where it is created. Why? Because independent wine merchants are not rock stars. We’re the uncredited session musicians. We don’t get showered in glory when we commit to buy six bottles of an obscure, skin-contact Spanish mountain wine that will impress other members of the wine trade (but will move slower than a snail wearing lead weights). We don’t get hard-to-come-by wines reserved for us (unpaid) for months on end. A suburban shop is just not as sexy as saying your wine is listed by hot new London joint The Bathing Pool or super-cool country retreat Doghouse Manor.

Yet collectively, we independent wine merchants are worth hundreds of millions. We are the alternative to supplier-squeezing multiples; we’ll take risks on unknown grapes, wines and regions; we are the people who convince consumers week in, week out to part with their hard-earned cash on a white that isn’t a Sauvignon Blanc and a red that is more than £10. But often, it feels like we’re the office juniors of the industry.

If somms are the rock gods, then wine writers are the movie stars. They’re always complaining about how few parts are available to them (for parts, read column inches) – but then act as if the nation stops in its tracks to read what they write.

Suppliers and producers swoon like fans when a well-known writer glides to their table at a tasting in the hope that these critics might write a glowing sentence about one of their wines. They’ll drop everything, including any merchant who might be tasting their wares. Instantly, we are reduced to being unpaid extras, holding empty glasses aloft.

I will be kinder to wine writers who are also MWs – and MWs in general. Same goes for Master Sommeliers. They’ve had to pass all those big, nasty exams to get to a level of expertise. I am happy to play house doctor to their consultant surgeon.

As for the buyers from the multiples and behemoth distributors, I see them as government ministers. Lots of attention is paid to what they say and do, much of it irrelevant to a major part of the industry: independent wine merchants.

This article appears in the June edition of The Wine Merchant.

Top 100 Trophy winners revealed

Diversity is theme of this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100, as the judges in the fifth edition of the annual competition for independent-only wines gives places and trophies to an unprecedented range of suppliers, countries and styles.

A total of 14 countries share the spoils, including first-ever appearances from Croatia and Slovenia and a strong showing from Greece, which provides a trio of high-scoring whites including the Best White Trophy for Ktima Gerovassiliou Malgaousia, Macedonia 2016, imported by the 2017 competition’s leading supplier, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines.

France is well out in front, however, providing a quarter of the Top 100, and trophies for Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus Champagne NV (Best Sparkling Trophy; Hatch Mansfield) and Les Domaines Paul Mas Côte Mas Frisante NV (Best Value Sparkling Trophy).

The Wine Merchant issue 58
Spain is second with 13 Top 100 places plus three trophies: Best Value Red Trophy, Familia Castaño Hecula Monastrell, Yecla 2015 (£9.99, Liberty Wines); Best Fortified & Dessert Trophy, Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado NV (£35.55, Boutinot); and Best Value Fortified Trophy, Equipo Navazos I Think Manzanilla En Rama 2017 (£9.95, Alliance Wine).

The remaining trophies go to Argentina’s Sottano Judas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, 2014 (£49.99, Vindependents), awarded Best Red Trophy, and Man Family Vineyards Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc, Coastal 2016 (£6.59, Enotria & Coe), Best Value White Trophy.

Among suppliers, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines is comfortably the year’s star performer, with 19 entries in the Top 100, followed by Les Grands Chais de France (nine entries), and Enotria & Coe (seven).

The only competition for wines aimed exclusively at the UK’s independent wine merchants, The Wine Merchant Top 100 2017 was as ever judged by a diverse panel of 18 independents from around the country, chaired by David Williams, wine correspondent of The Observer.

“With almost 700 wines, this was the best year yet for entries, and the final list – including the 117 Highly Commended wines that just missed out on a place in the Top 100 – is a brilliant reflection of the quality and variety on offer in the UK’s independent trade,” says Williams.

• All winners will be revealed and showcased on The Wine Merchant’s stand at the London Wine Fair and featured in a supplement published with the magazine in July.

The fun of the fair

The UK wine trade would still exist without the London Wine Fair, but it wouldn’t half be a drearier place. As this year’s show approaches, anyone who doesn’t feel at least a brief frisson of excitement has arguably chosen the wrong career.

Business will be done, contracts signed, follow-up meetings scheduled. But commerce is not the sole purpose of the London show. It’s a chance to meet old friends, stumble upon unfamiliar wines and to open your mind to new ideas. You can make all the appointments you like, but there’s a lot to be said for a serendipitous stroll through the aisles. You never quite know who, or what, you’ll bump into.

Despite all that, there’s no question that the fair has had an identity crisis in recent years. Most of that was resolved when Brintex abandoned the idea of being the British answer to ProWein or VinItaly, and took a more parochial line: a local fair for local people, if you like. By focusing squarely on the needs and quirks of the UK market, the fair has reinvigorated itself and answered the question: who and what is it actually for?

This year’s show will as always feature the sideshows, masterclasses and debates that add colour to the event, and are signally missing from, say, ProWein (the Düsseldorf show may be big on scale, but its no-frills approach makes it short on laughs).

It’s a sign of the times that there’s no West Hall this year – exhibitor numbers were always unlikely to hold up in the face of the duty increases and currency disaster that have befallen the trade since last year’s fair. But two of the show’s most relevant areas for independents (who have their own lunch on the Tuesday) will be as lively as ever.

The Esoterica zone, at which smaller-scale suppliers ply their wares from behind tables, is hardly the most high-tech innovation the fair has introduced, but it’s certainly one of the most popular. On the other side of the upper level, Wines Unearthed features 100 export-ready producers who are as yet unrepresented in the UK.

The show has attracted some new names this year, but as always some will abstain. That’s their right, and many of these refuseniks spend countless thousands on putting their wines before independents throughout the year and on supporting those customers in myriad ways.

What’s sad is when suppliers that don’t come to the fair bad-mouth the event. It may not be perfect, but it’s not the job of Brintex alone to make it a success. Exhibitors and visitors alike have a role to play to maintain the London Wine Fair as the most important and commercially relevant wine show in the country. It should also be – and this is so easily overlooked – the most fun.