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).

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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.

Fighting the wine trade’s corner – on two fronts

Wine prices would increase by an average of 30p a bottle if the full impact of the pound’s collapse since the Brexit referendum was passed on, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association.

Chief executive Miles Beale says the currency situation has “fundamentally affected” wine retailers and calculates it would take a 10% cut in excise duty in the March 8 Budget to balance out the effects of the pound’s slide since the summer.

The Wine Merchant issue 55The WSTA is calling on the Chancellor to reduce wine and spirit duty by 2% which he claims is the “very least” the government could do to alleviate pressure on the drinks industry. Beale is urging wine merchants to write to their MPs to argue the case for lower duty, which he says could also deliver higher returns for the Exchequer, based on the experience of 2015 when spirits duty was cut and wine duty frozen.

The WSTA is in talks with counterparts in Europe and around the world to draft trade agreements to give politicians ready-made solutions to the challenges they will face after Brexit.

“The UK government can’t start these negotiations immediately, but we absolutely can,” Beale says. He predicts relations with non-EU wine producers could improve after Brexit.

The full interview with Miles Beale appears in the February edition of The Wine Merchant.

Good news – your customers are getting more wine savvy

The number of consumers taking wine courses is continuing to soar, according to figures from the WSET.

Students from outside the wine trade account for around 30% of the 17,000 WSET exams taken in the UK each year. Their numbers increased by 55% last year and figures for the first three months of the current academic year – September to November – show that the momentum is being maintained.

The stats make encouraging reading for the independent trade, which arguably benefits the most from an educated customer base. Some merchants – including Loki in Birmingham, Hennings in Sussex and JN Wine in Northern Ireland – are WSET educators.

The Wine Merchant issue 54Graham Cox of the WSET says: “We’re appearing at more consumer events and our social media is much more engaging.

“I would also say that our network of providers is better spread and better geared up to deliver. I think if you went back five years, a consumer trying to find a course wouldn’t have been exposed to the marketing, and may have struggled to find something in their area.”

The Local Wine School network, another WSET provider, now operates from 40 locations around the UK. Student numbers grew by about 40% to just under 2,000 in 2015-16, with the trade-consumer split estimated at 50-50.

This story appears in the January 2017 issue of The Wine Merchant.

It’s not just Marmite that’s more expensive

Independents have been hit with pre-Christmas price increases following the collapse of sterling against key currencies like the euro and the US dollar. But the worst is yet to come, reports Graham Holter

 

The message is invariably apologetic. Yes, we know what the prices are in the list we sent you. But sadly due to currency issues beyond our control, we have had no option but to increase them. Thank you for your understanding and support.

The increases, typically between 3% and 5%, are sometimes across the board, but have in some cases been calculated on a line-by-line basis. Sterling’s turmoil on the currency markets since the Brexit vote means few merchants are surprised by an uncustomary pre-Christmas hike. But given the scale of the pound’s capitulation in recent months – and bleak warnings about the currency’s prospects in 2017 – the bigger concern is how much prices could leap again in January and February.

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As The Wine Merchant went to press, sterling was trading at £1.16 against the euro, compared to £1.27 six months earlier (and almost £1.32 in late May). Over the same period against the US dollar, its value fell from £1.43 to £1.30, taking in a pre-referendum spike of £1.48.

Against the Australian dollar the pound fell from around £1.87 to £1.70, though shrewd speculators would have caught a rate of £2.04 in the late spring. It’s a similar picture with the South African rand: today’s rate of £17.50 compares to around £22 back in April, and over £23 in May.

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