Monday, 9 September 2013

Support Your Local Independent Wine Shop!

Here in the lower middle class, showing off about food is one of our main forms of communication. It's right up there with passive-aggressive notes, instagram, and annoying abbreviations like 'totes' and 'hilair'.

We're always going on about the lamb shoulder we got from the butchers ("Oh, he's so adorable, my butcher, he even hugs me and everything." THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED), the fresh scallops you bought and devoured while on holiday in Cornwall, and the organic veg you always (ahem, sometimes) buy from the farmer's market because it's so much cheaper than the supermarkets and comes with mud on it and everything. Then there's goats cheese from that deli on the high street, or Saturday mornings when you tweet pictures of the Italian pastries you bought for breakfast from the baker you can only afford to use once a fortnight.

The fact is, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with any of the above. If you like good food and are willing to pay more for something special, good for you. It might sound pretentious to some but - thanks to TV chefs, addictive baking shows and must-have books that have inspired the world and his dog to write food blogs and instagram their dinner every night - as a nation we're trying our best to buy local, to buy better, and to eat better. We're returning to speciality food shops, and to supporting the bakers and butchers that make food shopping so much more twee and expensive (but delicious, and frankly, worth it.)

So why the FLIPPING FLIP aren't we all popping into our local wine merchant on a regular basis too? It's not just the food that the supermarkets have over-packaged and given a watered down quality - how many supermarket wines can we actually rely on to wow us? And if we're cottoning on to the fact that the meat and bread and cheese in the farm shops taste so much better (even if they are, naturally, pricier), I just don't understand why we aren't all doing the same with our weekend bottles of wine.

Most independent wine shops are run by truly passionate people who'd be happy to help you choose a wine no matter what your budget, and if you asked them to match it to whatever delicacies you've got planned for dinner, they'd probably never shut up. They also host frequent tastings, many of which are free, in an attempt to show you what they have on offer. They're not snooty, and they're not just for middle-aged men and geeks like me.

And, like the wonderful lesser-known brands of cordial and biscuits and jam that you find in the farm shops we as a nation seem to love so much, the wines sold by indie merchants are very often from small producers who are truly dedicated to making the best product possible. It's probably their life's work, and it's probably been in their family for several generations. Sounds a lot nicer than mass-produced plonk, doesn't it?

I'm not saying they should be the source for all of our wine - most people, myself very much included, couldn't begin to afford it. But then most of us don't buy all our cheese from the French deli, either - we just like to do it as often as we can afford it. Sometimes (mostly just after payday) we just fancy something a bit nicer, and wine should be no different.

How many supermarkets stock a decent range from the smaller regions in the south of France, or have some of the great-value, exciting examples of the wine coming out of eastern Europe, like Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria? Some supermarkets have cottoned on to hitherto lesser-known grapes like marzemino, colombard, pecorino, carmenere and carignan, but thanks to the indie wine merchants I've been drinking these for years, and know them at their best.
It's like a sweetshop for grownups!

It's also thanks to independent wine merchants that I've discovered amazing brands like Some Young Punks, You F*** My Wine?, and The Liberator, as well as legends such as d'Arenberg, Catena, Ollieux Romanis, and so bloody many more. As a food and wine fan, my life has truly been enriched by having this number of new (and old) names available to buy locally - they're wines to savour, not bottles to glug without thinking.

It's not just about eating better, it's important to drink better too. Everything in moderation is made so much easier when you are taking the time to choose a new bottle, and of course you'll probably be paying a little more than you'd normally shell out in a supermarket too, which means you'll buy better and buy less.

The price thing may seem like an issue (why buy a £10 bottle when you can get one that looks similar for £4.99 in Tesco?) but like the artisan cheese, chocolate or fish you treat yourself too, you'll definitely taste the difference. And really, you're probably only paying a quid or two extra per bottle, but the quality will be through the roof. And, like these products, you'll also naturally learn as you go on - which grapes are your favourite, that region in south France you're so fond of, the brands you go back to time and time again.

People sometimes criticise us for mentioning The Wine Society wines so often because you have to pay a one-off £40 Lifetime Membership fee before you can buy from them, but the reason we recommend them is that they're a UK-wide distributor of so many of these amazing small, speciality, or lesser-known producers. If you'd rather not be a member that's fine (although I think you're bonkers, personally) but you can probably still get your hands on many of our recommendations: just pop into your local merchant and see what they have on offer.

Not sure where your local is? The AMAZING UK Wines Online website lists nearly all the UK's independent wine stores by county, with links to their websites and contact details. You'd be surprised how many are in your area, and for most of you they're probably about as far as you have to drive to your favourite butcher or deli.

I'm not just encouraging you to do this for your sake (although as you can see from my nagging above, there are plenty of reasons why this will benefit you), it's also for the sake of the merchants. They're dedicating their livelihood (and probably remortgaging their house) for the love of wine, and to bring their local community a taste of something new, exciting, and authentically good. They're as big a wine geek as anyone on the Vinspire team, and we feel their pain of being misunderstood, as well as the joy of introducing someone to their new favourite bottle.

It's basically a win-win - so what's stopping you?

Let us know about your favourite local wine merchant in the comments! They deserve a shout-out.

Images taken from itsbruce, Shannon at Zeer, and syvwlch's photostreams under the Creative Commons License.  


  1. Oh, there's far too many good ones to name:

    Lewis & Cooper (Northallerton)
    Ake & Humphris (Harrogate)
    Luvians (St Andrews)
    St Andrews Wine Company (St Andrews, obvs)
    Nidderdale Fine Wines (Pateley Bridge)
    Boncoeur Fine Wines (Masham)
    Yorkshire Vintners (Ripon)
    And many, many more!

  2. A little off topic, but for spirits I highly reccommend Gerry's Wine and Spirits (Soho). They have a great selection.