Talking Wine – December 2012

Waverley TBS, a very large wine and spirits distributor, has gone into liquidation. They tended to specialise in the bottom end of the market and are just the latest casualty in the wine trade which has seen its fair share of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies over the last year or so. Many observers are not surprised as it appears that they were trying to undercut the competition with prices that were clearly unsustainable in order to capture market share. Another sad piece of news is the demise of the Summertown Wine Café in South Parade, Oxford. This was not only a good meeting place but also sold an interesting selection of wine which challenged my blind tasting skills to the limit! There are rumours that it may reopen in some other guise and by the time this is printed there may well be news on that front but in the meantime North Oxford has lost a good venue for civilised drinking.

The Oxford Wine Company took 16 customers down to Nyetimber Vineyard in Sussex to prove that we do have a thriving wine business in this country. I had been before many years ago but none of us were prepared for the stunning quality of their wine and also their passion and facilities. The vineyard makes only sparkling wine from the classic grape varieties used in Champagne and chooses carefully selected sites over a 50 mile radius in which to plant the vines so not all their land is within the confines of the winery. However the attention to detail is extraordinary and with an American winemaker (Cherie Spriggs) and a New Zealand vineyard manager they are drawing on expertise from around the world. Sadly they have had to make the decision not to pick any grapes from this vintage which literally had the winemaker in tears as she told us this news. The grapes were simply not up to the exacting standards that they have set but we were able to taste a range of excellent wines over lunch and are pleased to now be stocking the Blanc de Blancs vintage as well as the Classic Cuvée, all at prices of everyday Champagne and more than equal to it in quality.

Wine yields throughout the world are seriously down on previous years and so increases in price at source are inevitable. With the chancellor set to add duty at well above inflation and the Government being indecisive over minimum pricing you can expect a mass of cheap over sweetened Californian wine to hit the supermarkets next year. This seems to be the only area of the world where production is up! Bad luck!!