News 21 May 2020

Ten great lockdown wine offers

The silver lining of lockdown is that merchants and restaurants are selling a greater and more interesting range of wine than ever before. Club Oenologique picks out some of the best

Words by Adam Lechmere

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Humans are adaptable animals, Isa Bal MS, owner of London restaurant Trivet, told me this week. You only have to look at how those who lost their entire customer base – literally overnight – have adapted to lockdown to see the truth of that. Take Jascots, long-standing supplier to restaurants, bars and hotels, which woke up on 23 March to find it had no customers, no income, and 35 staff to pay. With no previous experience of selling direct, the company transformed itself into a private-sales wine merchant. It’s been a “roller-coaster ride”, managing partner Miles MacInnes told The Buyer, but two months on they have over 1,000 new customers, and its drivers (like Ken Paris in the main pic above) have learnt dozens of new routes.

What this means for lovers of fine wines is that our options have multiplied tenfold. As merchants seek new customers, they have become ever more imaginative in their offers. And it’s not only merchants. Peckham Cellars in southeast London opened as a restaurant in November, closed in March, and is now an online wine merchant specialising in compelling, unusual wines from all over the world.

Below is our selection of the best new online offerings and deals. It’s a disparate bunch, from the venerable Berry Bros to start-ups like The Modest Merchant. But the offers we’ve picked out have one thing in common: temptation. Whatever their price, if you’re a wine lover, you’ll be intrigued.

BERKMANN

Berkmann supplies the UK restaurant trade and its buying director Alex Hunt MW is regarded as a sharp judge of the new and the interesting from any continent. At lockdown it opened its trade list to the public at large and it’s now moved all sales to its new initiative www.help4hospitality.co.uk from which 12.5% of every sale goes back to restaurants and pubs.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

Prunus Dão Tinto 2016/17, Portugal, £11.25

An unusual, fine balanced red from a quality Portuguese producer.

JASCOTS

Another wine merchant you won’t have heard of unless you’re in the trade, this long-established London house has turned its entire operation from restaurants to private customers, bringing a fascinating selection of hard-to-find wines into the light of day.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

El Jardín de las Iguales Macabeo, Bodegas Frontonio, Alpartir, Aragón, Spain, £120

Spanish superstar Fernando Mora MW makes this Macabeo in tiny quantities. This wine is only ever normally available at a few top-end establishments.

HOWARD RIPLEY

Old-fashioned, dependable, highly-respected by the trade, Howard Ripley started selling Burgundy in the early 1980s and has now widened the speciality to Germany. It has some interesting offers of wines you’re unlikely to see unless you’re dining out (which of course, sadly, you won’t be).

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

Domaine Geantet-Pansiot

A nice mixed case from this “sleeper” domaine, £375

Contains 3 bottles each of 2015 Morey-Saint-Denis, 2015 Gevrey-Chambertin, 2013 Gevrey-Chambertin Les Jeunes Rois, 2013 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes. info@howardripley.com

OW LOEB

One of London’s most venerable old merchants, OW Loeb was bought by uber-collector and multi-Michelin-starred restaurateur Marlon Abela in 2014 and has been the subject of negative headlines ever since, with tales of suppliers going unpaid and wines not being delivered. Venerable it still is though, as evidenced by its ability to offer compelling and hard-to-find vintages of Burgundy’s starriest names. Current offers come from existing stock, alleviating any concerns on delivery, and prices are probably £5 to £10 below market price, with single bottle purchases possible.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

Liger-Belair Bourgogne Rouge Les Grands Chaillots 2015, £24.77

Very aromatic with beautiful structure, a wine that surprises you with its length. finewine@owloeb.com

BERRY BROS & RUDD

The ancient merchant of St James’s St, Piccadilly, has put together a case for the National Health Service, donating £25 of each sale to the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Urgent Appeal.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

Case for our Carers, 12 bottle mixed case, £200

This is a varied, imaginative selection. You could of course put it together for yourself – but it would cost you more and it would take up some of your valuable lockdown time.

UNCORKED

“Forward looking, firmly rooted” is a clever strapline for a wine merchant: Uncorked is rooted in its Bishopsgate shop on the edge of the City of London from where it sells a lot of French and Italian wine, with good showings on classic regions like Rioja and Germany. The list is solid and classic.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

6 bottle en rama sherry mixed case, £99

A very, very tempting offer for any sherry aficionado: six cask-drawn bottles from two renowned producers, Tio Pepe and Hidalgo en Rama. 3 bottles of each of wine.

PECKHAM CELLARS

The classic lockdown story: in November, Peckham Cellars opened as a restaurant with a solid avant-garde wine list (with a good selection of orange wine), but after closing its doors in March it’s now focussing on wine alone, delivering to a range of South-east London postcodes. Well worth a look.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

Mac Forbes RS3 Riesling Strathbogie Range Victoria Australia 2019, £28

Tight and bright Riesling from Victoria from one of Australia’s most renowned new-wave producers. You won’t find this wine in retail.

THE MODEST MERCHANT

Alex Percy specialises in unusual wines from France, Italy and Spain and calls his selection (rather neatly) FRITES wines. He’s put together a half-case lockdown special with a special offer for Club Oenologique.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

6 gems for lockdown, £128.95

Six-bottle case with some hard-to-find bottles such as the Anne Bavard-Brooks Bourgogne Côte d’Or. 10% discount if you quote CLUBOLOCKDOWN by the end of May.

BAR DOURO

Portugal is under-represented in London both gastronomically and vinously. Max Graham’s two Bar Douros redress the balance. Now shuttered, their wine lists are online and offer a bracing tour of the country’s marvellous wines, from the baking Alentejo to the Dão and the Douro. There’s also a nice offer for Churchill’s port (founded by Graham’s father): for every box you buy you can nominate a friend for a complimentary bottle, and 10% of proceeds from the promotion will go to mental health organisations that are helping people deal with isolation during lockdown.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

The Classics Box, £99

For lovers of Portugal and greenhorns alike, a mix of classics and more unusual whites like the renowned Herdade do Rocim (a favourite of Portuguese expert Sarah Ahmed).

H2Vin

Another restaurant supplier that had the rug pulled out from under them, H2Vin was founded by Matt Wilkin MS, a highly-respected and veteran sommelier, who is “working seven days a week” building a new customer base, he tells Club Oenologique. His list is packed with gems you won’t find on any high street.

Club Oenologique’s Selection:

12 bottle cases, £100

Wilkin has put together a series of £100 12-bottle cases with wines from South Africa to the Languedoc, Aragon and Veneto and points between. Perfect for mid-week drinking.

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