Wines with the ex-factor

13 July, 2007

Q I've been working in the wine trade for long enough to know the answer to this, but I'm not exactly sure what is meant by the term "ex -cellars". Can you spare my embarrassment?

A If you buy a wine ex -cellars, you're getting it from what should be the best possible place: the cellars of the winemaker. It means the wine should have been stored in perfect conditions, possibly underground, away from light, heat and vibration.

All these factors can damage wine and the more that wine is exposed to long boat journeys, offloading at ports, mechanical handling and transportation to third -party warehouses, the more chance there is that it will be damaged in some way.

So there are some major advantages to buying ex -cellars, but there are also drawbacks. You will have to pay duty, VAT, insurance and, of course, for transportation.

If you buy wine from an importer, the transaction is a lot simpler but somewhere along the line you will be covering - albeit indirectly - all the costs listed above. If you are buying wine that has been placed in a bonded warehouse by the importer ("in bond"), you will have to pay the duty before the stock can be released.

Q What is the current

situation on designated premises supervisors being present at all times in shops selling alcohol? Is it true that the law has changed?

A The law has not been changed, but the guidance surrounding the law has been tidied up

and it makes this notoriously ambiguous element of the Licensing Act 2003 a lot clearer.

Until recently

there were some who considered that

if something went wrong in a licensed retailer (such as a failed test purchase), the DPS would have been negligible were they not present. Taking an extreme line on this - and some authorities did - could effectively ban the shop owner or manager from taking holidays, days off, lunch hours and perhaps even toilet breaks.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, which campaigned for the change in guidance, is one of many people relieved to see the position clarified, but points out that the pressure is still on the DPS.

"The law states that whil e a personal licence holder does not have to be present on the premises when alcohol is sold, they must

always be accountable for it," he says. "This is far more important

than having to be physically present. It means

the individual in charge has to be confident that others

who work there are properly trained, and that they are accountable to him. If something goes wrong the person in charge faces the sanction.

"Retailers cannot afford to be complacent, and must use every tool at their disposal to ensure

their shop does not sell alcohol to under-18s. Vitally this includes training staff on the Challenge 21 policy, and a strict No ID No Sale message. The guidance also recommends keeping good records of procedures, including training logs and a refusals register."

Corking news for Belgian beer lovers

Q We hear a lot about cork taint in wine, but not in beer - even though several brands, especially Belgians, are sealed with cork. Is beer immune from cork taint?

A No, though you're right in saying that it's not a subject that gets much coverage. This is possibly because cork taint would arguably be less noticeable in a beer . The kind of ales that are sealed with corks tend to be rich, intense and alcoholic in character, and unlike wine will have bitterness that may well mask corkiness. It's also probable that, since relatively little beer is sealed with cork, the problem only affects a tiny proportion of commercially available products. Although wines designed for ageing are recommended to be stored on their sides, to prevent the cork from drying out, this is not standard practice in the beer world. The most important factor is usually to keep the beers upright, keeping the yeast settled.

Cork actually has the potential to wreck even more robust drinks than strong vintage or lambic ales. Even whisky can suffer from corkiness, though the problem does not appear to be widespread due to the high-quality stoppers that are used by distillers.

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