on 12 December, 2017

The judges met last week to sort out the winners in the independent categories of our 2018 Drinks Retailing Awards. The results are top secret until the awards dinner on February 6 but it’s giving nothing away to report that the overall standard of those that will be revealed in the shortlist of finalists in the January issue of DRN is higher than it’s ever been.

on 17 November, 2017

In the not-too-distant future, when all humans are born with inbuilt VR headsets and Trump is Supreme Commander of the Known Universe, how will students of wine look back on the present era of retail in the UK? And, in such a dystopian world, why would anyone care?

on 17 November, 2017

An enthusiastic wine drinker finding themselves a fly on the wall at a trade-only tasting would undoubtedly be surprised by how serious everyone looks. Within the trade, we regularly hear from customers how nice it must be to spend at least part of the working day tasting wine. Although it’s hard to put it on the same level as moving furniture or reconciling accounts, tasting is nonetheless work that requires stamina, discipline and concentration, hence the scribbling and frowns.

on 15 November, 2017

I am fed-up with politicians and academics with an agenda endlessly repeating the same old anti-alcohol tropes – usually without having the faintest idea about where they came from or whether they are true. I recently heard a minister (who must remain nameless because the meeting at which he spoke was under Chatham House rules) repeat that old canard that “minimum pricing is justified because alcohol is being sold at pocket money prices, often cheaper than water”. Now, maybe Tesco’s cheapest “everyday lager” has been sold for less than the most expensive bottle of Perrier, but the idea that supermarket shelves are stacked with booze that is cheaper than water is just nonsense. I asked the minister could he give us even one example of this and he couldn’t. What is true is that certain brands of bottled water are outrageously expensive. Just saying!

on 30 October, 2017

Perpetual motion machines are scientifically impossible, but that doesn’t stop people believing in them. As usual, the internet provides a happy home for such nut-jobs, for whom scientific impossibility is just another government conspiracy, man. Hence the abundance of blogs purporting to prove that perpetual motion machines are, like, totally real, and that the Large Hadron Collider is actually a stargate to a new cosmic wormhole. I’m not making this up, by the way.

on 30 October, 2017

Some drinks have such immaculate branding behind them that it's hard not to believe there's some mastermind behind it, a strategic genius of such infinite subtlety that their work is apparent everywhere and yet utterly untraceable.

on 20 October, 2017

The arrival of October means that we’re now officially in Nielsen’s Christmas trading period. Manufacturers and retailers alike have until December 30 to optimise their sales plans and activate them in-store in order to win at Christmas.

on 09 October, 2017

When Bordeaux was in fashion, it seemed almost logical that we should fetishise winemakers. Here were people responsible for brilliant acts of blending, across large estates and multiple grape varieties, including superstars such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. These days, fashion has moved on and pinot noir is ascendant. As a result, the star of the winemaker has fallen and we find ourselves following a new star in the sky: terroir.

on 11 August, 2017

One of the most fascinating stories in wine, fit to stand alongside the Judgement of Paris, is that of Rudy Kurniawan, a man who managed to fool friends, auction houses and experts into believing they were drinking some of the world’s most expensive wines.

on 11 August, 2017

Last week columnist Guy Woodward launched a quite extraordinary rant in our sister title, Harpers, in which he railed against the Scotch Whisky Association and argued in favour of minimum unit pricing. He called the SWA “shabby” for fighting MUP and threw his weight behind the anti-alcohol lobby. The basis for his argument was a press release put out by the neo-prohibitionist brigade and he bought its claims hook, line and sinker, without holding them up to the scrutiny they deserve.

on 11 August, 2017
Escapement, lug, onion crown, tourbillon… since I recently bought an automatic wristwatch, these previously meaningless terms have become loaded with intrigue and interest. I had no expectation of becoming a watch nerd, and it has been a satisfying new experience to delve into an unknown world. It’s been equally satisfying to tell the time without having to look at my phone.

Discovering this new interest has reminded me of what I first found fascinating about wine. The longer we spend in the industry, the more jaded we can become. What often starts out as an enthusiastic passion decays into cynicism brought on by the daily drag of a professional life.

“Would you pay £4 million for this crap?” That was the question posed by the front over of the NME in February 1986, a reference to the over-hyped electro sci-fi punk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the fee allegedly paid by record company EMI for their services.

on 14 July, 2017

One of my earliest memories of drinking proper wine was with a university friend who liked to get out of Oxford on Friday afternoons and spend the weekend in London. There, we were able to prise open cases of her dad’s wine – Médoc something, I vaguely recall – stored in the garden shed and often more shed-cold than cellar-cool when we opened it.

on 14 July, 2017

I would like to think my outlook on things is generally optimistic. Perhaps that’s a natural consequence of working with something designed to give pleasure. But recently it has become increasingly difficult to ignore a creeping sense of negativity pervading the British wine trade.

on 14 July, 2017

Back in 2005 (how’s that for a topical intro, folks?), we were on the panel of judges at the International Beer Challenge which awarded the Supreme Champion gong to Rogue Mocha Porter.

on 29 June, 2017

Picture the scene. You put your key in the keyhole, shove the door with your shoulder, drop your bags and look down. There, beaming up at you, is some relative or friend’s smug postcard with sandy beaches, Piña Coladas and palm trees (or, these days, an in nity pool and a detox smoothie) with a literal or metaphorical “wish you were here” written large.

on 29 June, 2017

Where I live, you can buy McDonald’s milkshakes 24 hours a day if you so desire. Yet both local wine merchants (one independent, one national chain) had locked their doors at just after 7pm when I was trying to buy a few bottles recently. For a neighbourhood drinks retailer to close so relatively early seems like wilful mismanagement to me.  

on 19 May, 2017

Few things can bring communal pleasure so intimately as wine. Apart from a hot tub, perhaps. Sport can trigger mass jubilation, film gives us shared empathy, but wine has a nigh-unique ability to bestow conviviality among us through a shared bottle – which makes it especially galling that we spend so much time divided over it.

on 19 May, 2017

In my first wine shop job I was astonished by a colleague’s ability to remember the personality of particular regions’ vintages and to casually observe, while stacking shelves, that the labels of a given wine had moved on from one vintage to another. Never blessed with a prodigious memory, this seemed to me as breathtaking as a circus trapeze act.

on 19 May, 2017

Whyte & Mackay has launched a Scotch in honour of legendary arctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton – a replica of the whisky he took with him to the bottom of the world, and famously left there for 100 years. 

on 20 April, 2017

I was asked recently what I thought the biggest change had been in wine fashion in the past five years. My answer was unequivocal: sales of pink wines. From being a niche that expanded and contracted with the sunshine, rosé has subtly but steadily become a stalwart of many merchants’ ranges, with Provence firmly at the top and asked for by name.

on 19 April, 2017

At school, I was the kid who rushed through work to get five minutes playing Granny’s Garden on the classroom computer at the end of the lesson. In an era when neon legwarmers were trendy and Hock was posh, this clunky puzzle was the height of gaming technology - press spacebar to continue” felt like an invitation to the future.

on 11 April, 2017

There’s a standard bearer for the British craft beer movement that recently carried out an extraordinarily successful crowdfunding campaign. It’s a brewer that is at once innovative, experimental and exciting in its approach to making beer and has embarked on opening top-notch specialist bars to bring both its own and other producers’ best brews to significant urban locations. Its fundraising effort to ease its expansion plans attracted enthusiastic investors going into four figures and achieved 179% of its investment target.

on 17 March, 2017

Making my way through the recent tranche of Burgundy tastings for the much-hyped 2015 vintage, I found myself experiencing a moment of guilt.


on 17 March, 2017

I love Estrons. No, it’s not an obscure grape variety or a hipster wine bar – alright, chances are it’s probably both, but I’m talking about the Welsh band. I first heard them on the radio, started listening to them regularly, saw them playing live a couple of times, and am completely hooked on their energetic, sultry, riff-driven, growling indie rock. They call it heavy pop.

on 17 February, 2017

Reaching the 50th instalment of Hemming’s Way is hardly the biggest milestone, but I don’t need much of an excuse to pour myself a glass of champagne before getting dressed. It’s a better reason than I had for all 49 other instalments, anyway. Not that that stopped me.

on 15 February, 2017

As I’ve entered my sixth decade on the planet I hope I’ll be forgiven for not being massively hip and only paying proper attention to Seedlip for the first time this week.

on 18 January, 2017

Wine is a liquid time capsule. Drinking older vintages not only recalls the weather conditions and winemaking styles of the past, it encourages us to reflect upon our own histories. Such reminiscence often inclines towards romanticised nostalgia. Especially after the second bottle. But looking back is a great way of learning about the future.

on 18 January, 2017

It’s always exciting when a new movement comes along, be it social, political or cultural. So it is with wine. When a movement arrives, it signifies a new direction and a potentially important future trend. It’s in the interests of everyone who works with wine to keep abreast of the latest developments – and besides, unearthing the newest trends is an exciting part of the job.

on 14 November, 2016

The reasons Donald Trump should not be left in charge of a shopping trolley, let alone the keys to the White House, are plentiful and well-documented – from his use of the word bigly” and lamentable business legacy to his dubious post-modern feminist principles, quite astonishing lack of political acumen and, most worrying of all, his bewildering hair. 

on 14 November, 2016

Ever since cavemen started swapping things with each other, the rules of retail have remained unchanged. Eye level is buy level, retail is detail, the customer is always right, one bear skin costs 10 arrowheads. OK, maybe that last one died out with the cavemen.

on 25 October, 2016

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

on 12 October, 2016

So, George The Bear is back. It’s hard for some of us oldies to fathom, but there are those under, say, 40 who can’t actually remember Hofmeister and, therefore, do not feel the cultural jolt supplied by the return of both the bear and the beer whose marketing campaigns it used to front.

on 16 September, 2016

It’s all true. Wine writers loaf around in a state of partial inebriation and partial undress, bitching about having to taste free wine all day and using recondite words like malolactic, terroir and recondite. 

on 15 August, 2016

Procrastination required far more effort before the internet. Locating endless pages of time-wasting distraction necessitated a printed catalogue, and king of them all was Innovations. Subtitled Tomorrow’s Products ... Today! it was the mail-order equivalent of a fairground novelty stall, selling such junk as zip-up ties and big toe straighteners.

on 28 July, 2016

The UK is the world’s largest market for Champagne and after years of decline sales have finally started to pick up once more. Volume sales have grown 0.7% and values are up 1% (IRI, year to March 2016) and it is now worth more than £250 million in the UK off-trade alone. It therefore beggars belief to learn that the Comité Champagne has decided to scrap its annual London tasting.

on 04 July, 2016

Other than sandcastles, it’s generally inadvisable to build things on sand. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of a solid foundation. Building on sand is like drinking seawater when you’re dehydrated or reading tabloids when you want balanced reporting: a self-defeating exercise.

on 21 June, 2016

Last month’s OLN Wine Report highlighted some of the most prominent issues currently facing the off-trade. Taken in isolation, the report’s findings make gloomy reading – shrinking product ranges, supermarket turmoil, lack of innovation and a decline in overall wine sales across the country.

on 07 June, 2016

It’s little surprise to see that Carlsberg’s Euro 2016 special, er, brew is a 4.1% abv golden ale. It’s a product spec that’s become the default setting for any beer launch that wants to tick boxes around modern beer trends without risk of causing offence.

on 29 April, 2016

Do anything too regularly and it soon becomes a chore. Stop sniggering at the back. It’s as true for wine tasting as it is for data entry. I know, poor us. Try telling anyone with a normal job how unlucky we are and I doubt you’ll get much sympathy, but the fact remains that there are thousands of different wines and most of them taste pretty average.

on 11 April, 2016

Whatever your outlook, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Retailers are too often introspective, focused on what’s happening within their own four walls. Sales reps can get lost in monthly targets and fail to appreciate the longer-term needs of their customers. Wine writers spend far more time tweeting other wine writers about wine writing than considering what readers actually want.

on 11 March, 2016

Some things make better comebacks than others. The Phantom Menace was trite, The Force Awakens was triumphant. Cadbury ironically relaunched the Wispa and it’s still thriving nine years later, whereas its Aztec bar bombed after optimistically returning as the Aztec 2000. Heart-throb boy-band Take That’s comeback album enjoyed huge success, but poodle rock hellraisers Guns ’n’ Roses? Axl Rose is 54 now. Welcome To The Jumble Sale.

on 11 March, 2016

Brewdog founder James Watt was forced to admit his appearance on BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary Who’s The Boss? was “a bit of a disaster” this week after his behaviour sparked a vicious backlash. He was dubbed embarrassing, rude and a “professional arsehole” in his ill-fated bid to hire an area manager in front of the watching public, while wholesaler Best of British Beer even said it was delisting Brewdog beers and giving away any remaining stock as a result.

on 11 March, 2016

In the fifth century, Ireland suffered from a reptile dysfunction. It happens to the best of us. Pesky pagan snakes all over the place, slippery anti-Christian evangelists making a nuisance of themselves, shedding their skin, swallowing hamsters whole, hypnotising Mowgli, sticking their tongue out at everyone. That kind of thing. 

on 09 March, 2016

The most willfully provocative tenet of the Brewdog employee charter is: “We blow shit up.” We know because we were told dozens of times on last night’s BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary Who’s The Boss?. It remains to be seen if the statement's pubic airing causes problems for brewery co-founder James Watt next time he goes through airport security.

on 12 February, 2016

We’ve all done it. A customer asks a straight question, you give a crooked answer. On good days that might be through a genuine mistake. On bad days it might be through stress. But on most days it’s simply refusing to admit not knowing the answer. Having dealt them all during my time behind the counter, I now hear them all back as a customer.

on 12 February, 2016

If you knew the secret to packaging a discerning mixed drink from a great cocktail bar you’d bottle it, right? And by bottle it we don’t mean cower in the corner from the challenge, we mean actually stick the cocktail in a bottle.

on 19 January, 2016

One of the wine industry’s self-imposed missions is to simplify a highly complicated product. The reasoning seems straightforward enough – by making wine more easily comprehensible it becomes less threatening, thereby increasing consumer engagement and boosting sales.

on 19 January, 2016

January. The most mediocre of months. Beginning with a horrific hangover and ending with a tax return, it’s a desperate time that requires desperate measures.

on 06 November, 2015

My 12-times table is ninja fast. Not just up to 10, either – that’s kid’s stuff. I’m talking dozens of dozens, hundreds even. I’ve even got favourites: 38 times 12 is 456 – pleasingly sequential; 50 times 12 is 600 – an easy one, but with satisfying roundness. Then there’s the evergreen classic 74 times 12, giving not just two but three fat ladies, 888.

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The shops that stand out from the madding crowd

The judges met last week to sort out the winners in the independent categories of our 2018 Drinks Retailing Awards. The results are top secret until the awards dinner on February 6 but it’s giving nothing away to report that the overall standard of those that will be revealed in the shortlist of finalists in the January issue of DRN is higher than it’s ever been.

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