Rising prices have forced the Languedoc – the engine room of France’s bulk wine production – to look at more premium offers and establish itself as a top-quality wine region, not a bargain basement.

Ales By Mail is a family business set up by Paul Kruzycki, his wife Karen and their daughters Millie and Abbie in a bid to help the burgeoning number of craft beers from the UK and around the world reach a wider audience.

The Llanelli & County Guardian was the unlikely chronicler of a landmark moment in brewing history. On December 3, 1935, it reported the first successful commercial packaging of a beer in cans in the UK, by the town’s Felinfoel brewery.

Green Valley Cyder is concession in the Darts Farm shop near Exeter,  where owners Nick Pring (pictured right) and Chris Coles make and sell cider. Beyond an impressive range of bottled ciders and beers, customers can watch cider being made in the company’s own press. Green Valley also sells draught cider with plenty of opportunities for tasting – both of its own range and for suppliers to show off their wares in the farm shop’s main food hall.

The gin bubble

16 March, 2015

Gin sales are booming – and so are distillery openings, but some suppliers are warning the market is close to saturation.

Portsmouth retailer Bobby Sood didn’t want to sign up to the Reducing the Strength scheme launched in his city.

The wizardry of Oz

13 February, 2015

You’re probably familiar with Oz Clarke as Britain’s best-known wine critic, James May’s TV co-star in seeking out unusual beverages and one of the Three Wine Men along with Tim Atkin MW and Olly Smith.

For a long time, Californian wine has been split into two camps. In one sit entry-point brands such as Blossom Hill and Barefoot, in the other top-priced Syrahs and Zinfandels with high alcohol, high extraction and high points from über-critic Robert Parker.

Spanish wine: into the unknown

13 February, 2015

Madrid’s main avenues were a sea of blue and purple Podemos flags this month as thousands of the unemployed, the disaffected and the impoverished protested against austerity.

Britain’s beer scene spent years minding its own business before brash American brews stormed our shores with aggressive flavours, high alcohol contents and bold packaging that turned the market upside down.

Soft drinks and energy drinks have been hitting headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, with sugar and caffeine being blamed for all manner of ills. But the market remains buoyant.

Have e-cigarettes prematurely peaked? A consumer survey by Smoking in England and researchers at University College London suggests usage has “taken a downturn”.

In later life, Dave West became something of self-parody, frequently snapped in trademark flamboyant coloured suits surrounded by glamorous young women, sipping Champagne and enjoying the high life. His murder just before Christmas was the final tragic chapter in the life of an ordinary bloke from a humble background, seduced by the trappings of wealth and power that his success in business brought him.

Austrian wine has come a long way – 30 years ago antifreeze was found in some of the country’s bulk wines and the scandal demolished the industry.

Organic wine is starting to look like one of those things everyone talks about but no one is actually buying into.

The big match: beer and food

19 January, 2015

Rule one of beer and food matching: there are no rules. While wine has an established set of classic grape, style or region matches for popular dishes, the required reading on beer and food is still relatively thin on the ground.

Beer rides high in new era

05 January, 2015

For the first time in a decade the UK beer market is showing continued growth, and the retail trade is leading the charge.

Portugal passion

16 December, 2014

Film nights, gourmet burger evenings and even a Douro vs Alentejo blind tasting competition have brought Portugal to life in independent wine merchants.

Setting the bar low

16 December, 2014

After the bountiful Christmas period come two words to strike fear into the hearts of drinks retailers: dry January.

Over the past couple of years Banbury-based independent wine merchant and regional wholesaler SH Jones has shocked the trade by buying two established online retailers and the wholesale arm of agency Stevens Garnier.

Talk to a customer about wine and you can bet the topics of grapes and vineyards aren’t too far behind. Have a similar conversation about beer, and the natural ingredients that go into a brew, or the rolling British countryside they’re grown in, might be a bit slower to come up – if they do at all.

Whisky's on the ball

24 November, 2014

October 6, 2001, is a date indelibly etched in the minds of diehard England fans. Dreams of qualifying for the Euro 2002 championships were fading fast as the Three Lions trailed Greece 2-1 at Wembley.

It’s nearly reached that time of year when everything’s sparkling: the fairy lights, the gifts under the Christmas tree, the tinsel – even the wines. And all the indications are that bubbly sales will be sparkling this year too.

Bringing together three of the New World’s most exciting wine-producing countries to debate their similarities and differences was always going to throw up a fascinating exchange of ideas.

Our Christmas Hot List is a guide to the spirits that make the perfect party drinks and are great for gifts.

We talk to the champions of some of the wine regions you might not have heard much about, and ask what makes their wines worth seeking out.

New Year’s Eve is the biggest party of the year, but a night on the tiles can leave revellers needing open-heart surgery on their wallets. Last year a four-course meal at a Giraffe restaurant in London cost £100 on December 31 as opposed to the usual price of around £20 for three courses, while entry to London’s Sky Bar cost £185.

Hedonism Wines is a huge, modern, glitzy wine boutique in London’s Mayfair. Set up by the founder of Russia’s largest mobile phone retailer in late 2012, it covers 700sq m over two floors and lists some 5,500 wines and 2,000 spirits. It is run by chief executive Tatiana Fokina, who has a background in luxury retailing.

The outside of Conviviality Retail’s pilot BB’s Warehouse in Wakefield is adorned with the legend “the best brands at the best prices”. It’s a motto that’s been the guiding principle of the company’s flagship Bargain Booze brand since its first store opened in 1981, but here it’s being pursued in a whole new way for the chain.

Reinventing Bordeaux

24 October, 2014

Bordeaux is on a mission to prove there is far more to the region than expensive red wines for rich retirees to sip at country clubs.

Drinks are more likely to be given as a present than chocolate or beauty products, and 73% of people bought alcohol as a gift in the past year, according to the William Grant Market Report.

Autumn and apples go together like, well, apple pie and custard, or pork and apple sauce. Keats’s season of mists and mellow fruitfulness calls to mind apple bobbing, toffee apples, and all sorts of other appley delights.

Cape finds balance

10 October, 2014

After a bumper 2013, South African wine exports are expected to dip this year – but that is just getting the industry back into the right balance, says Wines of South Africa chief executive Siobhan Thompson.

The ad man cometh

10 October, 2014

Advertising guru turned wine producer Sir John Hegarty got tongues wagging and brains working overtime with an incendiary address at the Wine & Spirit Trade Association conference. In these extracts, he tells the trade what it’s doing right – and what it’s getting wrong.

Pierpaolo Petrassi MW presides over a BWS empire that is showing healthy growth and cannot stop winning awards for the dynamism it brings to the grocery channel.

Christmas presents

10 October, 2014

In the drinks trade, the festive season isn’t heralded by silver bells, twinkling lights or even the always-shocking appearance of mince pies in supermarkets on September 1. Instead, the multiples welcome the biggest trading season of the year with the traditional yuletide slashing of prices on port, sparkling wine, liqueurs and other premium products.

Greene King has overtaken John Smith’s supplier Heineken to become the market leader in the off-trade ale category for the first time.

This seven-strong chain has expanded beyond Cambridge to Salisbury, Royston in Hertfordshire and Ampthill in Bedfordshire and has scooped the OLN Drinks Retailing Award for Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year three times.

The market is recovering and off- trade sales are surging as drinkers forgo the pub in favour of a tipple at home, so now might be a good time to open a new store. But if you are considering this there are various legalities you need to be aware of, one of which is a fundamental asset – the premises licence.

Supermarkets do the best job of selling cider, an OLN poll of suppliers has suggested. Seventy-eight per cent said supermarkets were the best cider retailers, while 22% voted for independent off-licences. High street chains, convenience stores, independent wine merchants and farm shops garnered no votes.

The average bottle of wine in the UK off-trade today will set you back £5.34, according to Nielsen – a hefty whack for consumers facing income squeezes, soaring household bills and rising taxes.

One offers “big brands, big savings”, the other “top brands, bottom prices”. They’re the new discounters threatening to make their mark on the alcohol category in the same way that Aldi and Lidl have before them.

“It’s been manic,” says Richard Cochrane of the year since he left Bibendum to take on the role of managing director at Spanish winery Félix Solís Avantis’s newly formed UK subsidiary.

Bewitching brews for Halloween

16 September, 2014

The UK has enjoyed one of the most glorious summers in recent memory and BWS sales have soared as sandal-clad Brits sought refreshment.

New lease of life for RTDs

16 September, 2014

RTD producers may not have paid too much attention when Kopparberg branched out from its apple and pear cider variants to launch mixed fruit flavours into the UK market in late 2007.

In 2013 70% of TV sets sold in the UK were classified as big – 26in-32in – and nearly 16% were were “jumbo” – 43in or bigger. This is up 4% from the year before, according to TV Licensing’s annual Telescope report on the nation’s viewing habits.

This innovative London wine merchant recently opened its third store in Clapham’s Abbeville Road, to join outlets in Hackney and Crouch End. It offers a broad range of wines with a particular emphasis on Portugal and Italy, as well as spirits and craft beers and ciders – which have their own section called the Brew Testament. Enomatic machines, online sales and themed tastings are all part of the service. All wines are colour-coded according to style, food-matched and concisely described both in-store and online. The Telegraph Magazine named Bottle Apostle Britain’s best small wine shop in 2011. Owner Andrew Eakins tells OLN about it.

The figure that doesn't add up

04 September, 2014

Repeat something often enough and it becomes a truth. Repeat it a few more times and it becomes a Twitter hashtag. At least that’s what’s happened to the most widely cited figure for the cost to UK society of alcohol harm.

The Wines of the Beautiful South tasting is back after its inaugural event last year. Organisers Wines of South Africa, Wines of Chile and Wines of Argentina share their plans.

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Breaking up with Burgundy

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


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