A wine merchant’s portfolio has to speak for itself. There’s no point having eye-catching merchandising or an integrated social media strategy if the wines themselves aren’t good enough. Here are seven wines that tell me whether a wine shop is worth its salt. How many are on your shelves?
1. GROWER CHAMPAGNE There’s nothing wrong with stocking the big brands (see point seven below), but having your own house Champagne selling for a keen price, at a quality level that you believe is among the best on the market, is a sure sign of a wine shop that takes itself seriously.
2. GERMAN RIESLING AND/OR DRY SHERRY These two categories are the perennial also-rans of wine retail. The trade loves them but customers remain largely indifferent. The easiest option is to delist, but the best wine retailers keep supporting them by finding the right styles at the right prices.
3. £10-£15 RED BORDEAUX This is a specific genre, but with some of the greatest potential to impress. The claret category is so obsessed with a few famous names that it’s easy to forget that Bordeaux is the largest appellation in France, with hundreds of producers making classic examples that desperately need a home. If you look hard enough, you can source good petits chateaux from good vintages that are drinking well now for a competitive price.
4. ITALIAN SPECIALITY This is perhaps the hardest one to get right. The wines of Italy are so confusing it’s tempting to just stick with Prosecco, Pinot Grigio and Chianti. You don’t need to represent every variation, but pick a few that provide something that no other wine can, be it Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola, Nebbiolo, Negroamaro – or grapes that begin with a different letter.
5. NEW WORLD ORIGINALS The New World is too often seen only as a source of fruity international varieties with little sense of their own origins. Great wine shops go further by having some New World originals: Hunter Valley Semillon, Cape Pinotage, Salta Torrontés, Californian Zinfandel and the like.
6. PARCELS One-off parcels of wine are a sure sign of a wine retailer with a dynamic product range, and are the ideal way of highlighting something interesting without taking too much risk in terms of stock.
7. THE RIGHT BRANDS Brands give the majority of wine buyers a familiar and reassuring choice, but you don’t want to look like a supermarket. Getting it right means finding something recognisable that fits into the ethos of your shop.
I appreciate that these are tricky to get right, and I wouldn’t blame merchants for groaning at the difficulty of selling such wines. But who said the wine trade was supposed to be easy?