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.
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.
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 investment target.
Making my way through the recent tranche of Burgundy tastings for the much-hyped 2015 vintage, I found myself experiencing a moment of guilt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
K Cider: that was my first booze of choice. In its limited-edition coloured bottles, it was the height of sophistication – in the public parks of Bedford. I was no snob though, oh no. I would also sometimes drink Mirage and Taboo.
A few years ago I remember rushing into a supermarket with a few like-minded colleagues, like kids in a sweet shop, filling trolleys with clearance wines, which were perfectly good but the retailer had decided to cull the range and these were the victims, the shelf-warmers – genuine half-price bargains for once.
There’s something irresistible about stories unveiling the dirty secrets of a profession: politicians blow billions on garden gnomes; athletes busted mainlining Red Bull; hacks distort facts for salacious headlines.
In July, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of The Food Programme entitled New Wine generation.
Picture your favourite Champagne. Perhaps you’ve got more than one. Either way, I expect it occurred to you almost instantaneously, and that you conjured up an image of the bottle in your mind. Now ask yourself: why is it your favourite?
On the surface, life seems generally predictable and familiar. Alarms wake us at the same time every day, insurance premiums go up every year, pubs sell Pinot Grigio by the glass.
During the short time when cat food came under my remit at Marks & Spencer, I learned two interesting facts.
I’m not sure how to listen to music any more. I don’t mean that I’m sticking earphones into the wrong holes (you don’t make that mistake twice), I'm talking about the way music is accessed.
Is your decanter half full or half empty? Some people look at the UK wine trade and see declining sales, punitive tax and low average prices. I prefer to see recovering sales, decelerating duty and everyday affordability.
Wine marketing only gets criticised for two things: being outdated, conservative and repetitious; or being modern, radical and original.
I recently had to explain the phrase “to have your cake and eat it” to my young son, and it got me thinking about the wine trade.
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?
Just when it seemed like a degree of normality was descending on Cheshunt, the stage could be set for yet another twist in the Tesco tale.
Imagine if the recordings of the Berlin Philharmonic, the works of Monet or the performances of Usain Bolt or Cristiano Ronaldo became the sole preserve of the ultra wealthy, kept out of the sight, sound and reach of 99% of the world’s population.
It was in a bar on the other side of the world earlier this week that I first heard whispers Dan Jago might be making a sensational return to Tesco and the BWS department he was suspended from last October.
A few years ago I requested that a wine back label be changed, getting rid of the word “charcuterie” as a food match. While many of us eat charcuterie, most of us don’t call it that – we talk about cold meats, cold cuts or just ham, salami, or whatever it actually is. I believe that consumers need to be spoken to in their own language, plain and simple.
I remember when having an undercut with curtains was fashionable. I got mine done at Tony’s Barber Shop in Foster Hill Road in Bedford and, to complete the look, I wore 10-hole green DM boots, baggy jeans and a long-sleeved U2 T-shirt.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the political frenzy surrounding a general election means those in power take their eye off the important day-to-day matters we pay them to look after and jump in a cab to the next photo op.
Wine must be the only everyday product that has such a cavernous gulf between the knowledge of those who sell it and most of those who drink it.
As the end of each year approaches, there comes an instinctive urge to start predicting what the future holds. But for the world of wine, where the vagaries mean something as fundamental as production becomes utterly unpredictable, any kind of clairvoyance is probably best avoided.