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  • Guest contributor
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  • Guest contributor
1 Aug 2014

David Crossley contributes, at length, to our Indie writing competition:

When I first saw this competition on Twitter I did wonder how anyone could possibly choose their one favourite wine retailer. As with many other readers, I buy too much wine, well maybe not too much, but too much to drink. But there's so much to explore out there and I'm known for my eclectic tastes. When I discovered I could choose more than one I was initially content, quite excited even, but then soon became troubled as I took time to narrow down the field. I think it would have taken all day to list all those people I buy wine from, but even to select a few from 15 or so regulars was pretty hard. I finally narrowed it down to six, but I still harbour a few guilty feelings for not mentioning one or two others. Indeed, as I write, the six has become seven. Oh dear!

So what of these seven? What makes them special? Certainly together they are able to sell me my special passions, but they all, without exception, do it in a special way. And as a customer I have an advantage which wine writers and critics avoid like the plague - a 'special relationship' for the truly valued customer. One feels some warm glow when one's tastes and interests are remembered, when one gets a personal email because someone has a new batch of Macle or Fourrier, Bérèche or Blot. Too many people seem to 'hard sell' wine, but for people like me it's much more of a two-way experience. So here they are, in no particular order, but each one is special in their own way. For each image I've chosen a wine which I think shows something of the soul of each of the merchants listed, all being wines which, needless to say, I'm overjoyed that they import or sell.

Berry Brothers & Rudd

Berry_Bros


I think some people look at the name and the heritage and come up with a cliché of what this long-established firm is like. Certainly one can find the Old World classics in abundance. But few firms have been as innovative as BBR in recent years. The website is hard to better and not just among wine merchants, their education programme is extensive, their staff are some of the most helpful and professional in London, and in Basingstoke they have The Factory, as we call it, the source of some genuine bargains if I'm prepared to brave the M25 of a morning. And that extensive list - not nearly as conservative as one might imagine. It's down to their expert buyers, people like Jasper Morris MW who lives in Burgundy and David Berry Green who lives in Italy. Literally. People like this are bringing in new wines all the time, not just any wines but the best these places have to offer, so that despite the traditions which the company rigorously adheres to in its wood-panelled St James's shop and offices, they have an eye on the future. As for those historic premises on St James's and in Pickering Place - they should be on the must-see list for any wine lover visiting London [indeed - see London for wine lovers - JR].

Berry Bros & Rudd

Houndmills
Basingstoke
Hampshire RG21 2YH
tel +44 (0)1256 323566
fax +44 (0)1256 479558
orders@bbr.com
www.bbr.com


Roberson


Roberson


Roberson are here because of innovation. A visit to their Kensington store will always unearth something new, possibly quite obscure, but certainly showing that they are really on the crest of the wave of what's happening in wine. No guesses as to where I'm heading with the innovation thing. Last year Jon Bonné wrote a book about a different side of Californian wine, where wines of subtlety and restraint, freshness and vigour, were not wholly alien. I had really lost faith in California over the years since the late Geoffrey Roberts brought into the UK some California classics. New Cali has rather awakened my interest again, and Roberson are at the forefront. And I haven't even mentioned London's first urban winery and the essential Noble Rot magazine. Their shop is the kind of place where you really need a suitcase to fill up, although thankfully, along with Berry's, they have one of the most reliable and flexible delivery options around. And as a sign of their street cred, you'll find their wines in many of the new London wine bars springing up.

Roberson Wine

348 Kensington High Street
London W14 8NS
tel +44 (0)20 7371 2121
fax +44 (0)20 7371 4010
enquiries@robersonwine.com
www.robersonwine.com


The Sampler


Sampler


When The Sampler first appeared, taste before you buy was often a tired sample which had been swiftly vacu-vin'd by a young member of staff as the store was closing the previous day. Now we see Enomatics all over, and it's hard to remember what life was like before them. But Jamie and Dawn had an even better idea, from which the Icons machines were born. How would it be if we opened really legendary wines and let people pay for a few sips? They must have quaked with fear that, once the licensing departments had been persuaded, no one would pay. But they do, and the two London stores are often full of people tasting away, many seemingly wine pros and MW students. Add to that Jamie Hutchinson's appreciation of Lopez de Heredia and Stéphane Tissot, Domaine Fourrier, Equipo Navazos and Abe Schoener, and we are made for each other. And shhh! There's usually Prüm. And a lot of very expensive temptations. The best place to go if you need something for a wine dinner, and they do cheese and charcuterie to nibble on while tasting. They also put on some pretty exclusive winemaker evenings.

The Sampler

266 Upper Street
Islington
London N1 2UQ
tel +44 (0)207 226 9500
fax +44 (0)207 226 6555
35 Thurloe Place

South Kensington
London SW7 2HJ
tel +44 (0)207 225 5091
jamie@thesampler.co.uk
www.thesampler.co.uk


Alpine Wines
(formerly Nick Dobson)


Alpine_Wines


Alpine Wines is a retailer which does more or less what it says on the tin. Joelle Nebbe-Mornod took over from Nick Dobson and has built on that firm foundation to shine the light on wines, not exclusively but largely, from Switzerland and Austria, plus a few other places with mountains, or hills. Very few UK retailers have a good range of Swiss wines, and this has meant that those of us who know that country feel a little foolish sometimes when we extol their virtues. But the adventurous will find many of the top names, and wines from almost all of the country. Okay, they don't have my favourite Swiss producer, but even Hedonism find him difficult to source regularly. The Austrian range is very interesting. Here, the well-established names are largely absent and the range highlights some lovely family estates, and some unusual grape varieties along with the more common. Regions such as Vienna which are becoming much better known are already here, and there's a strong Burgenland offering including personal favourite, Heidi Schröck. You feel that despite all Joelle has done since taking over, there's even more to come, such is the boundless enthusiasm here, both for the wines and for sheer hard work promoting them.

Alpine Wines (used to be Nick Dobson Wines)

Online retailer specialising in alpine wines.
3 The Grove IDLE
West Yorkshire BD10 9JS
tel +44 (0)20 3151 3454
info@alpinewine.co.uk
www.alpinewines.co.uk


Les Caves de Pyrène


Caves_de_Pyrene


Les Caves are best known as an agent and wholesaler and in this role their long tentacles have spread swiftly all over the UK. But aside from their involvement in some very good, inexpensive, restaurants in London (Terroirs et al) concentrating on their trademark natural wines, they also have a hidden gem of a retail warehouse near Guildford's southern Park & Ride. More than anyone, I feel that Doug Wregg and the team have shown the natural wine phenomenon to be about more than expensive red cider. Some of my favourite wines from here are only mildly scary. COS (Sicily), Elian da Ros (Marmandais), Domaine du Cros (Marcillac) and Castagna (Beechworth). But it's silly listing them, there are too many. You can find Aostan wines here, and of course, Clos des Goisses. And in Sir Douglas Wregg you get as much entertainment and enlightenment in one man as you would find in all the supermarkets put together. It's easy to forget that many wines on their list which are now big name or cult producers here were unseen on these shores before Les Caves brought them over. Constantly brave, but it seems to have paid off.

Les Caves de Pyrène

Pew Corner, Old Portsmouth Road
Artington, Guildford
Surrey GU3 1LP
tel +44 (0)1483 538820
fax +44 (0)1483 455068
sales@lescaves.co.uk
www.lescaves.co.uk


Butler's Wine Cellar


Butlers


Henry Butler and his fantastic team carry on a business started by Henry's father, and which gained a reputation as a top secret source for old vintages of classic Bordeaux. The rather messy shop north of Brighton's centre was an Aladdin's cave of treasures - Haut-Bailly, Talbot, Ch Margaux, you name it... Most of the old wines have now been snapped up, but the shop (which has a perfect cool cellar), a little tidier these days, is still stuffed with too much wine for any sane retailer. Like all the others here, Henry loves wine too much for his own good. Of course, there's no list as such, though there is a website that is much improved of late. They just buy what they like - Kracher (why am I telling you this?), Angerer, English fizz, Barolo, some cracking Aussies, but still a good mix of classics and off the wall stuff which I just hope he didn't buy because of me. Henry Butler also happens to be one of those people you want to do business with and the whole team seems genuinely keen to go out of their way to help you. You get the impression they'd chat all day rather than be rude, so friendly are the staff, and you kind of get the impression they've tasted almost everything too.

Butler's Wine Cellar

247 Queen's Park Road
Brighton, BN2 9XJ, UK
tel +44 (0)1273 698 724
fax +44 (0)1273 622 761
henry@butlers-winecellar.co.uk
www.butlers-winecellar.co.uk


Solent Cellar


Solent_Cellar


Last but by no means least here is a relatively new retailer compared with the others. And one established in a location where you would perhaps not expect to find one of this quality. I have family in this New Forest Georgian yachting town, and I must admit that on more than one occasion I walked past thinking I'd better not venture in, not another wine shop to tempt me. But when I did it became an instant favourite, somewhere I count up there with the very best wine shops in the country. Simon and Heather are a husband and wife team, Simon having cut his teeth with a large national wine chain which has, by coincidence, now opened a warehouse in the same town. What Solent has in its favour is very personal service allied to an ability to hand-sell wines which all but the keenest oenophiles have probably never heard of, alongside some pretty posh classics sometimes no longer available in London. Trust is achieved through tastings and the building of relationships with customers. Simon Smith has become one of a small handful of wine sellers whose recommendation I would take without question or hesitation. If he says 'buy this', I will. A man who sells so many Jura wines, well, must be either insane or very committed. Great Loires here, Beaujolais, regional France and Italy, Vilmart (good man!) and some other excellent fizz. I often wonder whether the residents of Lymington know how lucky they are.

The Solent Cellar

40 St Thomas Street
Lymington
Hampshire SO41 9ND
01590 674852
info@thesolentcellar.co.uk
www.thesolentcellar.co.uk

Needless to say I have no connection, personal or financial, with any of the above-mentioned retailers, but I will say I love giving them my money, and I certainly wish I had more to share among them. I'd also happily work for these people. I can't imagine any more stimulating and enjoyable occupation. I wish them all, large or small, the greatest success.