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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.

If you are involved in the retail of alcohol off the premises it is highly likely that you are aware of the schemes now in place in many parts of the country banning retailers from selling various beer and cider brands that have an abv of 5.5% and above.

Along with a bunch of verdicts on drinks that included Pernod, WKD and a beer called Arse Liquor, the Portman Group independent complaints panel last month ruled that 50cl cans of Tennent’s Super were in breach of the organisation’s marketing code.

There’s a well-stocked gift shop at the Cotswolds Distillery in the heart of the English countryside. There are Cotswolds keyrings, candles and cufflinks. Pessimistic umbrellas share shelf space with tastefully branded notepads and books on gin and whisky by noted authors. About the only thing that’s not on the shelves yet is bottles of spirits.

For some time, canned ale has been the dowdy cousin of flamboyant premium bottled ale. The humble format has seen sales slide 2.3% for premium ales and 6.6% for standard ales, according to Marston’s 2014 Premium Bottled Ale Report, while more than 140 products were launched in the PBA category last year – compared to fewer than 20 in canned ale.