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Even as the ice caps melt, the world is becoming an increasingly polarised place. Nuance and rationale get bested by bombast and dogma; every disagreement seems irreconcilable. The middle ground has become No Man’s Land. Such polarisation was all too evident in recent discussions about Oddbins going into administration. While the response was almost universally sympathetic within the wine trade, the debate on social media became rapidly antithetical when Brexit was mooted as a determining factor.

January proved another success for committed abstainers. Granted, it’s the grimmest month to endure without the occasional glass of whisky, but the brave few suffered for our sins, seeing it tee-totally through to February while simultaneously inflicting a short, sharp kidney punch to the industry. Well done them.

The art of tastings

15 February, 2019

All of us who engage with the wine tasting circuit will be familiar with its general format – comfortable, predictable and generally pretty successful. Whether it’s held in a private members’ club on Pall Mall, a basement in Shoreditch or a private room in a restaurant, the basic form of the trade tasting is timeless: wines normally ordered by producer, a spacious room, good light, tasting booklets (with free pencils), spittoons and endless plates of Carr’s Table Water Biscuits.

When the notion of MUP was first introduced in Scotland, I remember thinking “this is big” and I wondered how the industry would react. I also wondered how I would react if the same were to be implemented in England. Would it make a difference to how or what alcohol I buy? Would I even notice the price rises? 

Beer writing legend Roger Protz wasn’t the only one “dumbfounded” by the decision by the Fuller’s board to sell its brewing business to Asahi of Japan in a £250 million deal.

Christmas now feels like a distant memory. The tree is down, the leftover turkey is gone and the phrase “new year, new me” has been bandied about one time too many. But we’re going to revisit the festive period just once more as it is such an important period for off-trade drinks sales. In the 11 weeks to December 29 shoppers spent £129 million more on alcohol than they did during the same period in 2017, a rise of 2%, and £245 million more than they did in Christmas 2016.

According to most observers, veganism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world of food and drink. As such, there are plenty of producers, brands and retailers across the board lining up to take advantage, because where new trends emerge, there is money to be made.

At the beginning of each year, industry observers like nothing more than blowing the dust off their crystal balls, peering into the spirit world (and beer and wine), and proudly predicting the next “big thing” we’ll all be selling over the following 12 months. 

Anyone for Dry Tueday?

22 January, 2019

It’s a cruel world that rewards the wine merchant who has crossed the finish line of December’s festive mania with Dry January. Of course, giving up is the new giving in. 

You wouldn’t be surprised if I told you in recent years that there has been a trend of laying off alcohol throughout January.

Christmas is arguably the biggest trading period of the year for the off-trade, loaded with significant opportunities for retailers. After all, it is a time of indulgence, hosting, parties and many cosy nights in – people want to make Christmas special and this is reflected in their shopping habits. In fact, last year saw the biggest spend on premium products ever, with £470m spent over the four weeks to Christmas (Kantar).

Another year; another holly, jolly Christmastime. Cue the office parties, the endless playlists of Slade, Chris Rhea, and Shakin’ Stevens, and the desperate search for an appropriate Secret Santa present. And, of course, the mild panic of brands – both big and small – as they contemplate just how they are going to stand out from the crowd during the year’s busiest sales period.  

Christmas is my favourite season – I have been known to put my tree up in mid-November. Yes, I am one of those people.

How is cheap wine possible? This is perhaps the strangest and most perpolexing question in wine, alongside such conundrums as “is terroir real?” and “pink port: why, god, why?”

Students who sit their wine exams all around the world have long been familiar with the complicated classifications with which European wines are labeled, enshrining the idea that grapes are capable of articulating their origins, and that grapes grown in different sites will produce wines of different quality and nuance of flavour.

Leading investors gathered at the Mayfair Hotel last week to listen to Cam Battley, chief corporate officer at Canadian firm Aurora Cannabis, wax lyrical about the marijuana industry’s vast potential. Make no mistake, this is going to become a large, global industry, bigger than global brewing,” he said. And I’ll tell you why. Beer has no legitimate medical applications, no matter what we tell ourselves on a Friday evening.”

In my last column, I asked whether wine has enough cultural and historical value to survive the increasingly prevalent anti-alcohol sentiment in Britain, which is precisely the kind of #bantz that explains why I always end up standing by myself at parties.

As I write, there’s a ragu simmering on the stove. It began with the unhurried dicing of onions, carrots and celery, followed by the browning of the mince, and the addition of wine and tomato. It’s the first of the year, and like the returning blast of the central heating or the wearing of jumpers, it’s a sign that autumn is here, and with it the best season for wine lovers.

It’s strange but true that just five or six years ago customers were willing to travel considerable distances to get their hands on new and edgy beers from the latest craft breweries.

Attempting to see something from an alternative perspective is like leaving you running in circles before collapsing on the floor, panting heavily.

Jen Draper, head of marketing at Global Brands, looks at why the age-appropriate debate is growing old.

Surely it’s not just me who every so often looks round at the world of wine and wonders what on earth we are all going on about? It’s a feeling as blasphemous as a vicar questioning the whole resurrection thing, or Riedel suddenly wondering whether glassware actually makes the slightest difference to how wine is perceived.

If I had said a few years ago that flavoured gin would be bigger than flavoured vodka and be the spirit which contributes the largest growth to the alcohol market, would you have believed me? 

As minimum unit pricing in Scotland beds in, anti-alcohol campaigners are beginning to hedge their bets. Already we’re hearing it’s not a magic bullet”, other measures will be needed” – including the restoration of the hated alcohol duty escalator and alcohol-only” aisles in off-sales premises. The stated intention of campaigners supporting MUP is to stop the sale of cheap strong alcohol at pocket money prices” and thereby protect vulnerable drinkers” – a coy term for alcoholics. But what about the unintended consequences?

Now that schools have broken up until early September, many wine merchants will have spent the month queuing up other projects – preparing for the autumn, trying not to buy any stock that isn’t lager or rosé, or maybe even taking a bit of time off.

The next print edition of Drinks Retailing News includes a fascinating in-depth look at the concept of so-called Frankenwines. Their makers use laboratory analysis of well-known brands to establish a flavour and aroma profile and then reverse engineer those characteristics into the wine they make from their own-grown fruit.

Golden ages are periods of sustained excellence within a sector. For example, in Hollywood, the first one ran from the end of the silent era to the beginning of the TV takeover, producing benchmark films of every genre. 

Vodka changes tack

16 July, 2018

One of the huge surprises during the World Cup, beyond the fact that England weren’t completely cack, was the revelation that fans could perch on plastic patio furniture rather than punt it at the oppo.

The issue of legalising cannabis has been in the news in recent weeks.

With the market for wine becoming increasingly competitive, why are many millennials turning away from Old World wines and choosing to buy New World instead?