These gangs of happy tasters are not just there for a cheap-ticket tasting session. I heard serious questions being asked, comparisons of flavour and price with impromptu tasting seminars taking place at various tables.
So when the supermarkets have about 80 per cent of the wine market, and seem to be filled with unbeatable offers, why would anyone go to an independent shop or a merchant for their wine?
In between elbowing my way around the various rooms and tables to get to the wines, I asked people why they were there and most of the answers were quite perceptive. Two women who were enjoying their night out said neither of them drank a lot but they received very good advice at Chez Vin in Otley, and every wine they bought was right for the occasion they had selected it for.
A couple at the Flourish and Prosper tasting didn’t want to spend time agonising in front of the thousands of wines in a supermarket, so they tasted wines at events like this and bought most of their entertaining and weekend wine from the shop. They do venture in supermarkets occasionally, just for the bargains and weekday drinking.
Prices that go up and down without notice, general confusion with supermarket offers and a feeling of buying something a little more exclusive were some of the other very valid reasons given for buying from an independent.
So having trawled through the ranges of three local merchants, here is my selection:
Chez Vin in Otley has been open for six years and is owned and run by David Lawson who has a lifetime of experience in wine. Not only does he run the shop but he teaches wine classes in Otley and Leeds so if you want to expand your tasting horizons, you should sign up.
The range of wines in the shop is wide, with a good focus on classic areas such as France, Spain and Italy but with enough well-chosen New World wines from Chile, Argentina and Australia to provide variety and sunshine flavours. He has developed a particular niche in malt whisky, with more than 100 malts on the shelves.
Among the white wines I was blown away by the Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Sec Chant des Vignes 2010 (£9.99). This is bursting with aromatic fruit, yet not in a spicy way like Gewurztraminer and not heavy and oily like Viognier. The fresh, white-fleshed peaches notes are backed by lime fruit flavours and sprinkled with floral notes and fennel.
I also liked the lively citrus and greengage flavours of Bodega Gótica Badajo 2010 from Rueda in Spain (£6.99). Among the reds I would be really happy to pour Domaine de Croix Belle, le Champ du Coq 2008. At £7.99 this is a real bargain.
For real winter-weather drinking then the plush cherry and chocolate flavours of Chocolate Box GSM 2008 from the Barossa should warm your toes for £12.99.
Chez Vin Otley, 24 Newmarket, Otley, 01943 466142, contact [email protected] to get on the mailing list.
Flourish and Prosper is another small retailer with an enthusiastic following who turned up in droves to taste through 150 wines and spirits as well as all kinds of foodie items.
Based in Howden, it is run by Sean Welsh who moved from one side of the wine counter to the other after a lifetime spent selling wine to small independent retailers and now features many of the wines he used to provide, plus an eclectic range sourced from a wide variety of suppliers.
I was really impressed by the elegance and complexity of Macon Chardonnay Personnets from Domaine Deux Roches 2010 (£12) as well as the glorious New Zealand Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (£15.99) from Kevin Judd who used to be the winemaker at Cloudy Bay. Among the reds you should not miss out on the fabulous, dense fruit of Tinto Figuero ‘4’ 2008 from Ribera del Duero (£12.99).
This is the entry level wine in a range which clearly steps from the great-tasting affordable to the amazing, intense special-occasion level. At £32.95 the magnificent, dense and complex flavours of Figuero ‘15’ 2004 are expensive, but it is no more than you would pay for a fairly average bottle in a restaurant. For less important evenings when you still need good flavours head to The Ruins Organic Pinotage 2010, (£8.75) for deep, warm black fruits with hints of leather and spice.
Flourish and Prosper, Bridgegate in Howden, 01430 430006, or email [email protected]
John Kelly has the kind of wine business that you really have to stumble over to find out about. He doesn’t have a shop which keeps costs down and he sells wine via rather good tastings held at his house in Clifford, near Boston Spa. The list is good and this year he has added a number of excellent New Zealand producers such as Amisfield, Peregrine and Siegfried. I was particularly impressed by his range of Drouhin Burgundies, such as the gloriously elegant 2006 Volnay (£26.50) and the simply delicious 2008 Meursault (£29.94), but there is great value in the red-berry fruit and lively flavours of La Sabounet 2010 (£6.80) which also comes in magnums for parties.
Contact John Kelly, Personal Wine Merchant on 01937 842965.