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The Art of Wine Shop Shopping

Finding your festive favourites 

Unless you're a qualified sommelier, choosing a good bottle of wine can be an intimidating task. Different grapes, regions, vineyards, and vintages can all make a difference in the taste, so it can be hard to know which wine is right for your occasion. 

People often use other factors to choose their wine - from price, or what's on promotion, to even the shape of the bottle. Sometimes it's fun to experiment, but during the festive season, you might prefer to know that you're serving a delicious wine - and treat yourself (and your guests) to a bottle or two of something extra special. 

Luckily, eto is here to help. We've asked a few reputable wine merchants to give us their advice on how to find a good bottle of wine that all your wine-drinking guests will enjoy - from navigating a wine shop to knowing which wines are exciting vintners this Christmas. 

Trust your local wine shop 

The one thing that all specialist wine shops have in common is a passion for wine. This could feel a little overwhelming if your wine knowledge is more limited, but it shouldn't. Because passionate people love to share what they know. If there's a wine merchant in your local area, why not pop down and introduce yourself? You might be amazed by what wine knowledge - and possibly new wines you'll pick up. 

We asked three different wine merchants for their top tips on how to make good wine choices this Christmas. 

Berry Bros. & Rudd

With a history dating back to 1698, Berry Bros. & Rudd is the oldest wine spirit merchant in the UK. It's a family-owned business, which has built a reputation for esteemed heritage, exceptional expertise, and a commitment to quality. They advise industry professionals across the world but always have time to chat with customers in their London and Basingstoke shops. 

How do you select your wines? 

"We work with producers who share similar ideals to us - winemakers who care about their land for the next generation. Many of the wines we stock are from producers we've worked with for years, sometimes decades, occasionally generations. But taste is still the most important factor. Our expert wine buyers taste every wine we stock, and they are all delicious. 

How do you help customers discover finer wines? 

"Many of the wines we help customers discover are those that improve with age, and this is often an area where some guidance is needed - after all, it can be hard to tell from a label alone how long a wine can age for, or what it will taste like when it's mature. Also, some wines are sold in specific ways - for example at certain times of the year, before they've ever been bottled. These wines may never sit on a shelf in a store, so having a wine merchant who can introduce you to them is key."

What questions do you like your customers asking? 

"Understanding a customer's budget and what occasion they're buying wines for is important, but the key thing for us is for customers to be open about what they like and don't like. Sometimes we find that people are reluctant to tell us that they don't like Bordeaux or they're not a fan of red wine at all, but this is really important information. There are so many wines out there, and our teams have the knowledge to find the perfect wine for whatever taste of wine you prefer."

Which wines are you excited about right now? 

“While this region has been making great wine for centuries, there is a real buzz about Loire valley wines at the moment. The range of wines from this region is astonishing, with everything from light, fruity red wines – which are best served slightly chilled – through to earthier reds that can age for years. The region also produces refreshing and zesty whites, unctuous sweet wines, and even great sparkling wines. We’re particular fans of Arnaud Lambert wines from the Loire. He makes complex and layered Chenin Blanc wines from Saumur that can age for decades and easily compete with White Burgundy.”

What are your favourite wines for the festive season? 

“We’re big fans of Pinot Noir for Christmas Day as it’s so versatile – and matches beautifully with turkey, as well as ham, goose and also vegetarian dishes. And for the cheeseboard, our go-to is tawny port; the William Pickering tawny port is deliciously sweet and nutty.”

What's your advice for pairing wine with Christmas dinner? 

“First of all, relax – most wines have plenty of acidity and flavours that work well with lots of different foods. Secondly, have a selection of wines so your guests can choose. You may have found the perfect match for a dish, but if your guests don't like rich red wines, or zesty whites then they won’t enjoy it. And if in doubt, choose Champagne. The bubbles and acidity cut through everything.”

And remember that eto gives you the freedom to cater for the different tastes of your guests. If you’ve opened a few different bottles of wine, you can store any leftover wine in eto, and it will taste just as delicious from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve (and beyond). Discover eto.

Reserve Wines 

Reserve Wines was founded by Kate Goodman in 2003 because she'd had an intimidating experience in a wine shop and wanted to create a new friendly environment for people to buy wine. Reserve Wines now has four stores in the Manchester area and a thriving online business selling distinctive, high-quality wine from lesser-known producers around the world. 

How do you select your wines? 

“We curate a rotating range of around 500 wines at any one time. We cover all the key regions across the world but have particular expertise with French, Italian and Portuguese wine, where we work directly with wineries as well as specialist UK importers. They key questions we ask in deciding what to include in the range are ‘would we choose to drink this?’ and ‘does this wine best represent the grape/style/region at the best price for our customers?’”

How do you help customers find a new wine they'll like? 

“We’ve recently rearranged our stores to help customers find the right wine for them and now our range is displayed by style. A great place to start is with the occasion. Is it just for you to enjoy this evening? Or a special occasion? Are you looking for a gift? We use these prompts to help guide customers to the right area of the shop. If someone is a big Sauvignon fan, we’ll guide them to our ‘Sauvignon and Friends’ section and then they can decide how adventurous they’re feeling on the day. We also put tags around our bottles with some of our favourite food pairings. For example, for Christmas we have: ‘Turkey for Christmas lunch, then try this creamy chardonnay.'"

Which wines are you excited about right now? 

“This year we’ve started working with Flint Vineyards in Norfolk and we absolutely love their wines. In November they released a new vintage of their Silex Blanc, a still white wine made up of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, which is fermented in used oak barrels and aged for 12 months. It’s beautifully textured while also holding onto the flavours of zest lemon citrus and red apple fruits – and is definitely on our Christmas lunch menu this year! Flint Vineyard’s whole range is fantastic and worth checking out.”

What are your favourite wines for the festive season? 

“Bordeaux is always a classic region to look to, and the Chateau Picoron, Le Bon Nobel 2015 is great if you want something complex and juicy with ripe blackberry, plum and toasted hazelnuts – decant for an hour or so before you eat. You always need a port on Christmas Day. The Fonseca, Port Bin 27 has just arrived with us, and it fits the bill of being affordable and exactly what you’d want at the end of the day.” 

Natty Boy Wines 

Natty Boy Wines was set up to sell wines you might not find in a high street wine shop, alongside a few iconic wines that stand the test of time. They source much of their wine from boutique producers with smaller production lines and all their wines are environmentally responsible. They also offer a wide range of natural wines. 

How do you select your wines? 

“We aim to strike a balance between hot new natural releases and timeless classics – wines that we return to again and again, vintage after vintage. We work with a number of trusted importers who bring us wines that fit our brand. For example, we don’t stock wines that dub themselves ‘natural’ because it’s trendy, rather than because it’s core to their ethos. But we do stock wines that are made with minimal intervention and follow the principles of taking care of the land they come from while still being clean and above all, drinkable.”

How do you help customers find a new wine they'll like? 

“Any information is good information! Our customers range from people who are just getting started with natural wine (or wine in general) and want a bottle that’s a good entry point, to people who’ve been interested in wine for years and know exactly what they want. I’d say the most important thing to come armed with is your budget – because that tends to be set in stone – but beyond that, it pays to have an open mind. Sometimes a customer will think they want a Vinho Verde but leave the shop with an Australian Chardonnay because they like the sound of it after chatting with our team. That said, the more information we have to work with, the more likely we’ll be able to find the customer a bottle they’re going to like.”

Which wines are you excited about right now? 

“We’re super excited about the wines from Domaine Ratte. They’re from the Jura, a particular favourite in terms of wine regions, and are extremely clean, crystalline and mineral, lifted and aromatic… I could go on! We also just received our first shipment of wine from Australia. Of particular interest are the wines of Les Fruits, made by one of the top importers of natural wine in the country. 'Gonzo' is ripping right now, a ripe fruited yet ultra-light red blend. We're serving it slightly chilled, and it is being guzzled in the most respectful way possible.”

What should newcomers to natural wine know about it? 

“Natural wines come with a range of characteristics that some people might love while others aren’t so keen on, so our best advice is to try as much as you can to work out what you like. But it’s always worth asking what the life expectancy of the wine is – some wines made with zero sulphur only stay fresh enough to drink for a couple of hours after they’ve been opened, and there’s nothing worse than leaving an open bottle in the fridge overnight and finding it’s undrinkable the next day.”

And here is where eto can help. Eto preserves all still wines – including those with zero sulphur – as its airtight seal significantly slows down oxidisation – which is the process that causes the wine to go off. Decant your natural wine into eto and store in the fridge, and it will be perfectly drinkable the next day (and many more after that!) Discover eto.

Friarwood 

With over 50 years of experience in sourcing wine from all over the world, Friarwood built a reputation for its curated selections of both old-world classics to new and innovative bottles from the new world. They offer a diverse range of wines, including rare and exclusive bottles online and in their stores at Parsons Green or Wimbledon in London. 

How do you select your wines?

At Friarwood Fine Wines, our selection process for both retail and wholesale is guided by our slogan, 'Wines worth discovering'. This philosophy is reflected in our collective approach - every member of our team actively participates in tasting sessions, enabling us to make a decision together. We consider various factors, including our clients' needs, emerging trends, potential gaps within our existing portfolio, and new opportunities. Our aim is to offer a diverse and exciting range that caters to varied tastes and preferences.

How do you help customers discover finer wines? 

"Our mission to help customers discover finer wines manifests in several ways. We constantly have wines open for tasting in our shops, providing customers the opportunity to explore and discover new wines. This approach encourages them to broaden their palates and venture beyond their usual preferences. We also organise events such as the Mumdays, the Meet the Producers, and private tasting sessions. Our knowledgeable team is dedicated to keeping wine simple and approachable, always ready to offer advice and pairing recommendations."

What wines are you excited about at the moment? 

"Currently, we are particularly excited about a few exceptional wines. A fantastic German Pinot Noir from the winery Stenner, for instance, presents a wonderful alternative to Burgundy. We are also enthusiastic about our selection of Chilean wines from the winery Tres Palacios and the Pierre Mayeul Nuits St Georges white, a remarkable wine. These wines bring something unique to the table, reflecting the diversity and richness of our wine portfolio"

What advice do you have for the holidays? 

"For the festive season, there are several classics that never fail to impress. These include the flamboyant Chateau Nouret from Bordeaux, the elegant Château de Chamirey Mercurey 1er Cru Clos du Roi from Burgundy, the rich St Francis Californian Chardonnay, and the exquisite Fanti, Brunello di Montalcino. Each of these wines brings a touch of luxury and celebration to any festive gathering.

Pairing wines with contrasting dishes can be a challenge. In cases where the menu includes both robust and delicate flavours, like game and fish, it is often safer to choose a wine that complements the lighter dish. An oaky Chardonnay, for example, can offer the necessary versatility to bridge the gap between such contrasting flavours."

 

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