Top 10 bestsellers at Cambridge Wine Merchants
One of Britain’s biggest independent merchants reveals its most popular wine and spirits over 2014, and why it sees 2014 as “a watershed vintage” for Bordeaux en primeur.
Two Cambridge students, Hal Wilson and Brett Turner founded Cambridge Wine Merchants (CWM) in 1993 having met at the Peterhouse May Ball. Today with seven shops, a large wholesale operation and private clients, the firm is one of the biggest independent merchants in the UK and was voted ‘Merchant of the Year’ in the 2013 IWC awards. At any one time there are around 1,200 wines in stock and a wide range of spirits including 80 gins.
Last year, among sales over £15, gin was only eclipsed by Champagne according to Wilson. The firm also supplies college cellars – a market described as ‘highly competitive’ on the CWM website, ‘Oxbridge college buyers are cautious, careful with money and most of all highly expert – they seriously keep us on our toes.’ Jesus College, Cambridge are among the canniest buyers having bought 41 bottles of Château Latour 1982 for £40.32 each – a bargain compared to Corney & Barrow’s current price of £1,500.
The traditional fine wine world of First Growths and Grand Cru Burgundy “is not where we spend a lot of time and money,” said Wilson. Although CWM does buy en primeur for private clients, the colleges and occasionally retail, and invested strongly in 2011 Vintage Port. With the next Bordeaux campaign soon upon us, he said he was: “massively intrigued” about 2014 and called it “a watershed vintage. Either people will decide they can’t be bothered and [en primeur] will be ruined forever, or the quality, volume and price will be right.”
Overall he remains a big fan of Bordeaux however. “There are some great producers spread right across the price spectrum, especially at the artisan – cru Bourgeois level.” At CWM claret ranges from £8 – 500, with the best performing wines in the £15 – 25 bracket. The following top ten is based on last year’s volumes for bottles over £15, though Wilson was “reluctant to use price” to define ‘fine wine’.
Click through to see Cambridge Wine Merchants top-selling wines & spirits (over £15) in 2014 by volume – split by category.
BORDEAUX Château Rousseau de Sipian 2006 Médoc £15
Coming from a 15 hectare Médoc estate, owned by the British-born Racey family, Château Rousseau de Sipian 2006 fits the bill perfectly for a merchant keen to push everyday Bordeaux.
LANGUEDOC Château Viranel V de Viranel 2011, AOC Saint-Chinian £15
“The Languedoc’s our most important category, though most of it is sub-£15 and it doesn’t go much above the high £20s,” says Hal Wilson. “It’s a wonderful treasure-trove of great wines that is still broadly overlooked.” V for Viranel is a Syrah-Grenache-Mourvèdre blend with a dollop of Carignan, from one of teh best producers in St Chinian
RHÔNE Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2012 Coudoulet de Beaucastel £21
“Plenty of plush and polish and an almost Burgundian swagger,” is how Simon Field MW, the Berry Bros buyer, described the 2010. At Cambridge Wine Merchants, Hal Wilson sees a trend among wealthy professionals of moving into the Rhône from increasingly expensive and rare Burgundy.
NEW ZEALAND Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Marlborough £16
Produced by Kevin Judd who spent most of his career making wine at Cloudy Bay, Greywacke is a definite step above the ocean of mainstream Marlborough sauvignons out there. And at £16 – compared to £22 at Majestic Wines for the 2014 vintage, this one seems a good price.
LOIRE Pouilly Fumé 2013 Domaine de Fontenille, Patrick Maudry £15
At CWM, Wilson is actively looking to increase his central Loire range to take on the ‘crisp white’ dominance of Kiwi Sauvignon.
PORTUGAL Esporao Reserva Tinto 2010 Alentejo £17
Made by Australian-gone-native David Baverstock this southern Portuguese blend of Aragonês, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. At CWM, Wilson admitted that “with Portugal we have to push it quite hard,” but he has no doubts about its value for money, and is especially excited about the 2011 vintage from teh Douro.
WHITE BURGUNDY Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Lechet 2010 La Chablisienne £20
This Premier Cru offering from La Chablisienne – the well-known co-operative responsible for 25% of Chablis production, is the only Burgundy to make CWM’s top ten. While Oxbridge colleges still lay down good stocks of Burgundies, they tend to source from specialists.
SPARKLING WINE Hazel End Three Squirrels, 2011 England £19
At CWM they are working hard to build sales of English sparkling wine, though Wilson felt too many are pricedtoo close to Grand Marque Champagnes. “At under £25 there’s less competition,” he explained. Three Squirrels, produced by husband and wife team – Charles and Petronella Humphreys, first appeared in 1996. It is a blend of Muller Thurgau, Huxelrebe and Reichensteiner.
GIN Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin 44% 70cl £33
The explosion in boutique gins kick-started by Hendricks in the UK in 2003, has certainly hit Cambridge with forty gins on offer at CWM. With two of the chain’s seven shops with their own wine & spirits bar, customers can try any number of gins as a G&T before buying a bottle.
CHAMPAGNE Joseph Perrier Brut NV Cuvée Royale £30
Without splitting the top-selling bottles over £15 by category, this top 10 would be dominated by Champagne which “sells pretty well throughout the year,” said Wilson. Family-owned Joseph Perrier which has avoided the big High Street chains, fits CWM’s requirements to a T, and volume discounts allow an attractive £30 price point.