Oddbins ‘sticks neck out’ with first natural wine range

Oddbins is rolling out a range of natural wines in selected stores and online for the first time, as it taps into the growing buzz around low-intervention wines.

Speaking to db this week, Odbins head wine buyer Ana Sapungui MW explained that until now, she had held back from stocking natural wines, due to a combination of factors including the question of what critieria actually constitutes a natural wine, the evolving nature of natural wines over time, which the consumer may not understand or appreciate and which would need to be communicated, and also the fact that sometimes the quality has not been “up to scratch”.

“Quite a few producers had jumped on the bandwagon just because it was buzzy, so I didn’t quite trust the concept, but a few things have changed from a quality perspective and people are talking it more seriously now,” she said. “We have come across an improved quality of wines, with more solid winemaking and from people on board to make genuinely interesting wines rather than jumping on the bandwagon of ‘natural’. Therefore we decided to explore it further.”

Sapungui told db that the retailer would be taking the category “seriously”, adding that the commitment included extra training for staff, customer tastings and rolling out dedicated point of sale material “that wont’ go under the radar”.

“We are sticking our necks out there with our own criteria and nine wines we consider to be natural,“ she added, “There is a place in the market to do it and we wanted to do it properly. That is why I waited, I wanted to be sure we were ready for it and taking it seriously.”

The wines are mainly European in origin and range in price from £12.50 – £25. They include a Cataratto from Sicily (Ciello Baglio Bianco 2016, RRP: £15), two “interesting” wines from Kakheti, Georgia (Orgo Rkatsitelli White 2015 and Orgo Saperavi Red 2015, RRP: £20 each), a Blaufränkisch Dogma 2016 from Austria (RRP: £25), as well as wines from Spain and France. There are also three wines from South Africa, a Chenin Blanc and Syrah from Swartland (Jurgen Gouws ‘Intellego’, RRP: £18.50 and Jurgen Gouws ‘Intellego’ Syrah 2015, RRP: £20), and a Shiraz Cabernet blend (Reyneke Organic Shiraz/Cabernet 2015, RRP: 12.50).

The nine wine, which include an amber wines, have been farmed organically or biodynamically, fermented with natural yeasts, contain no enzymes or additives, and minimal levels of sulphur dioxide (only one wine has more that the 70mg/L – the definition set by the Raw Wine Fair – while two wines contain less than 10mg/L) and there has been no fining or sterile filtration.

In order to assess the wine’s stability, each sample was tasted over a two day period, and in some cases over two vintages, Sapungui explained, adding that there was “an incredible purity and freshness to the wines.”

“I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality, there was a vibrancy and purity to the wines which surprised me,” she told db.

Sparkling focus

In addition to the natural wines, the retailer is also adding a range of new wave wines from new winemakers in South Africa. “The new winemakers are what makes it different, the way the collaborate with each other comes through,” she said. “They are in tune with the new generation of wine drinkers and with current innovations in the wine world, with lots of experimentation happening with organics, natural yeasts, site selection and indigenous varietals”.

Spain has also been “significantly” overhauled, which is going in store now, to include more indigenous varieties, old vines and fresher styles, with more to follow next year. The team has also focused on the sparkling category with the addition of sparkling wines from Austria, Portugal, New Zealand and Argentina, as well as French sparkling wines such as Touraine, Limoux or Cremant, which have shown strong growth.

“We’ve been growing in sparkling around 36% above the category, whereas Prosecco has been relatively flat. So it’s really strong growth,” Sapungui said.

The team are also upping their commitment to grower Champagnes and adding a “good quality” house champagne in collaboration with Champagne Drappier, Cuvee Saint George Brut NV (RRP: £25, as well as bringing back its an Oddbins own-label entry level house Champagne Henri Harlin (RRP: around £20) made by H Blin, which will hit shelves later in the year.

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