The Merchant’s View: Jeremy Lithgow MW, Amathus
The mind behind the ever more expansive and esoteric wine range at Amathus talks to Douglas Blyde about the merchant’s Greek roots, the ambition to offer the best bricks-and-mortar sparkling wine selection in London, and what it would mean to dine with the late Anthony Bourdain.
What is your vintage?
1975, from which Dow’s Port was very decent.
What was your first job in wine?
A shop assistant at Bottoms Up, Wandsworth Bridge Road. A friend of my mum’s was the manager, and the lure of cheap wine seemed an excellent idea at the time.
When did you become an MW?
I finally passed in 2017. My research paper was on “The potential of Saint-Aubin to offer an alternative to Puligny and Chassagne-Montrachet in view of their escalating prices.” A painfully relevant topic now.
How did you come to Amathus?
Five and a half years ago Amathus approached me to initially build an agency wine portfolio to accompany a very successful existing spirits and composite wholesale business.
Define the Amathus ethos?
To seek out distinctive wines, beers and spirits which overdeliver on flavour, are sourced with passion, and sold with enthusiasm. We want to offer these in a welcoming, informative environment, free from pretence.
How has the wine offer developed?
In the last decade, we have grown from a compact, serviceable range of almost purely UK-bought wines covering the essentials, to a small selection of direct imports, most of which are still with us. Today we offer around 1,100 wines – and growing – from across the globe, from a combination of 150 producers from whom we ship directly, alongside around 300 wines bought from 30 UK importers. The direct-import agency wines form the backbone of our trade offering, and in the stores and online these are complemented by a selection of iconic wines such as Felton Road, Rockford, Tignanello, and Stag’s Leap, alongside a wide range of Champagnes, fine and rare Bordeaux and Burgundy. We’ve reached the stage where we have most of the classic areas pretty much covered, and now we can start having some fun exploring more esoteric areas.
Which vinous territories is Amathus particularly strong on?
Greece, with eight direct-import wineries and three more on the horizon. This is in part due to our owner’s Greek-Cypriot heritage, which means we have good contacts in the Greek restaurant scene, so an immediate route to market, in part because I’ve been visiting Greece for as long as I can remember, and also simply because there is so much exciting, characterful wine coming out of here made from distinctive grapes.
And what territories are being expanded?
We are aiming to create London’s best bricks and mortar Champagne and sparkling range, and to ramp up our fine and icon wine buying; we’re in the fortunate position of constantly needing to top up this area. We’ll be investing more heavily in stock to age. From a direct import agency side, we have some exciting new US wines on the way, new things from the Basque Country and Savoie and we’re aiming to further expand Eastern Europe, Italy and the Loire as immediate priorities.
How is Amathus itself expanding?
Once we have the keys, we’ll let you know the exact locations but we are in the process of finalising agreements on four new stores, three of which are in London and opening between autumn 2023 and summer 2024. Alongside an expansion of the retail estate, we now have a private client sales manager who helped launch our first-ever Bordeaux en-primeur campaign, kicking off with the superb 2022 vintage. After a great start, we anticipate private client sales becoming an increasingly important part of the sales mix.
Can any bottle be engraved at Amathus?
Indeed it can – we have a brilliant engraving machine in our flagship Soho store which can include anything from messages to pictures and logos. This was a great success last Christmas, for corporate and private gifting.
Will you branch out to sell more wine paraphernalia?
We already offer Coravin, and Riedel glasses, and a range of corkscrews and barware. To be developed further over time.
Is the customer always right?
It’s important that the customer never feels they are wrong… We take customer service very seriously, and if there is a problem with a bottle we will refund, credit or replace it, provided the bottle itself is returned. Sometimes there is a grey area which is down to preference rather than wine quality, but we try and nip these potential issues in the bud by giving customers honest guidance on some of the more leftfield wine styles at the point of sale.
What restaurant do you consider a haven?
Since I moved out of London to the wilds of Wiltshire I don’t get out as much as I did, but a meal at the new Noble Rot, Mayfair reminded me how much I enjoy what they’ve created – immaculate yet unfussy food and an endlessly stimulating list.
Who from history would you want to share a long lunch with, and what would you drink?
Anthony Bourdain would have some great tales to tell, and the food would be exciting. Hard to narrow the wines down, however, it would be an opportunity to revisit some of the wines which have made the greatest impression on me over the years. It would have to be a very long lunch indeed We’d kick off with Krug Clos du Mesnil, ease into some old Coulée de Serrant, slide onto some great Jura from Overnoy, then Pergole Torte followed by a mature bottle of Hill of Grace before finishing up with some old d’Yquem. There’s a reason these are classics….
Finally, when and where is the Amathus portfolio tasting, and how can people attend?
It’s on 5 September. We’re the first cab off the rank in the very busy autumn tasting season, and we have a wonderful venue at the Royal Society of Chemistry on Piccadilly. We’ll have many of our producers over in person, with several hundred wines and spirits on taste. We’re welcoming all valid members of the trade to join us, by signing up on Eventbrite.