Carrying on from the 2020 local, national and online retailers of the year, 21 ‘Specialist Retailer of the Year’ titles were awarded to top wine retailers across the UK at the 2020 Decanter Retailer Awards.
Among the many judging parameters, the specialist retailers of the year were awarded and recognised for their expertise and meticulous wine selections from a given region, country or style.
Now in Decanter’s December issue, see what Chairman Peter Richards MW has to say about this year’s specialist winners, and discover where to shop for top wine selections from your favourite regions and wine styles…
The 2020 specialist retailers of the year
Runner-up: Majestic Wine
Hard to compete’ was one judge’s pithy assessment of The Vinorium’s Australian offering and can-do attitude, exemplified by a general rolling up of sleeves and team spirit during the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘We live and breathe Australian wine,’ they say, although planting a new Kentish vineyard with Australian clones may result in some split loyalties...
While not the most extensive Austrian listing, The Wine Society’s offering is a tantalisingly tasty prospect. It’s no surprise that sales are up by 47%, topping £1m for the first time, even extending into en primeur territory. More of the same, please!
Runner-up: BI Wine & Spirits
Always a hard-fought category. This year BI, with its encyclopaedic listing and unique service model, narrowly missed out to Goedhuis & Co. The judges were impressed by Goedhuis’ impressive sales numbers, engaging approach to communication and palpable dedication to reaching beyond Bordeaux’s traditional clientele to grow the market.
Runner-up: Goedhuis & Co
A fourth-generation business based in the East Riding of Yorkshire, House of Townend is not only an historic vintner that has survived the test of time, it is also a great place to buy Burgundy. Competitive prices and a great selection – 492 wines, or 28% of the range – including mature stock, make an irresistible proposition for wine lovers.
Runner-up: Best of Hungary
Novel Wines is expanding fast, testament to its engaging range and communication, and focus on demonstrating ‘that wines from central and eastern Europe can be as good, if not better, than the more classical wines at the same price’. Best of Hungary are, in their own words, ‘two Hungarian foodies in Wales, delivering an eclectic range with passion and a unique style’.
Runner-up: The Whisky Exchange
Waitrose tracks well above its market share in Champagne, but perhaps more commendable is its commitment to less obvious sparkling styles, from top-value Cava to English and beyond. Fizz sales are booming at The Whisky Exchange, which sparkling lovers would do well to check out, particularly Champagne aficionados.
A hotly contested field. Grape Britannia’s shop in Cambridge celebrated its first anniversary in June, and is armed with an ‘eco-friendly cargo-tricycle’ and a total commitment to English and Welsh wines, from pét-nat to orange and even fortified. Waitrose’s championing of English and Welsh wines remains highly laudable.
Based in Hampshire, The WineBarn is known for the range and quality of its exclusively German list. Service is personal and, despite having had to pivot from wholesale to direct online sales during the pandemic, the business remains a fine purveyor of German wines to the UK.
Runner-up: Noble Grape
Jeroboams is exemplary on Italy, boasting an extensive list and clear dedication to the cause. Noble Grape does an excellent job with limited resources: its Italian list is exquisitely selected.
The Loire offers many gems of all hues for the specialist to unearth and champion. Majestic is fast improving, while Lay & Wheeler is growing its producer range (new Loire buyer Catherine Petrie MW used to live in the region) as well as sales, with a clear commitment to engaging and broadening its buying base.
Runner-up: Jeroboams Group
Kiwi wines account for a surprising 15% of the range at Majestic, and sales are up 88% since a range review. The list showcases a healthy range of styles: buyer Beth Pearce MW is encouraging customers to see beyond ‘Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’. It’s a similar story at Jeroboams, where stellar names illuminate the New Zealand list.
Runner-up: Wanderlust Wine
Yorkshire (and indeed the UK) is lucky to have Buon Vino. With 738 organic, biodynamic or natural wines, it’s a treasure trove for wine lovers. No wonder its website ‘went mental’ during lockdown, and the business has been ‘sprinting’ to keep up ever since. Great attitude, top wines: worthy winner.
Runner-up: The Wine Society
Lay & Wheeler has tremendous strength and depth to its list, which features not only the kind of established classics to make you salivate, but also excellent producers from less prestigious areas such as Lirac and Ventoux, for those on a budget. The Wine Society is a fine place to buy Rhône wines, with some mouthwatering bottles on offer.
Regional France is a true forté for The Wine Society. It represents 17% of the range, with sales totalling £15m (and rising), 13 own-label wines and even en-primeur Bandol and Beaujolais. Outstanding buyers doing a great job, providing excellent range and value.
Runner-up: Stone Vine & Sun
Museum Wines offers not only a carefully curated (and growing) South African selection, but also an enthusiasm and proactive spirit that befits the category, typified by a decision to pay producers early when the export ban hit the Cape, passing on savings to customers at the same time. Stone Vine & Sun has long been an admirable champion of SA wine.
South America is not best served by independent retail in the UK, so it’s great to see Howard Jones’ England-Wales borderland-based business deliver commendable diversity and value from Argentina – a wine nation where there is much to discover.
Runner-up: The Tapas Room
Across both Spain and Portugal, from crisp whites to fortified delights, The Wine Society has notable strength and depth. The Tapas Room, across south and southeast London, has an eclectic and extensive Spanish list and is well worth checking out.
An advent calendar brim-full with fortified wine is now on all the judges’ Santa list, and is just one of the ways Hampshirebased Vintage Wine & Port impresses – its 1,100 wines, online tastings, great range and charitable endeavours during lockdown also help. Waitrose also offers a brilliant range.
It’s not just about the posh stuff – Roberson supplies Aldi with its successful label The Wrangler Zinfandel too. But what a range it is – truly mouthwatering, at the cutting edge of California wine and now helping to grow the market and reach of its products. The ‘California at Home’ lockdown campaign was inspired.
Runner-up: Honest Grapes
This timely new award saw M&S triumph, the result of its outstanding long-term commitment to sustainability – carbon neutral since 2012, it has reduced bottle weights, introduced recyclable packing and works with suppliers to reduce carbon footprints. Honest Grapes has taken effective action right across its business following its recent Grape to Glass study.
Runner-up: Lay & Wheeler (Bordeaux)
Two excellent campaigns here, backed up by reasonable storage rates and impressive customer engagement. Goedhuis’ Bordeaux 2018 campaign raised £4.3m (up 109%) and contained not only an excellent range of wine, from stellar to accessible, but an outreach strategy that was both highly personalised and user-friendly.