It’s clear that Covid-19 has changed wine retailing forever.
All those companies named here have risen to what was a game-changing challenge and overcome it in style.
Categories such as Online, Newcomer, Subscription and Virtual Wine Experience were all fiercely competitive this year – and indicative of a healthy, vibrant, innovative wine retail sector that’s looking to the future. Wine is one of life’s great joys and these retailers excel in the business of pleasure.
Now more than ever this is something that deserves recognising – and celebrating.
Scroll down to see the Decanter Retailer Awards 2021 winners
- Peter Richards MW is an awarded wine writer and broadcaster, Chairman of our Retailer Awards since 2013, and the DWWA Regional Chair for Chile
- Laura Clay is a member of the Association of Wine Educators, an accredited Bordeaux and Rioja tutor, and was UK Champagne Ambassador in 2010
- Andy Howard MW is a contributing editor to Decanter, a wine trade consultant, and was formerly a retail wine buyer for more than 30 years
- Mags Janjo is sales director for his own MJ Wine Cellars import company*, which also offers wine education and consultancy services
Peter Ranscombe is a regular Decanter contributor, a widely published journalist, author, wine columnist and drinks blogger for Scottish Field magazine
*To avoid any potential conflicts of interest, Janjo did not judge in the Subscription Wine Club and Online Retailer categories
In support of the UK drinks community, all proceeds from the 2021 awards and an additional donation made by Decanter will be donated to The Drinks Trust and The Ben, raising a total of £36k for these charities.
Decanter Retailer Awards 2021 winners
Outstanding Retailer of the Year
Winner: The Wine Society
A close call. ‘This was the year several retailers stepped up to be in contention for this top award,’ commented Andy Howard MW. But the sheer number and breadth of awards won by The Wine Society in this year’s competition told its own story. ‘Who doesn’t love them?!’ summarised Laura Clay, while judges noted their superb buying team, a range that displays not only wonderful diversity but also outstanding value, plus a fierce commitment to ongoing innovation and customer service. Celebrating the joy of wine is something The Wine Society does with aplomb.
Covid-19 has forced retailers to innovate. Tring-based The Online Wine Tasting Club has embraced the brief with more energy, imagination and relish than most, developing a machine to send out mini-bag tasting packs and launching quirky online events and a subscription club. Mummy Wine Club is, to quote one judge: ‘A brilliant concept – totally different, small-scale but with high-quality wines, enthusing people about wine with personality and style.’
Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose ultimately won through for the breadth, depth and ongoing development of its range (which tops 1,600 bins over the year), its commitment to engaging its customers via online events and its support for producers including those in South Africa hard-hit by lockdowns. The judges noted recent improvements at M&S, from championing vegan wines to more Enomatic dispenser machines and its ongoing sustainability drive.
National Wine Retailer of the Year
Majestic, in the words of one judge, ‘is back on form as the national wine retailer – and thank goodness, too’. The estate of 200 shops is growing, the last 18 months have seen the greatest change to the 1,100-strong range in its 40-year history, its 1,300 staff are once again enthused and a new website has launched. ‘You just love buying wine there,’ reflects Mags Janjo. Tanners has a fine, extensive list and continues to engage its clientele admirably.
Local Multi-Store of the Year
WoodWinters prevailed in this fiercely fought category because, in Peter Ranscombe’s words: ‘Their list is what sets them apart – they bring in their own stuff, plus they have really engaged their customers with online tastings this year.’ Andy Howard MW termed it ‘a fine local wine chain’. The OWC won plaudits for its range as well as commitment to hiring new staff and opening a store in central Oxford despite the lockdown challenges.
Local Wine Shop of the Year
Whalley remains a beacon of wine excellence and enjoyment in Lancashire, with an outstanding range, revamped website and new wine bar site next door to the shop. Meanwhile, it was the quirky personality and sense of fun that caught the judges’ eye when it came to Carruthers & Kent, the self-styled ‘wine hub’ based in Newcastle.
London Multi-Store of the Year
With its eight London shops, broad and original list, and new purpose-built website, Jeroboams goes from strength to strength in the capital. Philglas continues to buy well and engage its customers with a unique personality.
London Wine Shop of the Year
‘They do a great job for their local community,’ was how one judge summed up Highbury – with others noting the excellent value and diversity of its range, the electric van for deliveries, the growing wine club and charitable work. Noble Green has adapted well to recent challenges and remains an excellent local wine retailer.
London Neighbourhood Wine Shop
Vindinista in Acton delivers ‘an affordable range you can trust entirely’, as well as a ‘down-to-earth approach – they listen to and work with their customers’. That’s not to mention the ‘bagnums’, cans, refillable bottles, wines organised by style and occasion plus an emphasis on ‘stellar service’. Diogenes continues to be delightfully different, having had a busy (in the best sense) lockdown – a second site is coming soon.
Small Online Retailer of the Year
A keenly fought category saw Wanderlust emerge victorious given its cleverly assembled list and laser-like focus on online functionality and user experience. Listening to customer feedback and growing the list accordingly has been a critical and welcome development this year. Independent was praised for its direct sourcing and clear customer focus.
Midsize Online Retailer of the Year
Simple, easy, engaging… and delicious. Such is the online experience courtesy of Swig, where a delightful list is presented in crisp, cool, user-friendly fashion. House of Townend has pivoted successfully online, another example of an excellent range being made accessible to a broader audience than before.
Large Online Retailer of the Year
The Wine Society is undoubtedly one of the very best websites for wine in the UK, where you’d happily spend hours browsing, with exceptional customer service, vibrant online events and constant innovation to back it up. Lay & Wheeler is a wine retailer going places: an outstanding list, revamped website and dynamic customer engagement are evidence of its exciting new direction under independent ownership.
Newcomer of the Year
It was a joy to judge this vibrant category. Wilding is an engaging new wine venture with an ambitious programme for its hybrid wine bar-shop model, with fine wines in Enomatics, 400+ well-sourced wines and outlets in Frome, Oxford and Salisbury (even, whisper it, a Frozé machine…). The Sourcing Table boasts a brilliant list and is another fine addition to the UK wine retail scene.
En Primeur Campaign of the Year
The reason Goedhuis excels at en primeur is due in no small part to the exemplary way in which it communicates and engages with both its customers and suppliers. So it was no surprise to see the success of both its Bordeaux and Burgundy campaigns in this category, with Bordeaux edging it for sales performance and growth in very challenging circumstances.
Subscription Wine Club of the Year
Many worthy contenders here, but Little Fine Wine pipped it due to the winning half-bottle offering that isn’t cheap but is outstanding at the level: a unique proposition that all Decanter readers should check out. Bat and Bottle’s eclectic Italian offering suits the subscription model, especially given Ben Robson’s inimitable and very personal guidance.
Green Champion Award
Certified carbon neutral this year, and not simply via offsetting, The Vinorium in Kent is re-evaluating all aspects of its business along sustainability lines, from reducing buying trips to using the most sustainable delivery services available and even a totally re-designed HQ with underground waste water bio-bubble and wild meadow roof. Introducing meaningful sustainability measures in a large company can be a challenge, and Laithwaites deserves praise for engaging with this issue at scale.
Virtual Wine Experience of the Year
This new category highlights the importance of online wine events in the Covid-19 era, and was hotly contested. The Wine Society took to this theme like a duck to water, putting on more than 160 events using platforms from Instagram to Zoom and YouTube, featuring wine royalty and engaging thousands of people. Naked did a brilliant job with its Thirsty Toosday live events, supporting producers and good causes in commendable fashion.
Australia Specialist Retailer of the Year
Last year’s winner The Vinorium ‘hadn’t rested on its laurels’, but expanded its already stellar Australian portfolio and raised money in the wake of the devastating bushfires. This year, Majestic has doubled its Australian range, which now offers real diversity and interest.
Austria Specialist Retailer of the Year
Winner: The Wine Society
The Wine Society was the choice for the second year running. Its Austrian list isn’t huge but it is well chosen, featuring both classics and more eclectic offerings. It also offers an Austrian en primeur and good own labels: sales growth of more than 100% is testament to the success of this focus.
Bordeaux Specialist Retailer of the Year
Bordeaux Index has upped its game lately, with a relaunched website and improved customer engagement, and remains a key reference for fans of Bordeaux, not just at the top end but also with its more affordable Merchant’s Collection. Bordeaux also remains a laudable specialism at Goedhuis.
Burgundy Specialist Retailer of the Year
A mouthwatering Burgundy list (1,500 wines, constituting 50% of the range); engaging information and analysis; excellent relationships with suppliers and customers and impressive sales growth – just a few reasons why Goedhuis won. With a 4,000-strong list, and having taken over specialist Domaine Direct, Stannary is also a force to be reckoned with in the Burgundy category.
Central & Eastern Europe Specialist Retailer of the Year
‘They’ve grown their range significantly in a tricky year, and just get more and more exciting,’ was one judge’s take on Novel, a very worthy winner with a tantalising list that is ideal, as they say, for the ‘curious drinker.’ Best of Hungary showed impressive growth and focus.
Champagne & Sparkling Wine Specialist Retailer of the Year
Lay & Wheeler offers outstanding diversity, breadth, interest and value in this category – plus commendable clarity of information. Waitrose remains an excellent destination for fizz on the high street, with 138 wines covering an impressive range.
England & Wales Specialist Retailer of the Year
A vibrant category. Cambridge-based Grape Britannia’s 225-strong UK wine list is truly outstanding, testament to a passionate specialism and ongoing ‘evangelism’ of husband-and-wife owners the Hodgsons. It covers fizz to fortified via dessert wines, newcomers, pét-nat, even orange and nouveau wines – an essential destination for fans of English & Welsh wine. Waitrose continues its commendable support of UK wine.
Germany Specialist Retailer of the Year
Justerini has delivered engaging German-themed webinars as well as a delectable list featuring more than 370 wines, with Rieslings and Pinot Noirs to die for. The WineBarn is a fine German specialist well worth checking out.
Italy Specialist Retailer of the Year
Lots of competition here. Italian specialist Bat and Bottle delivers a tremendous sense of personality, both in the wines and the way they’re sold. ‘It’s so exciting!’ exclaimed one judge. Jeroboams continues to champion Italy to excellent effect, with an ever-evolving range.
New Zealand Specialist Retailer of the Year
‘They’ve come on leaps and bounds, bringing breadth and depth to their New Zealand range, which also offers great value – something that’s not always easy to find in this category.’ This was how one judge summed up Majestic’s winning performance this year. Jeroboams is growing its New Zealand range commendably.
Portugal Specialist Retailer of the Year
Winner: The Wine Society
Sales growth of Portuguese wines remains impressive at The Wine Society, testament to a growing list featuring excellent diversity (of styles, regions, indigenous grape varieties et al). Well worth a root around.
Rhône Specialist Retailer of the Year
Manchester shop Carringtons offers a brilliant Rhône selection, almost entirely sourced directly, and making up 40% of its overall range. ‘It’s a really good selection for a small business, full of individual smaller producers,’ said one judge. Justerini & Brooks’ list is a treasure trove of Rhône gems.
South & Regional France Specialist Retailer of the Year
It’s nigh-on impossible not to be seduced by The Wine Society’s selection in this category, from top Madiran to Languedoc, Alsace, Jura, Beaujolais and beyond, with half the range occupying the value-for-money sweet spot of £8-£15. Majestic has done an excellent job of upgrading its regional French range this year.
South Africa Specialist Retailer of the Year
In the words of the judges, Museum Wines is: ‘A true specialist, bringing in its own South African range which continues to grow, supporting its producers and offering a real point of difference.’ Lay & Wheeler, meanwhile, ‘really believes in the South African category, which it is growing at a phenomenal rate: hugely impressive’.
South America Specialist Retailer of the Year
Winner: Taste Argentina
This online South American specialist has grown its list to good effect over the last year, adding engaging events and consolidating relationships with its customers, suppliers and producers.
Spain Specialist Retailer of the Year
The Tapas Room’s impressive growth in a challenging year, opening three more venues, ‘proves it’s not all doom and gloom out there’, said one judge. A constantly rotating, decidedly eclectic all-Spanish list is a lip-smacking invitation to experiment. Highbury’s Spanish list is a delight.
Sweet & Fortified Specialist Retailer of the Year
Cambridge has done lots of excellent work in a challenging year and its sweet and fortified range is a thing of beauty, from vintage Port to en rama Sherry, Pacherenc to straw wine and beyond. Vintage Wine offers an outstanding collection of old and rare wines.
USA Specialist Retailer of the Year
A strong performance in the mid-price range, providing what one judge termed ‘affordable USA to get people interested’, won it for Majestic this year. Wanderlust Wine features a growing, increasingly fine US range.