Where to buy English and Welsh wines

 

4 main sources

  Online  Supermarkets and Off-licences   Specialist wine merchants and food stores   The vineyard/winemaker - in person or by mail order
 


Index

Online
Supermarkets
Off-licences
Wine merchants
Specialist food stores
Vineyards
A new policy for retailers?

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Online

   When this page was first written in 1999, there were no online merchants selling English wine. Now there are and a very convenient way of buying English wine it is. As you will learn further down this page, it can be quite difficult to find English wines - and particularly the one you really want -at the more traditional forms of retailers.
    Now, as for everything else we buy, doing so online has become a practical and convenient method and this is quite revolutionary given how difficult it used to be to find a conveniently located merchant who stocked a decent selection of English wines.
    Now you have two basic choices - firstly, to buy online from the vineyard. Most vineyards offering this service have a selection of wines for sale and some also offer wines of other smaller vineyards located in their area (see our vineyards directory).
    Secondly, you can buy from a specialist online English wine merchant. Two merchants launched these services a few years ago but sadly the Recession came along and times became too hard. However, the good news is that one, Best English Wine has now been relaunched under new ownership and is fully operational from their base in Kent.
   


Supermarkets

   British supermarkets have been enormously successful both in helping convert the British to wine drinking and also in supplying them. Most wine sold in Britain is sold at supermarkets. Sadly, you will have to search the shelves to find English or Welsh wines - but, good news, you should find at least 2 or 3 in any large supermarket. If you don't - complain to the Manager. And if your supermarket is in an area where there are some English or Welsh vineyards but none of their produce is on the supermarket's shelves - complain even more. Some of the supermarkets now have a policy to stock local produce and this ought to include local wine (assuming, of course, that the vineyard can reach a satisfactory commercial deal with the supermarket). Two of the best in this respect are Waitrose and Safeway - though now that Morrison's have taken over Safeway I don't know whether this policy will survive - I hope it will.

   Some supermarkets have an "own-label" English wine (e.g. Co-op supermarkets). Look carefully and you'll get some clues as to the area and perhaps even which vineyard it may have come from - the Co-op own label English Wine looks to me to be the produce of Three Choirs vineyards and winemakers - which makes me very happy to buy it!

   The English wine you buy from a supermarket is not likely to be the best wine that the particular vineyard produces - for one thing the supermarket will have wanted quite a large quantity to make it worthwhile stocking. My experience suggests you will get very good value for money from English wines bought at supermarkets and they are likelt to be very characteristically English wines. Expect to pay between 5 and 10 a bottle.


Off-licences

   Most Off-licences are, these days, members of large groups, such as Threshers, Victoria Wine, Odd-bins. As with supermarkets, expect to have to search the shelves quite hard to find an English wine (and watch out to avoid the dreaded "British wine"). However, persistence should pay off and, as at an average sizeable supermarket, you should find two or three English wines on display (If you don't complain! In no other country in Europe would wine retailers fail to stock the wines of their own country - indeed the problem is more likely to be reversed and it may be difficult to find anything else).
   If the Off-licence concerned is in wine-growing country (which means really all of England and Wales from the south coast up to about Yorkshire, then any self-respecting Off-licence really ought to be ashamed of not stocking some of the most local English or Welsh wines. However, in practice, the one or two English wines you may find may well come from some of the largest English vineyards - such as Denbies or Three Choirs - but they're none the worse for that. Expect to pay between 5 and 10 a bottle.


Wine merchants

   There are still quite a few specialist wine merchants around, especially in places like English cathedral towns. You might think that these would be the best bet to be stocking local wines, but I fear reality may be the opposite.

   This is an area where I would be happy to be proved wrong, so any specialist wine merchant who wants to convince "English-Wine.com" otherwise please e-mail "ew" at "english-wine.com and we'll happily put the record straight.

One wine merchant, Dr. Stephan Muller of Cambridge Wine Merchants Ltd has contacted us: "Hi - read your bit about Wine Merchants and them not stocking english wines. Well, I'm an independent merchant, a major supplier to Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and I stock around 12-15 English wines at any one time. Soon to be sold on the web too. Just to put the record straight! :)" So, if you wish to take advantage of Stephan's far-sighted policy, he can be found at 2 King's Parade, Cambridge, CB2 1SJ, England.

   If you visit a specialist wine merchant who doesn't stock at least half a dozen English and Welsh wines - take him to task - he should! Those that do, may well stock some of the more interesting and slightly dearer wines. Expect to pay 6 to 30 a bottle.


Specialist food stores

   Some delicatessens and food/drink departments of stores such as Fortnum & Masons, Harrods and some of the provincial departmental stores stock English wines. Again, if they don't, upbraid them suitably! Those that do - expect to pay 5 to 15 a bottle.


Vineyards & winemakers

   Arguably the best place to buy your wines is from the vineyard where they were grown and from the winemaker who made them. Most often the two are the same - many English vineyards both grow their grapes and make them into wine on the premises, as vineyards have done traditionally for centuries. Not surprisingly, some of the young English wine industry also does what many continental vineyards do - pool their resources into a co-operative winery, or use the services of a particular winemaker/winery who has established a good track record for winemaking. Not every winegrower has the time, or resources, or expertise to do the job of winemaking as expertly as others who have developed their expertise and have invested large sums in state of the art wineries. The choice is yours - and indeed part of the enjoyment of English wine is that you can see where it was grown and made and you can judge for yourself what the differences are - but be warned; there are no simple answers!

   At the vineyard you are likely to get good deals. No middlemen to pay for one thing. And you will be able to taste before you buy. And if you are buying by the case you may well benefit from a discount. Expect to pay anything from 5 - £6 a bottle for "bin-ends" to 8 - 10 for the good average wines and up to 15 - 30 for the specials, such as dessert wines, sparkling wines etc.

   Not all vineyards are licensed to sell by the bottle at the vineyard, but they will tell you how best to buy their wines.

Many vineyards will sell you their wines by mail order and this is a particularly good method when you already know the wines you are buying. Some individual vineyards now sell online (look at the vineyards on this website), but be careful only to entrust your credit card details to secure payment systems.


A new policy for retailers?

   Something I would like to see adopted as a standard policy by wine retailers, whether they be supermarkets, off-licences, specialist wine merchants or online merchants, would be for them to stock local wines as a matter of course. By local I mean, wines of the same county, or within say 20 or 30 miles. Of course there are a few English wines that one would not seriously expect any self-respecting merchant to sell - but there's really very few of these. And some vineyards don't want to sell via retailers, preferring to maximise their income from what might be quite a small production by selling direct to visitors and established customers. But if retailers of all sorts did stock at least a small selection of English wines, this would help to grow the market and as global warming brings England ever further into the wine producing belt, this is going to be important for the industry. It would also help the consumer discover what they often have overlooked.


Robert J. Tarr
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2000 - 2011 last updated 11 February 2011

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