15th March 2022 by Rachel Wallhouse

It’s 6.30am and I’m standing on a wet, windy platform near home, it’s the third time in a week and this time I’m off to Manchester, the trade tasting season has begun. Now is the time that we can get out and taste wines that are going to appear on the shelves for the next six months, sometimes it’s new wines and other times its reaffirming why particular wines are still on the shop list. For me, it is one of the best parts of my job at The Whalley Wine Shop, the other is getting people to try something new. There is a fine line when it comes to choosing the wines we want to sell, we could fill our shelves with wines that only we will like, strange new grapes, new regions or in my case BURGUNDY (Though the team at the shop would probably say that we have too much Burgundy as it is). Finding the balance between good value and great tasting wines can be difficult, especially with prices fluctuating so often, but usually when I’m tasting I can see the customers who would really like that wine, or a wine will just jump out with quality and interest. Other times we are set goals, to find particular wines from certain regions depending upon the supplier that we are visiting. If you’ve been in the shop recently you may have been offered a wine from Savoie or Switzerland, these come from our specialist supplier Alpine Wines or some fantastic Greek wines that we showcased last year, from Hallgarten Wines. Most suppliers have a passion for a particular region and we get to visit that region via the trade tastings.

Today’s tasting is a big one, the Small Independant Trade Tasting (SITT for short), it gives the team a chance to taste with over 45 different suppliers, that’s going to be a lot of wine. First priority is to taste with the suppliers we currently use, it’s time to split up the team that are with me. There are 15 suppliers that need to be seen, there are another 8 or 9 that we would like to work with. We’ve got our tasting booklets and glasses in hand, and we are off. Each table the supplier has will have over 20 wines to taste, plus the hidden ones that didn’t make it into the booklet ‘Under The Table’ (If you have ever been to one of our Wine Fairs that were held pre-covid, each supplier had a gem ‘Under The Table’). I’m glad I’ve been brushing my teeth with Sensodyne to try and build up some protection, there’s going to be a lot of acidity. We all agree to visit separately and then meet back and swap ideas on what to taste, my first table is with a current supplier.

First wines are a white Burgundy from Jadot and a new Vinho Verde from Portugal, the next wine is a showstopper, Esk Valley Artisanal Collection Albariño from New Zealand (Quite a few winemakers in New Zealand are trying out this mainly Spanish grape from Rias Baixas), this is a great wine for the money and definitely going to appear on the shelves. Great balance of fruit and acidity, with a touch of sea spray on the lips. I try to do all the wines on each table before moving on, so its onto the red wines and a lovely Pinot Noir. Don’t worry this isn’t from Burgundy, its from Carneros in California, good flavours and fresh cherry notes but maybe a little pricey, one to think about. Then out comes the ‘Under The Table’ wine, Kleine Zalze Project Z Syrah from the Coastal Region in South Africa. Wow, really good wine, lots of blackberry and pepper spice, with a touch of mineral graphite at the finish. A huge wine that will benefit from some time on the rack, will try and make some shelf space for this in the future.

Next table is a relatively new supplier to us at the shop so its great to taste a bit more of their range. First wines are from the Loire Valley in France from a producer called Jeremy Villemaine. We tried a sparkling wine from him, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay made in the same way as Champagne. Fresh and fruity, and bags of flavour and great value as well, another one for the shop. We then try Jeremy Villemaine Cot, the original name for Malbec. Another cracking wine, dark berry fruits, plum and cherry, with good acidity to give a bit of freshness in the finish, another one for the shop list. (Actually, these are now in the shop and on the shelves, we all liked them that much). A few more wines, including a lovely Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa and its onto the next table, lots to taste still.

I visit another couple of new suppliers, though nothing really stood out and I’m off to taste with our friends from Alpine Wines, lots to choose from and there are some great new wines coming into the store soon, but you will have to wait and see for those ones. Now it is time to visit another current supplier, Vineyard Productions, they have been a great supplier for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Fincher & Co Awatere Valley and The Dividing Line, both great favourites of the staff and customers). We start with an Austrian Gruner Veltliner and a Vermintino from Sardinia, really nice wines but then we try El Garbi Grenache Blanc from Terra Alta in Spain. It’s so good I ask for another taste, I’m a big fan of the Grenache Blanc grape, this has loads of flavours going on, and texture as well. It’s another one going on the shop list, straight away.

A quick meet up with the team, swap some notes and agree to meet at the end, there is a cold beer with my name on it somewhere. Back to the tasting and I visit some of our other suppliers, stopping off at the Hungarian specialist Malux. It’s another table filled with fantastic finds and I’m going to have to limit my choices but the Pajzos Furmint T and an Orange wine from Etyeki Kuria MSP Projekt Grey Orange really stand out, I have a quick chat with Audrey, our rep, and its decided that what we need is a mixed case of Hungarian goodies to showcase in the shop, and maybe a tasting for the future. Watch this space.

Ten tables down and my palate is starting to flag, I’m ready for that beer now and then I notice one last table, there’s thirty minutes left so I go through the ones I’m looking for, Italian Falanghina and Barolos. There are some interesting ones here and I make a note to follow up with the rest of the team. Now it is off to Cafe Beermoth for a couple of beers and a chat with the rest of the team, lots of new wines to bring in so keep your eyes peeled for our new Spring Collection.