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WINE STYLE: On the Grapevine; Clive Platman Visits Tanners for their summer tasting.

Byline: Clive Platman

Supermarkets Tesco and Sainsbury's alone account for 50 per cent of off-trade wine sales and, after including their competitors, this figure rises to nearer 75 per cent. Their sheer scale allows supermarket buyers to wield enormous power, that inevitably becomes the subject of abuse.

In their relentless pursuit of everlower prices, the margins of the producers are squeezed tighter and tighter, to the extent that they are faced with a simple choice: go out of business or reduce quality by cutting costs. Rather than benefit the consumer, discount prices do him a disservice, lowering standards which benefit nobody.

It is therefore a pleasure and refreshing change to enter the seemingly Dickensian world of Tanners at their fine wine emporium in Shrewsbury. Here they attribute their success to the 'unceasing pursuit of quality'. Independent, family-owned and run, the business is committed to supplying a comprehensive range of wine at all quality and price levels, but with the emphasis on wines which give pleasure, yet at the same time can compete more than favourably with the price-point obsessed supermarkets.

Take, for example, Champagne. Supermarket 'Buyers Own Brands' or special releases, can be very hitor-miss affairs, and rarely come close to a major House Brand. Seldom can you find a Champagne that can match the raw power of the Pinot Noir driven Bollinger, yet Tanners have met the challenge with a remarkable growers' champagne by Andre Clouet.

The Grande Reserve is 100 per cent Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Bouzy, and sells for a mere pounds 15.80 a bottle. It's a rich, full-throttle style, with bags of red fruit and chocolate, and really hits the spot.

A set-up like Tanners can often give the impression of being a rather oldfashioned, traditional wine merchant, simply strong on the expensive classics from Bordeaux or Burgundy, but nothing could be further from the truth. They're not afraid to stock a Trivento Viognier or Syrah from Argentina at pounds 4.75 apiece. The former has ripe, spicy peach and apricot fruit, whilst the latter has juicy plums and a surprisingly good carry-through on the palate.

For best value, I generally look to regions like the South of France.

Tanners Chardonnay (pounds 5.85) has crisp, citrus fruit, coated with butter and, for the price, is surprisingly stylish and balanced. The Marsanne by Domaine des Fontaines, tastes of soft apricot fruit, with a lovely rich finish.

At long last, too, the Mediterranean fashion for Rose is starting to catch on. It's the perfect summer tipple to be enjoyed alone or with practically any style of food. Tanners stock two crackers at pounds 5.85 and pounds 5.95 respectively, and there is little to choose between them. The first, by Cuvee de l'Arjolle, the second by Domaine du Poujol, and both display delicious strawberry and raspberry fruit.

The owners of the latter property are Robert and Kim Cripps, an AngloAmerican couple who typify the quality-conscious independent growers that are listed. Located near Montpellier, their Domaine previously sold its wine in bulk before it was purchased in 1994.

Organic methods are used where possible, and the wine is bottled unfiltered to obtain maximum flavour. Kim told me she now refuses to sell to supermarkets, after customers have returned her wines as faulty because they had thrown a sediment. Ironically, this is generally a sign of quality.

The Proteus 2002 (pounds 5.85) is a VDP red based on Merlot and has delicious ripe plums, leather and spice. A little more serious is the Podio Alto 2001 (pounds 7.55), with flavours of smoky black cherries and earthy dark chocolate. Both would be deal with a barbecue.

Although unfashionable, the quintessential wine for summer drinking must be Mosel Riesling. It's light, fresh, easy to enjoy and not too alcoholic. Weingut Meulenhof produce delightful Kabinett and Spatlese styles under the Erdener Treppchen label. The former (pounds 7.15) has crisp, minerally apple fruit, and the latter (pounds 7.75) has notes of diesel, lime and honey. From the neighbouring Saar, the Kanzemer Altenberg Auslese offers superb concentration and depth, with backbone and structure.

Following the summer theme, I was most taken with the Saumur Rouge by Domaine Paleine. Reasonably priced at pounds 6.25, in the glass this showed ripe, raspberry fruit with a super soft, rich finish. For something a little unusual, go for the Marques de Borba white (pounds 5.99). It has the weight of a lightlyoaked Chardonnay, with similar citrussy and apple flavours, enriched with a little oil and butter, but with a refreshing upturned finish.

Moving up the price scale at pounds 8.95, is the Sesti Grangiovese, a Tuscan IGT that will provide raptures of delight with gorgeous flavours of bitter cherries and nuts. From Portugal, I was impressed, too, with a Douro blockbuster, Quinta do Vale Dona Maia 2001 (pounds 10.55). This offered complex black-cherry fruit that evolves on the palate to a rich, soft chocolate-raisin finish. It's terrific stuff. My last recommendations are from Australia. Firstly, look out for the 'Bird in Hand' Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 9.99). It's big and rich, with zingy citrus and tropical fruit, and a superb finish of blackcurrant leaf. Finally, the 'Brothers in Arms' Shiraz 2000 is another heavyweight. It's immense, with concentrated flavours of menthol, damsons, liquorice, followed by spice and dark chocolate. Soft and easy-drinking, in a word, it's delicious.

Tanners Wines, 26 Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, 01743 234455 (www.tanners-wines.co.uk).
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 30, 2004
Words:912
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