Blog: ODE TO A WINE MERCHANT | Why wine professionals are still important

By Guest Writer

With some exciting shop news this week, here’s a quick reminder of the value of your local merchant.

The Internet is king. Today it’s so easy to be able to do everything online: order your shopping, do your banking, watch TV, chat, make friends, build relationships, all without the need to leave your house and come face-to-face with another person. The truth is, that we all want things fast and having to talk to a physical human being just slows things down; all you want is some loo roll because you’re desperate and you’re collared by Janet from three doors down, who starts to tell you all about her long weekend away last month to Llandudno with her gal pals. Thanks Janet, but there are more pressing matters at hand and the truth is I’ve been avoiding you for the last three weeks to try and sidestep this exact conversation!

With that in mind, where does that leave the wine professional?

Wine is subject matter that can’t, and shouldn’t, be rushed. From the yearlong winemaking process, to the sheer complexity of understanding the what’s what of it all, wine is by design best enjoyed when everything is slowed down and savoured. Most people, as we’ve seen, haven’t got the time or the inclination to delve in to the bottomless pit that is Wine Education, but they do still want to enjoy the best wine for them possible. This is where the wine professional comes in!

Whether it’s your local wine merchant or a sommelier at a restaurant, their job is to take the time to listen to what wine you normally enjoy, the things that normally make you tick and then to guide you through the labyrinth to a single bottle that you can bet your bottom dollar you will enjoy. As you become a regular customer you can start to build up a relationship with them and they can then start to introduce you to varied grape types and styles, giving you the opportunity to taste wines that you would never punt for on your own, with the comfort of knowing that a wine professional with all their expertise has picked this out for you, and you alone.

Unfortunately, there is one thing that puts this at risk. You’ve probably seen them if you’ve stepped foot in any kind of wine-related establishment within the last couple of years. They’re big and silver, look flashy with their perfect lighting and LED touch screens: it’s the ‘wine vending machine’, Enomatic, or By The Glass, whatever you wish to call them, you know what I’m talking about.

Now these machines certainly have a purpose, and tomorrow you’ll be able to read on this very blog all the reasons to be justifiably excited about the prospect of a new one. But, allow me to just take a second to make one small point about them.

Walking into a wine shop or wine bar, and straight to a faceless machine that is unable to tell you the story behind a wine, or answer any of your questions, deal with your problems, listen to your stories about that great Pinot Grigio you drank with your own gal pals on a long weekend in Llandudno last month, is not, for me, what wine is all about. A glass of wine is there to be enjoyed with company and great conversation, it’s an experience that should be given the time it deserves and savoured. Let us never lose sight of that.

I’m not a Luddite or technophobe. I see great value, and profound need, for the wine industry to embrace the modern age and appeal to a modern day consumer. But I am here to make a plea that your friendly local wine merchant is not kicked into the gutter as a result.

Pour yourself a glass of something, allow a robotic wine friend to do it for you if you please, but then take a moment to wander over to that person behind the counter, ask ‘Could you tell me a bit more about what I’m drinking?’ and keep that ‘tradition’ alive.

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By Sam Johnson

To Celebrate #MalbecWeek this week, we’ve got tips on how to make the ultimate Malbec-themed pilgrimage, as well as some of the story behind Malbec’s journey to Argentina.

Today you can fly to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (TLS) via Heathrow for under £100 if you look in advance. Hire a car, head for Montauban and then up the A20 for another hour, traffic permitted, and you’ll have made it! In the 1950s, when Malbec was thriving in France, it was a more of a ‘drive the length of two nations with a ferry journey in-between’ type of a job.

However you get there, the end destination is the same. A small town in the South-West of France, which lends its name to the now shrinking wine region that surrounds it. An area blessed with rolling green hills, covered by vineyards, gothic architecture, and one that is dissected from East to West by the winding River Lot. This is Cahors. This is the spiritual home of Malbec.


Most of us are well aware of Malbec as a grape variety, in-fact based on our own entirely un-scientific research in the Shop, supported purely by anecdotal evidence, we’d go as far as to say its possibly the most popular red wine category that we sell at the moment! But while more often than not, it’s Argentinian Malbec that peaks peoples interest the most, it’s in France and Cahors that its story begins.

Now without wanting to be overly novelistic and bore you with all the nitty-gritty, it is important that we tell the story, and like all good stories there’s a beginning, middle, and an end (sort of).


Malbec originated in France, where it was popular in Cahors and in Bordeaux too. Being particularly sensitive to frost and rot, it fell out of favour with the good people of Bordeaux and by the mid-20th it’s growth mainly restricted to Cahors. By this point Michel Pouget had already taken from France to Mendoza, Argentina in the late 18th Century, where it would soon take off.



Over the course of the next century, bar a brief blip in the 1960s, things went swimmingly for Malbec in Argentina. The higher altitudes of Argentina’s winegrowing regions where particularly suited to growing Malbec and overall production expanded as its wine gained popularity with its dark colour and sweet tannins. The boom in popularity saw many pioneers travel to work alongside Argentinian winemakers with the aim of improving varietal Malbec and overall winemaking.

The End

 Through hard work and dedication, Argentinian Malbec became a force in its own right. It’s now a wine taken seriously by winemakers and wine lovers across the world. Today Malbec is the most planted grape variety in Argentina and, as evidenced by our own experience, is firmly a fan favourite. To such an extent has Argentinian Malbec had an impact on the world of wine, rumour has it that Argentinian winemakers are now making the journey back to Cahors to help improve there output. The master has become apprentice and the apprentice, a master.

But it doesn’t end here for Malbec. There are plenty of winemakers in Argentina who are not content to leave it here. People like the Michelini Brothers who are tearing up the rulebook and considered by many to be true trailblazers of the Argentinian winemaking scene. Ignoring tradition and pushing the boundaries of winemaking techniques, as well as the geographical boundaries of where certain wines can be grown, is what they are all about. Producing wine collectively under the label Zorzal, for example, they have pioneered the use of ‘concrete egg’ shaped fermentation vessels, which have become all the rage across Argentina today, despite more than a few raised eyebrows when the Michelinis first gave it a go.


But that’s what winemaking is all about. Learning, adapting, giving, borrowing, and pushing wine, and our understanding of it, into new directions, so as to bring about new sensory experiences and enhanced enjoyment. (Corny, I know.)

So when you eventually step out of your rented Renault Clio and cast your eyes over The Pont Valentré as it crosses the River Lot, you can find a quiet Bar à Vin, ask you waiter for his best glass of Cahors, and be confident in the knowledge that you’re at the birthplace of wine story that despite spanning several centuries, two continents, and over 7,000 miles, involves the same single, well-loved protagonist: Malbec.

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Fine Wine Merchant