Size does not mean quantity takes precedence over quality, as Justin Keay discovers at the Matthew Clark 2016 Autumn Release Tasting, in which his prejudices are overturned in favour of a new list that contains many fine wines and plenty of good value, interesting additions. It is time to be bolder with smaller producers, says Matthew Clark’s Simon Jerome.
Quiet education of the customer, offering millennials more choice, and introducing a value-driven offering free of region-specialisation are some of the factors behind the exciting new range from Matthew Clark.
I have confession to make: when I received my invite to attend the Matthew Clark 2016 Autumn Release Tasting in the heart of the City of London, I wasn’t exactly bursting with enthusiasm.
Perhaps, because the Conviviality-owned wholesaler is one of the largest providers of drinks to the UK on-trade supplying, at the last count, some 16,000 premises with over 1400 wines, countless brands of beer and just about every brand of spirit, something within me was saying “This is going to be as dull as hell.”
Size, to my mind, suggests a focus on quantity rather than quality, which in today’s cash-strapped times suggests boring Pinot Grigio and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc being sold to restaurants that they can then sell onto unimaginative and unquestioning customers, with the big mark-ups that restaurant critics complain so heartily about.
So to say I was pleasantly surprised was an understatement.
Matthew Clark has obviously done a lot of thinking about this new list with the aim of quietly educating their customers about wine regions and producers that they wouldn’t normally consider. Their argument seems to be: wine can be exciting and fun and you should be bold when choosing new wines.
“We see this as an opportunity to offer our customers wines that are not part of the mainstream,” says Simon Jerome, head of wine buying at Conviviality PLC, who says he is particularly keen for restaurants and bars to offer a greater and more exciting variety of wines by the glass, with millennials a clear target audience.
“Because we are not a specialist in one region or country, it has given us a free hand; we’ve been looking hard to see where we can find value and been responding accordingly.”
One of the more prominent new listings are the Caves Road wines from Margaret River, Western Australia, a solid line-up produced by winemaker Larry Cherubino, formerly of Houghton. These are remarkably good value wines from a region not normally associated with low prices, and include a fruity, vanilla-licked 2015 Chardonnay, a linear but still classically blackcurrant-toned Cabernet Sauvignon, and the zesty, crowd pleasing Classic White, a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. All these have an inexpensive list price of around £10 a bottle.
Value has also been found in California with the Federalist Collection, a range of wines with labels picturing iconic US landmarks and statesmen; the full but fruity Chardonnay from Sonoma is cheap at a list price of £16.77, whilst The Federalist Zinfandel 2013/4 and The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon 2014/5, both from Lodi are both suitably moreish.
For those with more money to spend, Matthew Clark has pulled off something of a coup, taking Freemark Abbey‘s range of high-end wines away from Armit and putting them onto their list from November.
These are iconic Napa wines; the 2014 Chardonnay is a pitch perfect Napa Chardonnay, full of toasty vanilla-licked fruit with pear and white fruit on the nose and a hint of spice added by the oak-ageing. Not at all expensive either at around £21 per bottle.
Freemark Abbey’s high-end single vineyard Cabernets, the Sycamore Vineyard from Rutherford and the Cabernet Bosche, also from Rutherford in Napa are delicious, offering everything you might expect from premium Napa Cabernet but are pricey, at around £82 per bottle; however, these are clearly special occasion wines and hats off to Matthew Clark for offering them at all.
Europe also shone at this tasting
From Brexit-battered Britain there is Chapel Down‘s Kit’s Coty Estate Chardonnay at £21.35; from Spain two delicious Godellos, one from Losada in Bierzo and the other – to my mind the more interesting and fuller flavoured – The Orange Republic Godello, from Valdeorras in north-west Spain, a lovely rich, apricot and peach flavoured wine, so-called because of the huge number of orange trees around where this is produced, in Galicia.
Hand-harvested, this limited production wine (just 14,000 bottles) lists at £14.45 but is streets away from the typical Spanish white you might find at this price. Likewise the Santiago Ruriz Albarino from Rias Baixas, listing at just £11.34: this was one of the best wines I tasted at the otherwise so-so New Albarino Tasting in London in the early summer.
Matthew Clark has also gone off-piste with its new Italian listings, which include a sparking pink and a pink made from the Aglianico grape, usually associated with big, tannic rustic reds; the San Salvatore Joi Spumante Brut Rose (£22.51) and the Rosato (£13.55) hail from Paestum in Basilicata, close to the famous Greek temples which are amongst the best preserved in Europe. The Palinuro Bianco, a blend of Fianco and Falanghina and just £12.39 is pretty moreish too.
Equally interesting, and very well priced, are two offerings from Greece, the White Dot Moschofilero-Roditis dry white and the Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko red from Katogi and Strofilia in the Peleponnese; quite simple and fruity wines but well-packaged and inexpensive at just £7.72 a bottle, and one from Hungary, the Naparany Dry, by Béres in Tokaji.
So why list so many unusual and exotic wines?
Aside from wanting restaurants and their customers to be more adventurous, the move helps turn Matthew Clark into a one-stop shop for the on-trade. Instead of the expensive and time consuming business of ordering a range of different wines from differing wholesalers, establishments wanting something beyond the mainstream (as well as the mainstream) can simply turn to Matthew Clark.
However the shift towards stocking less obvious wines clearly benefits wine producers too.
“Our intention is to build a network of small producers across the world who are able to sell into the UK, secure in the knowledge they have a reliable market here,” Jerome says.