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Reading Between the Wines: beyond the supermarket

Whatever happened to local butchers? I hail from the Southside of Glasgow, where butchers are dropping like flies. Recent casualties include Murray’s on Victoria Road, and Tunnock’s on Pollokshaws Road – these are places you assumed had always been there, and always would be.

Specialist drinks retailers should be able to provide advice on the best wines available in your price range
Specialist drinks retailers should be able to provide advice on the best wines available in your price range

Ask yourself how many local butchers you have. Unless you live in the heart of the West End or in Partick, I’ll bet this number is small, dwindling or zero. The sad truth of it is, they are dying and we are letting them. “Supermarkets”, we all exclaim, “are to blame for this”. They undercut, they aggressively expand and they aggregate specialist sales into one easy stop.

I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Such a view takes individual choice out of the equation. If we choose to get all of our shopping with supermarkets (it’s admittedly quite easy and efficient to do so), we take our own choice away as the wee shops finally close. If you think I’m talking baloney, why don’t you find the nearest butcher and ask them how business is these days? Then buy some baloney from them – they need the support.

A popular misconception holds that specialist retailers are always expensive. Not so; in wine, as in fresh meat, I genuinely do not believe that supermarkets can match quality-to-value against smaller merchants. The reason that a proper bottle merchant won’t sell you a wine as cheap as £2.98 is simple: the wine will suck.

Wine prices tend to start at the £5/6 mark in a specialist shop, but their wines are expressly picked and priced to represent good value in today’s market – they have no interest in selling poor wine on the cheap. If you simply won’t pay over £5 for a bottle, then I expect this article will do little for you (do note that as we aren’t in the 1970s anymore, if you are still regularly buying genuinely good wine at sub-£5 prices, Timecop will be after you!).

Take the taste challenge: I personally bet you that what you get for £7 in a supermarket will not beat what you get in a specialist wine retailer, if – and this is the key bit – you take a personal recommendation from the merchant. This relates back to the poor, old butcher. While you are out buying the aforementioned baloney, ask the butcher: what part of a lamb chump comes from; what cuts of it you can get; what it is best used for; and how to prepare it. They will skilfully oblige.

Then, ask in your local supermarket. If they have a butcher’s counter, you will probably get the cut info, and some cooking guidance, but it may not be as expert. If the supermarket doesn’t have a butcher, you will get no answers. The same goes for wine, beers and spirits, but the great news is, within this city, there are dozens of specialists. We are living in a veritable golden age of dedicated drinks merchants in Glasgow, so we should support the choices they offer us.

Some are smaller national chains, like Oddbins, who under new ownership have rejuvenated and greatly improved their range. Despite the change, all of their five Glasgow branches still have an amazing level of knowledge behind the counter. Other notable chain outlets include Peckham’s and Spirited Wines on Sauchiehall Street, who are well worth a look, with a nifty range and some seriously clued-up staff.

There are a great number of brilliant independents too. The Good Spirits Company on Bath Street is a real treat for – no surprises here – good spirits (as well as being home to some of the biggest drinks nerds in Scotland), and Quel Vin on Great Western Road is a phoenix from the ashes of an old Oddbins, retaining the same top staff but with their own, high-quality range. Out Barrhead way, you will find the Cross Stobs Bottle Shop, which offers a unique range of drinks picked by the ever-enthusiastic owner.

This list is by no means comprehensive, so be sure to seek out your own local bottle shop. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. So, when it comes to drinks, let’s spice things up to make sure we still have a choice.

PS – While you’re at it, make sure to swing by the butcher!

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