Out of thousands of wines tasted at The International Wine Challenge, the Champion Sparkling Wine is imported by a Yorkshire company, writes Christine Austin

‘We were shortlisted for Specialist Merchant of the Year for Sparkling Wine but Waitrose pipped us to that one,’ said Yorkshire-based wine importer Tony Stones, but he still had a winning night at The International Wine Challenge Awards.  A wine that he imports exclusively for Aldi, Philizot et Fils Veuve Monsigny Rosé champagne not only won a gold medal, but was also named as the Great Value Champion Sparkling Wine.

This is a lovely wine with gentle red fruit flavours backed by hints of citrus and a touch of crisp, baked pastry.  Priced in Aldi stores at just £16.99 it is exceptional value. Other wines in Tony’s portfolio also did well with Veuve Monsigny Brut (£12.99), Veuve Monsigny Grande Reserve (£16.99) and Veuve Monsigny Vintage 2010 (£22.99) all winning silver medals. You can find all these in Aldi stores.

For Tony’s company that started just 20 years ago, this is a tremendous success.

Helen Stones, with the winning award

‘I started out in IT’ said Tony, ‘ but I switched careers to wine, and at first, specifically to champagne. I started out by looking for champagnes from smaller producers that were not already in the market and that way I could get excellent quality at very good prices.’ Then, once imports on behalf of several major retailers were established Tony set up other outlets which deal with different parts of this growing business. The Fizz Company is the online retail operation (www.thefizzcompany.com), which lists all kinds of sparkling wines, including champagnes but also a fine range of Prosecco, Cava, Blanquette de Limoux and even a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.

The next step was to set up Wine Rascals which has expanded the range into still wines, ‘from families, not factories’ as Tony explains.  I tasted through a number of these wines recently and was delighted by the way Wine Rascals has discovered some favourites from my travels which so far have not been available in the UK.  Producers such as Savage Grace, Cape Dreams and a whole range of organic, vegan and natural wines are on their list.  Wine Rascals is dedicated to supplying the trade so you can’t buy these wines direct, but they should start popping up on restaurant and independent merchant lists.

A new venture which started this week is to have some wines in stock at D&R in Aire Street in Tony Stones’ hometown of Castleford. Described as ‘bin ends’ they will be ends of lines, market testers and vintage changes, so this will be a dynamic and tasty selection.

Since setting up the company Tony reckons that he now sells around 1.8 million bottles of champagne a year but still he has plans to grow the business.  ‘I would like to change the way people buy wine, by giving more information about it when they are choosing what to buy.  This may be in food matching ideas or just suggesting alternatives to customers’ preferred styles.  I call this changing the wine world, one bottle at a time.’

The other Yorkshire business that did well in the International Wine Challenge is wine merchant Bon Coeur run by Jamie and Samantha Goodhart.  Their stylish premises in Melsonby are well worth a visit, not only to shop for wine but they also run regular tasting events where you can taste before you buy.

Taste before you buy at Bon Coeur Fine Wines

Last year Bon Coeur won the award for the best Regional Wine Merchant in Northern England and they were shortlisted again this year.  They didn’t manage to win the top prize this time but they received a special ‘highly commended’ mention, which is unusual for these awards so they must have been pretty close to winning the accolade.

Of all the wine competitions that are held in the UK and overseas, it is The International Wine Challenge that I take most notice of and here I must declare an interest.  I have been judging at these awards for many years and so I can comment from the inside.  The wines are tasted blind, by many people over several days, and with around 20,000 samples of wine tasted and evaluated this ranks as one of the biggest wine competitions in the world. While I am very happy to judge wines, in the spirit of impartiality it is probably best that I don’t have any influence on the Merchant awards.

I was delighted to see that Waitrose won Supermarket of the year.  Last year Aldi won this prize, and while they have done a fabulous amount of work to shake up wine retailing they simply cannot compete with the huge range of wines available in a Waitrose store.  If you cannot find the wine you want in your local Waitrose, then you can buy mixed cases on-line (www.waitrosecellar.com) and have it delivered to your door.  Their range, availability and their occasional 25% off deals bring fabulous wines within easy reach.  The best deal this week at Waitrose is Mirabeau La Folie Rosé down to £10.99 until 13 August. This gently sparkling Provence Rosé is perfect for summer lunches.

The Wine Society (www.thewinesociety.com) also did well, being named Wine Club of the Year.  Unusually, you actually have to join this club and pay a one-off life membership fee of £40 but this is one membership doesn’t expire when you do.  It can be left to a relative who can carry on enjoying well-selected and keenly priced wines.  The Wine Society also arranges wine tastings around the country, and will be in Sheffield in September showing New Wave South African wines.  My favourites from The Wine Society include many of their own-label Society wines such as 2017 Claret (£6.95) and Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2018 (£7.50) that hit the mark for both flavour and price.

 

With shops on most High Streets and long opening hours, the Co-op is a convenient place to buy wine, especially on your way home from work. The quality of the Co-op’s wines has been rising for some time now and for the fourth year running they have won the award for Convenience Store Chain of the Year.  They are particularly strong on Fairtrade and Organic wines.  Head to their Fairtrade Irresistible Malbec at £7.50 for chunky mulberry fruit and a supple style.

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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