City Connect’s wine critic – Tom Lewis, the Cambridge Wine Blogger – shares his thoughts and recommendations on wine buying in Cambridge and the surrounding area.
For the enthusiastic wine aficionado, the most enjoyable way to buy wine can be to get in the car and go to one or more of France’s wine regions and buy direct from the producer. However, the reality for many people seems to be the local supermarket and, faced with rows of wines to choose from, the easiest option is often to pick what’s on special offer.
Is there a middle way? Some way of picking out more interesting and enjoyable wines without having to travel too far? Search the internet and you will find specialists such as Laithwaite’s (who also supply the wines for the Sunday Times Wine Club), who provide lots of glossy photos of beautiful hillside vineyards which can feel almost as good as being there yourself.
However, for those who prefer the personal touch and want to support local businesses, Cambridge and the surrounding areas have many independent wine merchants, educators and even its own Master of Wine and vineyard owners.
Stand opposite Kings College or take a look down the river on Bridge Street and you will be next to a branch of Cambridge Wine Merchants – founded 17 years ago by Cambridge graduate Hal Wilson with business partner Brett Turner, together they now run 4 shops in Cambridge itself, with several franchises beyond the city, and have recently won Independent Drinks Retailer of the year. If that is not enough, they also supply a number of the University’s May Balls, offer professionally-recognised wine courses and have opened a tapas bar in their Cherry Hinton Road branch.
With branches on either side of the river, Bacchanalia was set up in 1997 by Paul Bowles with the philosophy of sourcing the very best drinks the staff could find and selling them at a fair price. Regularly voted amongst the top ten shops in Cambridge, it’s clear that this approach has proved very popular indeed.
South of the city in Trumpington, Noel Young Wines has been in business since 1991 and won many awards over the years and also has a vineyard in Australia.
Outside of Cambridge, Hector Scicluna of HS Fine Wines in Impington, specialises in importing fine Italian wines from small estates, whilst Steve Vincent from Histon runs the Cambridge Food and Wine Society. Slightly further afield, The Old Bridge in Huntingdon is run by Master of Wine John Hoskins, whilst Neil Courtier of GrapeSense in Bury runs a wine education business. Finally, let us not forget that Cambridge has its own vineyard at Chilford Hall in Linton.
All of these offer wine-tastings of one sort or another which is a good way to get introduced to wines of different types and see what you like; the Cambridge Food and Wine Society, a not-for-profit organisation, uses a mixture of outside experts (both specialist educators and vineyard owners) and committee members (who are all experts in different areas from Spain and Austria to the International Wine Challenge) to present its monthly events.
Tickets for a wine tasting usually cost around the same price as two good bottles of wine and for that you should get to sample around 8 wines, pose questions and discuss opinions, possibly with some accompanying food.
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