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Andrew Campbell: Oddbins, the high street phoenix rises from the ashes

After the wine empire crashed down in 2011, the reincarnated Oddbins had a limited selection and was overpriced, but after two years all that has changed

Andrew Campbell
Andrew Campbell

Oddbins reigned supreme for more than a decade as the high street wine specialist of choice. That was until 2011 when the empire, started in 1963, came crashing spectacularly and very publicly down.

With a peak of 278 stores under the ownership of Seagram, Oddbins was regarded as the ‘favourite of a generation’ raising interest and awareness in quality wine in a country previously awash with liebfraumilch, Piat d’Or and beer.

It never felt the same after the take-over by French Groupe Castel in 2002; stocking a range that seemed to lack its former breadth and quality and nine years later its fall from grace was almost complete – but not total.

Some 37 stores were acquired by Whittall’s Wine Merchants – mainly in London but with nine in Scotland and others in cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, and Bristol. Their wines are also available online.

When I first returned to the reincarnated Oddbins in September 2011 the selection was limited and, but for a few gems, overpriced.

But they’ve been working hard in the last two years and the selection has vastly improved – consisting of well-known brands along with a good range of lesser known vintages plus some speciality beers. The fine wine selection has also dramatically improved.

So as a blast from the past, this week I bring you six wines from the phoenix of wine retailers.

I love surprises and the first white perfectly fits that bill.

Have you ever had a great white from Greece? No, nor have I but the Atma White 2012 , from central Greece is a cracker and well worth the £10 price-tag. It is made from 70% Malagouzia and 30% Roditis grapes – what do you mean, you’ve never heard of them? – which are both known for their perfumed and aromatic qualities with the latter commonly blended to make Retsina. Malagouzia was thought to be almost extinct until the late 20th century.

The result is a stunningly good wine with a highly aromatic nose of roses, tropical fruit and citrus, particularly grapefruit. The taste is predominantly citrus with a dry grapefruit finish. It’s one of a selection of Greek wines stocked by a company that believes the recession-hit country, with its 6,000 years of wine-making experience, is the garlic bread of the industry.

Judging by this wine, it wouldn’t surprise me if we hear a lot more of these grapes as an alternative to sauvignon blanc or gewurztraminer.

Now to Spain and a very respectable Albarino. The white Anxo Martin 2011 from the Rias Baixas region of north west Spain is made from 85% alabarino blended with two lesser- known varieties. Aromas of peach, apricot and flowers give way to a very dry taste with pineapple and minerals. At £9.75 a bottle it’s worth a try.

Sticking with Spain, the Luis Alegre Rioja Rosada 2012 could be a winner for a hot summer’s day. Crafted from tempranillo and garnacha grapes it displays aromas of strawberry, peach and tropical fruit. The flavours are similar with a touch of minerality. In contrast to many popular roses, this one’s bone dry with good balance and is a decent buy at £8.50.

De Bortoli’s Willowglen Shiraz/ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is very good. Made by well-known, quality-conscious South Australians of Venetian descent, the nose is powerful with blackcurrant, dark fruit and oak aromas. It displays peppery plum flavours and is a party-pleaser with its £8.25 price-tag.

Ca Rosa Valpolicella Ripasso 2010 , made from 70% corvina grapes blended with molinara and rondinella, is a classy brew with cherry, raisin and mint aromas. The smooth flavours are dominated by cherry with herbs and a touch of spice. It’s a decent buy at £11.

Finally, La Folle Noire d’Ambat, Domaine Le Roc, Fronton 2011 is simply bizarre. Made just north of Toulouse from 100% negrette grapes, it has been described as exhibiting meat and animal characteristics. The pungent nose is gamey and farmyard with blue cheese and meaty notes. There’s also reckoned to be black cherry and flowers in there.

The flavours are similar. At £10 a bottle it’s not the cheapest experiment but it’s almost worth trying just for the a new taste experience. Some may like it, but I suspect it would raise more than a few eyebrows at a dinner party.


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