MICHAEL and Gareth Bateman live in interesting times. The brothers opened their first wine shop in Alnwick in September and immediately found themselves in deep water when a London wine merchant took them to court to force them to change the name of their business, The Boutique Wine Company Ltd North East.
The dispute and the publicity it received has not been entirely negative, Michael admits.
After the story was reported by The Journal, they received a steady stream of support from locals who felt they’d been hard done by and who went into the shop in Narrowgate to take a look.
They liked what they found. And so did I, when I visited the newly minted Boutique Wine at No. 14. It’s a pleasantly uncluttered space with sturdy wooden shelves crafted by Gareth himself and a comfortable sofa where customers can take the weight off their feet and thumb through a collection of wine books.
“We want people to feel that it’s relaxed and welcoming here and to know that there’s time to have a chat,” Gareth told me.
They’re also keen to deliver “the wow factor”, not just in the way the business is presented, but, crucially, through the selection of wines they offer. So far, the range is not large, with about 70 different lines, but it’s diverse and interesting.
The cheapest wines are a pair of fruity, flavoursome Chileans at £7.10 – El Campesino Chardonnay 2009, with ripe pineapple, coconut and peachy flavours, and El Campesino Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère 2009, a big mouthful of sweetly ripe, spicy black fruit and a whiff of leather.
As the range expands the brothers will also look to add a few cheaper lines to sell at about £5.
It’s clear that they both enjoy big, fruity flavours. Gareth’s Desert Island wine is Yalumba’s The Scribbler, a classic, rich Aussie Cabernet Shiraz. Michael plumps for The Lane, an unwooded 2008 Chardonnay from South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, which they sell for £20.
In Michael’s words, “it combines New World fruit with European complexity” with (I think) an intriguing and lingering flavour of melon-like fruit, lime flowers and green herbs.
Michael has taken the lead in putting the range together, which shows good taste built upon nearly five years’ managerial experience at The Samling, Windermere’s luxury hotel, though he is quick to point out that there are no luxury hotel mark-ups in his new shop.
But there are some very fine wines, such as the glorious 1999 Château de Beaucastel – Châteauneuf-du Pape at its best and far from outlandishly priced, even at £65.
The superb other wine of the estate, Coudelet de Beaucastel, is a more affordable £16 – a great excuse for a trip to Alnwick.
And among the Champagne there is Salon du Mesnil 1997 at a cool £250. Believe or not, even that is not excessive for such a rare and beautiful wine.
The excellent Delamotte Brut, Non-Vintage, made by its partner house, is not only readier to drink, but comes in at £220 a bottle less.
An even more modest fizz is Corney and Barrow’s (an importer from whom Michael and Gareth source a number of their wines) Blanc de Blancs made in Burgundy, though not, perhaps, from Burgundy grapes, by Varichon and Clerc.
This wine is unusual in that it’s a rare example of an ‘Extra Dry’, which, contrary to what you might imagine, is distinctly off-dry, even slightly sweet, in a peachy, melony, slightly nutty way. It proved to be rather good with cheese and is an unusual and interesting possibility at £14.
Gareth’s background in cricket (he was recently on Durham’s books) is manifested by Silly Mid On (a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon) and Cover Drive (Cabernet Sauvignon). They are fine Aussie wines made by Jim Barry, which at £15.20 should slip nicely into any cricket-lover’s Christmas stocking.
“We bought them as a bit of a laugh for friends,” Gareth admits, “but Jim Barry’s a top name and they’ve gone down well.”
The boys have worked hard to get their business up and running. The idea to open a wine shop only occurred to them in August when they found themselves redundant and failed to find any wine in two local supermarkets that really excited them.
They’re ambitious and would love to open another shop.
One each? “Yes,” jokes Gareth. “We can compete and see who’s got the better shop!” Michael would also like to add a wine bar to their portfolio.
It’s clearly early days, but business is growing well, they assure me. Word of mouth – always a sure way to sustain success – is pulling in more and more customers and they enjoy the company of the other shops in the street (they nipped out for coffee for me from the deli a couple of doors away).
A website, “all singing, dancing and with bells on”, will soon be online and they’ve set up a wine club, which as Michael explained, “means that if people pay into a kitty, they’ll have money to spend on really good wines, which we’ll deliver for them”.
I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from the brothers Bateman – a good thing too.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Mâcon Villages, Chardonnay, Henri de Lorgere 2008 Aldi £4.99.
Real white Burgundy for under a fiver. It's simple, clean and has both the aromas and flavour of melon from just underneath the skin, with a hint of hazelnut.
Splash out and enjoy with fish and chips.
If you face a Christmas on your own, you needn't miss out on a choice of wines with your meal. Marks & Spencer have quite a wide choice of mini 25cl bottles.
Burgundy Chardonnay 2009 (£4.29) is subtle, melony and lingering with classic mineral saltiness. Better still, Muscat de Rivesaltes 2009 (£2.99) is a gloriously sweet mouthful – like a mixture of marmalade and fresh grapes. It's a super bargain. Though sold as “pudding wine”, I'd save it to have with cheese.