CLAIRE Carruthers is one of the friendliest faces on the Newcastle wine scene. A disillusioned graphic designer, she took a job with Oddbins.
“I had every intention of doing it just for a few months,” she told me, “but stayed for 15 years. I loved it, especially relating to people.” For most of her time at Oddbins she managed their Gosforth branch.
She began to dream of owning her own business. She wasn’t sure how to go about it, but she knew what it might be like. Her inspiration came while on holiday in Italy with her partner Mo O’Toole. Mo explained: “We saw a place in Florence, an enoteca, which summed up what we’d like to see: gorgeous wines in a really nice environment, with a selection of antipasti and a coffee machine.”
The dream is soon to be realised. Early in November, Carruthers & Kent (Mo, somehow, is the ‘Kent’ bit) will open its doors for the first time at 3A Elmfield Road, just off Gosforth High Street.
The shop will sell fine wine, whiskies and regional ales and will have a small selection of deli goods (meat, cheese, olives, bread and oils). Upstairs, there’ll be a space for tastings and for groups to meet. “It’ll be open for book clubs, knitting clubs; a place where people can also be open to the wine experience and can join up their activities to what we have on offer,” Mo said.
But you don’t need to wait until November to buy wine from Carruthers & Kent. They already have a website up and running, offering many of the 300 or so wines that will also fill the shop (www.carruthersandkent.com ) And on the evening of October 12 they’ll hold a Wine Fair to show off around 60 wines and whiskies from the range. It’ll take place at Frangipani’s, As You Like It, Archbold Terrace, Jesmond. Tickets are £15 and can be bought by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or directly from Have to Love on Hawthorn Road, Gosforth.
During her years at Oddbins, Claire passed her wine trade exams and won opportunities to travel to far-flung vineyards. Two trips to Chile and Argentina strengthened a particular passion for wines of South America. Another dream is to import South American wines directly, but the Chile and Argentina sections of the list are already very impressive, with many goodies you’ll not find anywhere else in the region.
“South America is my favourite wine region because it has such a wide variety of wines,” Claire says, “and it’s also such fantastic value.”
I think she’s right, and it’s especially good to see more of the slightly more upmarket wines that are rightly gaining a lot of praise and finding their way onto top restaurant lists.
A great example is Falernia Reserve Syrah 2006, which comes from the exciting cool northern region of Elquí. I recently tasted the 2007 and loved it to bits, a fabulously perfumed, juicy mouthful of back cherry fruit and licorice. At £9.49, it’s great value.
Carruthers & Kent may specialise in wines that are far from run of the mill, but their pricing is more than reasonable. Sherry is another strong card and their Champagnes are deliciously different. I’m particularly pleased so see ‘D’ de Devaux, a super wine, from a producer that deserves to be much better known.
There are wines from Uruguay and Canada (rather good ones) and a couple of gems from Hungary. I tasted Patricius Tokaji, Furmint 2008 (£10.99), a deliciously different soft, dry white with a huge, spicy aroma of peach, apricot and pear and a long mineral salty finish.
“It’d be daft to try to compete with the supermarkets,” Claire said, “we’d get nowhere.” And wines like those they’ve chosen are selling well, despite the financial squeeze.
The shop will be aimed at everyone from wine novices to passionate wine lovers who want to have a long chat about the wine they’re choosing. There’ll be help for the “cash-rich, time-poor who want advice from someone they can trust,” says Mo, and Claire is keen to offer advice on food matching. “We hope we’ll take wine lovers on a journey with us.”
Claire will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the shop. Mo will take responsibility for the special events. “I do all the bits Claire doesn’t like,” she says, “which means dealing with the bank, marketing and the business side.” She brings a vast experience to this. Her love of wine has been nurtured by Claire. “I spent five years working part of the year in Strasbourg [she was an MEP], but couldn’t really get away with wine. Claire managed to educate me.”
Mo developed a love of European wines, which balances Claire’s passion for the southern hemisphere. But when pressed, Claire admits that if she’d have to save just one wine to open on her desert island, “I’d like a really lovely old German Riesling Spätlese.” Does that mean they’ll stock fine German wines? “Yes!” says Claire without a whiff of hesitation.
Carruthers & Kent is a hugely welcome addition to the local wine scene. Long may it thrive.
Another new wine shop has opened its doors on Tyneside: The Wine Chambers at 59 Walton Avenue, Tynemouth. I'll report in more depth on it soon; it's well worth a visit.
Two wines I bought for a recent tasting were very much enjoyed.
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Domaine de la Chauvinière, 2009 (£7.99) is from one of the very best producers. This dry white is soft and quite salty with lemon, melon and even a hint of honey. Superb with fish, it's also surprisingly good with spicy food.
Valençay, 'Sébastien Vaillant' Cave de Valençay, 2009 (£9.49) is an unusual blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay, grown on the banks of the River Cher. It combines freshness with the creamy richness of ripe stone fruits, especially peach, and is rounded off by a lingering minerality.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Primo Scuro, Cannonau di Sardegna, 2009 £10.99, Carruthers & Kent
Wonderfully, juicy red wine from Grenache grapes grown in Sardinia. It's spicy, with generous plum and bramble fruit, soft tannins and a lingering, slightly savoury finish. Try it with braised pheasant.