Aladdin's cave of wine

Rehill's occupies a prime corner position among the Cradlewell shops on Jesmond Road in Newcastle.

Rehill's occupies a prime corner position among the Cradlewell shops on Jesmond Road in Newcastle.

I've driven past it for years. I confess that I thought it was just another general store, which stocked a few bottles of wine along with cans of soup, washing powder and exotic spices. But a friend alerted me to the promise of something much more interesting when he told me that Rehill's had decided to stock some of the wine he imports.

And then I remembered a piece Alastair Gilmour had written in these pages a year or two ago about some great bottled beers. I thought I'd better go and see what I'd been missing.

At first I was disappointed. It just seemed like an (admittedly rather well-stocked) grocer's, but as I headed through a door and down a few steps, I discovered a beautifully fitted-out wine shop whose shelves heaved with goodies. I was amazed, delighted and thoroughly fed up that I had taken so long to step over the threshold.

You find plenty of European classics: fine wines from Italy, Spain and France, many of which aren't available anywhere else in the region. There's a phenomenal choice of quite the poshest champagnes imaginable; no lack of treasures from the Americas, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand (including several of the much sought-after Cloudy Bay wines) and yet also a good choice of cheaper wines at supermarket prices to keep Jesmond's student population cheerful (students figure large among Rehill's regular customers).

So what prompted Tony Rehill to put together such a fabulous and unexpected selection? Had he always enjoyed fine wine? "No, I was interested in beer long before wine, but I've got a taste for wines now - especially red wine. I prefer French and Italian wines. If I taste something I've liked I'll get it in on the basis that if I like it, hopefully somebody else will."

If you love great red wine and can find glorious bottles like the 2001 Vieux Télégraphe - a stunning Châteauneuf du Pape (£36.99) - or Tignanello 2001, a really superb Tuscan red (£36.99) or New Zealand's Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2004 (£19.99), you'll not be disappointed. And for wines of such stellar quality, they're very fairly priced.

"I try to keep prices reasonable," explains Tony. "The expensive wines sell really well. Word seems to have got around."

What I really like about Tony is that he's keen to find wines that a wide range of people will enjoy. He doesn't pretend to know everything and yet it's clear that he's learnt a heck of a lot in a short time

"There's a bit of snobbery in the wine business, isn't there?" he admits. There's not a whiff of anything of the sort in his shop.

His brother Sunny helps to choose the stock. "We can't compete with the likes of the supermarkets, but I'm trying to be a bit different here. And it's very much hands-on in the shop." One of Tony's favourite wines is the rarely-seen Cannonau from Sardinia, a red made from the grape better known as Grenache, which is why it sometimes reaches fabled alcoholic strength. The example at Rehill's is Sella and Mosca's 2003 Riserva, a polite 13.5%, and very good too. Like many a Grenache it's not deeply coloured, almost a garnet, and has a very ripe strawberry jam smell and a soft, almost sweet taste with a nice bitter twist. At £9.99 it's well worth a try.

So is another very usual discovery here: a wine from Bangalore, India, (Tony's family is Indian), made with advice from one of France's leading wine gurus Michel Rolland. Grover Vineyards Cabernet/Shiraz 2001 (£6.99) has almost a tawny hue and a very ripe spicy raisiny smell and taste, and a soft, velvety texture.

Try it out (blind) on anyone who thinks they really know their wines. It's certain to fox them.

Tony says that it "trickles rather than flies out," but I think it also encapsulates the magic of Rehill's - a shop full of wonderful surprises.

Wine of the Week: Ashton Hills Salmon Brut 2004, Rehill's of Jesmond, £13.99.

Deliciously fruity pink bubbly from South Australia's Adelaide Hills. It smells of redcurrants and raspberries and fills the mouth with tiny bubbles of creamy, elegant, lingering red fruit. Try it on its own, with sea-food, or if you want to be really daring, with a chocolate pudding.

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