There are three good reasons to visit Coquetdale this summer: Cragside House, Brinkburn Priory and Rothbury Wines (not forgetting some glorious scenery and one of the loveliest small towns in the North-East).
Rothbury Wines is a great little shop. You'll find a warm welcome and a great selection of well-priced, imaginatively-chosen wines.
John Radgick explains that news of the imminent closure of the off-licence at Townfoot in Rothbury was the hot topic of conversation four years ago over one of those fateful dinners when, "as the bottle-levels got down, our plans got bigger".
The wine must have been good.
Three of the diners, John, his partner Sandra Nattrass and Sue Bolam, bought the shop and Lindsey Bolam, Sue's daughter-in-law, agreed to manage it. As Lindsey had also worked in the off-licence they were off to a flying start.
John has always been keen on wine. "My particular love is traditional French wines, Bordeaux, Burgundy and especially Chablis," he enthuses.
But he's equally proud of his Italian selection (sourced by a native Italian father and son team), and some great South American wines - from both sides of the Andes. And because this is Rothbury Wines after all, a few bottles from its Australian namesake in the Hunter Valley.
In choosing wines for the shop John has two guiding principles. "I've tried hard to find quality lines you won't find elsewhere. It's no good trying to compete with the supermarkets at around the £2.99 mark: most of our wines are in the £5 to £10 range."
Old hands and wise heads in the wine trade would agree that this is exactly the right approach. The market for quality wines that are a bit different, but don't cost too much, is growing fast in Britain.
Both John and Lindsey are especially proud of a pair of rich red wines, one from Chile and the other from Argentina. The Argentinian Masi "Paso Doble" (£8.43) is perhaps better left to warm the cool evenings of a Northumbrian autumn, but Concha y Toro "Explorer" Pinot Noir 2004 (£6.08) is the kind of generously fruity red that would even taste good in warmer weather if served cool.
John loves its smooth, velvety texture. I was impressed by the generosity of its sweetly ripe, spicy red fruit smell and taste. It's not exactly Pinot Noir in the Burgundian style, but it's delicious.
When asked for a few personal recommendations, John shoots around the shop grabbing bottle after bottle off the shelves and waxing lyrical about their respective merits. He also let me taste the remains of a few other bottles he'd used for a tasting the previous night (something for which he's in demand locally).
Among them, I was much taken with an unusual dessert wine - a late harvest 2002 Sauvignon Blanc - also from Concha y Toro (just £5.41 for a 37cl bottle). It has a luscious smell of apricot, guava and gooseberry and a rich, sweet, but refreshingly clean taste - a great buy.
Other highlights include a LBV Port, which John says tastes almost as good as a (much more expensive) vintage port proper - Jose Maria de Fonseca 1999 (£11.77) and a rich red from the southern Rhône: Beaumirail Vacqueras 2002 (£8.69). "I've been taking bottles of that one home and guzzling them," he confesses. There are some unusually good English wines, a few well-chosen New Zealanders, a huge range of local beers and even liqueurs made at a local farmhouse. It's not the number of bottles that impresses though - there's not room for a huge range - but the care with which they've been chosen.
Château Labarde VSOP Armagnac (£22.47) is yet another example, a superb brandy - and (as I can testify) made by very nice people. Somehow that matters and maybe that's also why Rothbury Wines is proving such a success as it serves up goodies to the lucky inhabitants of the Coquet Valley.
Wine of the Week
Château Pique-Sègue, Montravel Sec 2004, Rothbury Wines, £6.74.
Delicious, dry white from near Bergerac in South-West France. Mostly Sauvignon Blanc, it has an appealingly clean smell and zesty taste of lemon, lime, grapefruit and gooseberry. It would be a good match for this week's corking recipe, but will partner many light summer dishes well.