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Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants

Philip Hamer, after our design preview last week, looks at the wine in the latest city centre shop

Published on July 2nd 2008.

Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants

When Ben Stephenson was running the Harvey Nichols wine department, he vowed that he would create his own shop in the beautiful Britannic buildings opposite. Now, alongside fellow wine buyer Mark Dent, he has fulfilled his dream. Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants recently opened its doors – becoming the only independent fine wine shop to exist in the city centre since Willoughby's closed five years ago.

"Ben and Mark are accomplished tasters (they have a long history of judging the International Wine Challenge) and they tried hundreds of wines when selecting the 400-plus varieties in stock."

With help from Ben's father's architect firm (see Phil Griffin’s article in Food and Drink), the pair created an imaginatively-devised space and stocked it with a judiciously-chosen selection of wine and spirits. Ben and Mark are accomplished tasters (they have a long history of judging the International Wine Challenge) and they tried hundreds of wines when selecting the 400-plus varieties in stock.

Bottles range from £6 to £425. With elegant, grey shelving and unfussy, plain pricing, there is the feel of a contemporary small bookshop about this place. The shelves rise up well beyond arm's reach and will soon be scaled by a ladder currently being made in Germany.

“The wine drinking explosion in the UK has been remarkable and provides us with our typical customer,” Ben says. “This is highly likely to be someone who was introduced to wine by a supermarket. They will be at a stage in their wine drinking where they are open to suggestions and new ideas about wine, and we shall be here to provide them. Though I have to say that, as we tasted, we discovered very few wines of real character at really low prices.”

Shops like this provide a real choice as opposed to the illusion of choice that too many supermarkets offer these days. Independent merchants are the best places to purchase wine because they stock varieties that can't be found elsewhere, and their staff can give sound advice based on years of experience in the business.

This is certainly the case at Hanging Ditch. As soon as you ask for a recommendation, Ben singles out the Hunter vineyard in New Zealand with the 2005 Miru Miru sparkling wine (£15) leading the pack.

Spain’s Ribera del Duero region offers another of the shop’s recommendations – the remarkable La Planta Red. For £12 you get an assertive, memorable wine that can be drunk now or kept for another ten years.

Ch Puyssenguier 2006 (£13.50) from France’s Languedoc (arguably a region currently producing the best value wines in the world) is a wonderful cocktail of different white wine grape varieties. It provides a stunning mouthful that will amaze and excite a jaded palate.

Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants is also a Parisian-style pavement café with Manchester’s finest roast coffee available by the cup. It's a marvellous location and for an extra £6 corkage, you can really make the most of it by buying a bottle of wine to enjoy on the spot.

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R EJuly 2nd 2008.

Great to see Mancon continuing to champion the independents - particularly in the City Centre - but there are others out there too and the shops of Chorlton, West Didsbury (especially Reserve - W Dids' very own wine gem) and elsewhere all need our support as well!It's great to know we're doing good by indulging in my two favourite hobbies - shopping and drinking fabulous wine!

RogerJuly 2nd 2008.

Spot on, Howard. It's dead easy to live in a clone town: just spend all your money in the chains! Manchester needs more people with the balls to try something different... and then enough customers who care and enough customers who are individuals to make them succeed. I hope the Hanging Ditch does.

HowardJuly 2nd 2008.

Great news this. Alongside the announcement of Robert Owen Brown's return to the city it's a cracking week for the independents. Reading these rants you will see a very vocal majority telling you what they don't want such as Tesco's in Northern Quarter. So support these two and other indies for that matter and if, because its simpler to buy wine from the supermarket or there's a fine drizzle that stops you going up to ROBs on Rochdale Rd, they struggle through that lack of support and fail, then please spare us the outrage that greeted the failure of Suburb on Deansgate! Make the effort if you want these places in your town. I sure they like the applause but money might help too!

Full BobJuly 2nd 2008.

Have visited Hanging Ditch twice now, since last week and I can confirm it's the real deal.Very knowledgable people offering an excellent choice of good quality wine by the glass.They are going to need bigger premises, though, particularly in Winter, if it becomes popular!

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