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Ramsons Wins Wine List Of The Year...And Other Stories

Neil Sowerby on Ramsons, Smithfield wine, and Naked Wines.

Written by . Published on August 15th 2011.

Ramsons Wins Wine List Of The Year...And Other Stories

CHRIS Johnson is a an apostle for good food and wine. If he was a self-confessed prophet crying in the Ramsbottom wilderness, well all that has changed in the past few years when he has scooped honours galore locally and nationally.  

I was there at the British Museum when he and his gobsmacked team collected the Good Food Restaurant of the Year Award. Now GFG editor Elizabeth Carter and her Which team have bestowed the Best Wine List award on Chris’s exclusively Italian list (which is by the way also nominated in the same category at the 2011 Manchester Food and Drink Awards). 

Exclusively Italian, to match a menu that owes great debt to Milan's market and Italy’s Slow Food Movement, the Ramsons wine list is a daunting prospect. Grape varieties you haven’t heard of before, growers you’ll only find on this list in the UK after they impressed Chris at the Verona Wine fair, some versions of familiar favourites such as Pinot Grigio that challenge your preconceptions and, among many superlative bottles, occasionally a wine I really don’t like at all. 

Despite this, like Elizabeth Carter, I am a big fan of the list. She says: "Chris Johnson has accrued an extraordinary and lovingly compiled cellar of wines from Italy's regional vineyards. His knowledge, compassion and sheer commitment show in every bottle." 

(I bumped into Chris on Friday's Confidential Heroes tour to real ale venues in Ramsbottom via the East Lancs Railway. When he saw our merry group he skipped across the road with a beam so big it looked liked he'd swallowed a telegraph pole. "We're going to win the Good Food Guide's Winelist of the Year," he said. "Largely because of the way we help people make their choice and guide them through the list." Then he turned and skipped away, almost getting run over by a bus. At least he would have died happy. Jonathan Schofield)


Chris Johnson wonders which bus to get run over byChris Johnson wonders which bus to get run over by


The Naked truth

I’M no Angel. Everyone will tell you that. And as for Archangel status, well Beelzebub is better qualified. In online wine circles though maybe it’s a case of how to look good naked. 

I was invited to visit the Naked Wines UK roadshow when it hit Manchester. In a professional capacity. I was curious about the phenomenon that seemed to combine aspects of social networking, Dragon’s Den, The Apprentice, X Factor alongside a commitment to nurturing independent winemakers. There I discovered several friends, enthusiasts but in no way wine aficonados, seduced by the Naked concept and eager to meet the touring winemakers.  

20 of these winemakers, all funded by Naked Wines, were helping showcase 100 wines which were made possible through such investment, garnered through customer membership fees. The winemaker pitches for a deal and the consumers effectively hire them. 

It has obviously struck a chord. Naked Wines is the UK’s fastest growing online wine retailer. Launched in December 2008 by Virgin Wines’ founder Rowan Gormley, it acts as a marketplace for winemakers to be able to sell their wines directly to consumers.  

Allegedly 150,000 customers have taken the bait so far, some graduating with appropriate T-shirts to the status of Angels... and ultimately the heady few, Archangels. What seemed a step up from the supermarket shelves, involving more choice than normal postal wine clubs, suddenly seemed spooky. 

A number of ‘pop-up’ wine tastings in customers’ homes and workplaces was followed by a ticketed event at The Studio in Lever Street. Customers got to vote on the new wines and at the end of the week winners would be live for sale on their website, www.nakedwines.com

I did get to chat with a couple of winemakers at the event, but chose to play catch up with a selection of the wine afterwards. I wasn’t mightily impressed. Lots of fruit appeal, heady in alcohol, little character or signs of terroir. Which may be what their public wants.

Prices between the £8 and £15 mark. Not bad value for the quality. 

The pick of what I drank? The Conti di Lucca Chianti Riserva 2006 (£9.99, Angels get £3.33 cashback), smooth cherry flavour with atwist of pepper. 

The Ladies Who Shoot Lunch Riesling 2009 (£14.99) from Australia is softly lime-laden with refreshing acidity. Apparently, this winery is not funded by Naked. Confusing? 

Gerhard Lobner’s Rote Haus Gruner Veltliner 2010, from vineyards near Vienna is dry andpeachy with hint of tobacco on the nose (£14.99). 

Naked’s Argentinian and Spanish selection was all all attractive stuff but somehow I don’t see myslef getting excited enough to buy the T-shirt. 

Wrong side of the tracks but the wines are fine

IF Smithfield Wine printed their own T-shirts I’d buy the lot. They really do need a higher profile because they are one of Manchester’s great independent wine shops. They are tucked away in a barely signposted (no clues for burglars) warehouse at the back of Piccadilly Station.  

With the Metrolink scheduled to trundle past the back of their building owners George and Lynn Wroblewski have plans for a bigger sign pointing their way and a more attractive, opened out retail section. For the moment online www.smithfieldwine.com is the best....or ring them on 0161 273 6070. 

In the past I’ve praised them for their leftfield wine stocks. Vegetarian, vegan, kosher, allergen-free and Fairtrade wines? Look no further. But if you just looking for a toothsome mixed selection, just try

Kono  Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£9.25) – typical Marlborough burst of tcitrus and gooseberry but with more complexity than most at this price. 

Lagar do Castello Albarinho 2008 Rias Baixas, (£11.05) – Peachy nose, good mouth feel and a slightly austere minerality. As you’d expect, a fine seafood wine. 

Simon Hackett Old Vine Grenache 2008 McLaren Vale (£12.40) – Abundant sweet dark fruit with well integrated oak. Lighter in tannin than its deep purple hue would suggest 

Dry River Shiraz (£5.70) – George describes this as a good Aussie glugger. It’s certainly one of the best value reds on his list... soft, velvety with a nice dash of spice. Lovely. 

Kosher wines

AS I said, Smithfield do stock Kosher wines. But the best place to find a large range is a top end Jewish deli such as the Hyman family’s Titanic up on Waterloo Road, Cheetham Hill. After tasting their recommended red from Israel, Ben Ami Cabernet Sauvignon Galil 2009 (smooth, herby with, I swear, a hint of olives) I’m going to explore this arcane byway of the wine world a bit further.

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