Today I finally chalked off another North East wine retailer from my lists when I took advantage of a (partially) sunny Good Friday to visit Tynemouth, which means I had to pop into The Wine Chambers on Front Street.
This store was opened last year and is actually the second in young Ben Chambers burgeoning empire (the original in Walton Avenue was opened in 2010) but has more space and is on prime real estate just down the street from the Castle and Priory.
I’ve met Ben a few times before, most recently at a WSET class, but living in the Tyne Valley means the Coast is not a regular destination for me. This may well have been my first walk around Tynemouth village itself, but with the sun poking through the clouds (albeit with a few flecks of snow in the air) it’s undeniably a beautiful place made even more welcoming by a fine wine store!
Once inside I felt a bit like a kid in a sweet shop, row upon row of wines with a surprising amount of labels I’ve not seen before in other local retailers (and few that you’d find in the supermarkets). My better half Sarah immediately spied a bottle of Montes Purple Angel, the supercharged Carmenère from Chile which I missed out on when the NEWTS did a Montes tasting back in 2011. Sarah doesn’t actually like red wine but has a thing for the colour purple – that wasn’t enough for me to fork out the £28.99 being asked for (an increase of £3 since that NEWTS tasting, a sign of the hyper-tax times we live in).
Ben definitely has an excellent range of South African and South American wines, well worth a visit to the store for, but it was Europe that caught my eye, first with a Hungarian Furmint by Dobogó (Heartbeat) for £17.99. I love the range of flavours you can get in a dry Furmint, from rich and honeyed through to spicy and mineral, so when I read the marketing blurb on the back of the bottle talking of a complex wine with salty minerality, lime, pear and apple fruit I knew I’d found my first purchase. The producer’s website also suggests a 7-8 year ageing potential which fits well with my “buy now, drink a lot later” philosophy.
The I spied the Marqués de Murrieta 2006 Rioja Reserva for £14.99, which seemed a little low for such a renowned producer. A quick chat with Ben confirmed that this reduced price (BBR show this currently at £19.95) is because of the Estate’s desire to improve cash flow after a recent winery rebuilding and not due to a poor vintage – second & third purchases confirmed!
Finally I noticed a Fruilano, the grape previously known as Tocai until the EU regulations eliminated that and the Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris to protect the Hungarian Appellation of the same name (or at least pronunciation) – see “Farewell Tocai Friulano” by Jancis Robinson from 2008. This one was by Bastianich (who can’t have heard about the regulations as their website has “Tocai” scattered everywhere!) for £9.99 – purchase number 4 sorted.
With Sarah watching over me I decided that discretion is the better part of valour and called it a day with 4 bottles, but I could easily have stayed longer and probably spent a lot more. I did manage to wander down the small flight of stairs to where the fine Port and Riedel glasses are stored, next to the Humidor where a stash of Cuban Cigars is maintained in perfect conditions – good job I don’t smoke!
I expect to be seeing Ben later in the year for his first NEWTS tasting, but I definitely shouldn’t wait another 3 years before visiting one of his stores again!
For further reading on Ben’s Wine Empire;
- Billy, Ben and the Tinpot connection, Helen Savage, The Journal. Nov 5 2010.
- Cheers to new wine merchants, Helen Savage, The Journal. Jul 20 2012.