Lovely Sam, owns and manages ‘Chester Beer and Wine’ in Handbridge. After 16 years of dabbling on the Wirral and in Hoole, Sam has settled into her new place in Handbridge. Customers are attracted to her new space for several reasons: the wide array of top quality merch, her warm persona, and the shop being dog-friendly (with treats kept behind the counter). Bringing loyal customers from Hoole, independent Chester B&W is flourishing, including their many events – like the ‘Winter Walkaround Tasting’ I attended on Friday the 8th of November.
Snatching at my Editor Gem’s hand for the opportunity to review and experience my first wine tasting, I was ecstatic to turn up at Industry in Handbridge. Ten tables full of wine, port and spirits, and ten extremely talented wine connoisseurs to accompany them. We were handed booklets with a page allocated to each table and numbered wines, plus a separate order sheet in case we wanted to take full bottles home.
Each table had a different independent supplier, all who supply to Chester B&W -Sam handpicked each one of the products presented. As incredible as all ten tables were, three really stood out to me (with my sweet taste buds) and Owen (with his red wine obsession).
-Table 1, Boutinot: Represented by Kate Murren
-Table 3, Louise Latour: Represented by Stuart Birtles
-Table 10, Raymond Reynolds: Represented by Max Driscoll
We actually started with Max at table 10 (both our pick), as the event was so popular anticlockwise was the only way we could get some quality time with the connoisseurs. Max saw us coming a mile away as we were included in the small variety of under forty years olds, and he kindly offered suggestions on how we should approach the event. A quick round of each table to identify with a simple cross and tick the wines we liked, followed by revisiting tables we really liked, to get a second taste!
For 30 years, Raymond Reynolds have imported and distributed single estate wines, fortified as well as unfortified, from Portugal, and more recently from Spain and Germany. Max said, ‘RR pride themselves on the long-lasting, dynamic partnerships they forge, with both their growers and customers’. Extremely knowledgeable in his wines, he asked our preferences and us being complete novices replied, me: sweet white or rose, Owen: bold and dry red wine (complete opposites I know).
My personal favourite was Qyinta de Raza ‘Raza’ Branco 2018 from Northern Portugal. It was super easy and light to drink and best for celebratory events as it was similar to prosecco (just a little more refined!). Owen’s was Herdade Da Malhadinha Nova ‘Monte de Peceguina’ Tinto 2016 which he commented was ‘plumish’ and rich in flavour and, adding it to our purchase list, we moved on.
Table 3, Stuart, a friendly and sharp character who was quick to share his knowledge of his represented company, Louis Latour. Stuart told us some of the history, ‘the Louis Latour family first bought vines in the Cote de Beaune in 1731, with land in some of the top Burgundy vineyards. Cooperage was already at that period a family occupation.’ This was Owen’s pick due to ticking three out of the seven reds on offer (it was clearly a red table). Stuart informed us that their wines are refined, elegant and distinguished, thanks to finely judged winemaking that extracts fruit and tannins in perfect balance.’ Using words such as ‘earthy’, ‘mellow’ and ‘complex’ that completely went over my head, both men got very excited over their joint love of red wine. We’ll definitely be stocking up with them for Christmas.
Finally, to my pick! At times during the night I felt a little out of place amongst the very established and clearly experienced crowd and their matching wine connoisseurs, but the last table we visited made me right at ease; Kate was kind and warm. She’d only been with her Boutinot for three months! And clearly had fit right in and impressed her team, as she was due to travel to Italy to visit their vineyards and learn even more about her wines.
I loved this table as it was fair prices for good wine. Kate told us, ‘It’s not just the shared passion for people that makes Boutinot different but their total and unwavering belief that making great entry-level wines is bloody difficult, but they do it bloody well. They’ve been doing it for quite some time now.’ I agree with the praise – this table got three ticks from me! My favourite being, ‘Adria Vini ‘Rive’ Barbera d’Asta Superiore 2016’ the top wine of their estate (it’s the locals favorite too). Again, a beautifully chosen wine for Christmas as it was warm and fruity and perfectly suited for a good celebration. Owen loved (double ticked), ‘Fernando de Castilla Solera Reserva Brandy NV’ which in his words, ‘was a little like an old fashioned’. The table also represented the owners of Contra Costa County, the biggest sustainable eco friendly estate.
Delicious hot food was on offer too, lovingly prepared Bao Revolution (check out our interview with Sherry here). Bao buns stuffed with tofu and bell peppers with a sweet and sticky tamarind sauce were absolutely divine. Keen to sample more, I’ve already scoured her Facebook page in the hope of catching her at their next event.
Grabbing my buns, I took this opportunity to chat to a few of the locals supporting Chester B&W. Gill and Anne, friends based in Handbridge, were extremely pleased with the event, saying, ‘the wine merchants are very knowledgeable, we’ve learnt a lot and had the opportunity to try something different.’ I also spoke to Mary and David who are Sam’s friends and loyal customers from Hoole. They were delighted with the, ‘lovely venue choice: historical, local, supports the local area and easy to get to’. All in all the crowd seemed to really enjoy the evening and left slightly more wobbly than when they walked in!
My one little blip with the event was uncomfortable run in with a rather snooty table connoisseur (no naming and shaming). I was really shocked at the lack of warmth that this woman displayed towards both myself and Owen, that we both suspected was due to our age(?) The lady stated there was nothing suited to my pallet for me to try at her table and turned away. Owen asked to sample one of the reds – she passed the cheapest over and turned her back again and commenced chatting to older guests. This shocked me quite a lot, as it was so different to how we’d been treated during the night.
I managed to have a good catch up with Sam after the lion’s share of the crowd left and she reassured me her vision for her store is to promote accessibility for all ages and wanted to use her space to upskill her customers in their knowledge of their shared love and passion for wine and avoid the archaic impression that wine tastings are exclusively for wealthy and more mature customers. It’s a shame the rep behaved so rudely towards us, but it’s clear this is far out of sync with the values Sam is trying to project at her events.
It was simply lovely to see the passion and care the woman has for her customers; some of whom have found friends through Chester B&W.
Sam brings local businesses over to meet me who are interested in amble and who she thinks should be recognised for their local efforts. Sam has spent years building relationships with the community within Chester and sympathetically restoring the area by being keen to use local spaces and local suppliers. She only uses family owned wineries to stock her shelves.
Be sure to check out Chester B&W’s monthly wine club, based at their store – just £15 to discuss, sample and learn the intricacies of your favourite wines.
We thoroughly enjoyed the evening and are looking forward to her upcoming Christmas market events and three events in January! Thank you Sam!
Upcoming events include beer, gin, Spanish wine, and a chocolate and rum tasting – see the full calendar here.
Photography by: Joe Wilkinson @p.d.production