With the easily available supply of wine in supermarkets, the innumerable wine clubs, and still-surviving wine chains like Majestic, Nicolas and Oddbins, who needs a small independent wine shop? Everyone, is the answer. Well, everyone who enjoys quality wine.
The problem is that they’re few and far between. Or that was the problem till the Internet. But, while the Internet has broadened the customer base for independent stores, it’s still a tough market, given the economy of scale that the big players have.
Friarwood Fine Wines is an independent store, and it’s one of the best. Founded in 1967 by Peter Bowen, 2017 marks its 50th anniversary. Its store on Parsons Green is packed to the rafters with wines of all classes and prices, from drinking wines that many stores would love to have, to decades-old bottles costing over four figures, like the 1947 Château Haut-Brion. The store is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it is a temperature and humidity-controlled cellar, housing some 20,000 gently maturing bottles. Friarwood has specialised in importing Bordeaux wines into the UK since 1970, and is the exclusive distributor of many famous estates, so that cellar has seen a lot of use.
Following the store and its associated businesses’ acquisition two years ago by Ben Carfagnini, Friarwood has expanded beyond its traditional Bordeaux and Burgundy roots to showcase a range of New World wines from all corners of the globe, including Canada, Bulgaria and South Africa. It imports ninety percent of its wine directly from the producers, which helps to keep prices reasonable. It also has a wholesale and trade business, with customers ranging from five-star hotels to restaurants, as well as traditional member’s clubs and cutting-edge designer event firms: a sign of the quality it offers.
While many wine stores are driven more by price point than drinkability (when a bottle’s only a £5, most of which is tax, how can it be about something that’s nice to drink?) this isn’t the case at Friarwood. The head wine buyer, Auriane d’Aramon, is clear on the fact that they only take a wine to market if it has been tried and approved by all the staff.
One of the best things about a local store is customer service. Of course, Friarwood has a team that you can ask questions and advice of, but it also offers in-store wine tastings every last Wednesday of the month. At these monthly events a speaker or producer leads the tastings of a selected range of wines. It allows customers the chance to explore new wines and learn about the industry and buying tips.
If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of the independent wine store, now’s the time, and Friarwood is a good place to start.
Friarwood Fine Wines Ltd 26 New Kings Road Parsons Green London SW6 4ST http://www.friarwood.com/