Andrew Polmear

Triumph at Seven Cellars

Seven Cellars has won the Brighton & Hove Independent Judges’ Recognition Award as Retailer of the Year 2016. For those who haven’t spotted it yet, Seven Cellars is the wine and beer shop on Dyke Road, just south of the Seven Dials. I went along to see why it won, and whether we should all be piling in there.

sevencellars_sage-1213It’s a nice space to spend time in: old wooden floorboards with an oriental rug, spacious oak shelving round the walls to display the bottles, worn cream tiling at the back – a relic of its past as a butcher’s or fishmonger’s. And while you will be greeted with a “Hi” from Matt Ainscough, the manager, you can spend as long as you like browsing. Then you notice the colour codes on the bottles and you realise this place is serious. Wines get a coloured sticker if they meet criteria for being biodynamic, organic, vegan, vegetarian or sustainable. You also notice the prices and you realise this place is very serious. Prices start from £6.99, and about 50 wines are below £10, but the bulk are over that, and justifiably so – these are not low-priced supermarket versions of wine from round the world, they are carefully chosen examples of good quality wines.

I asked Matt what he thought had won them the award. He singled out their ambition to be a service to, and part of, the community as their unique feature. They had spotted that the Seven Dials area is like a village of its own, and prosperous enough to support a shop dedicated to selling wine and beer of quality, rather than going for quantity.  Other principles that guide them are that:

  • they don’t sell anything they haven’t tasted, or which isn’t from a producer they already know to be reliable
  • they only sell wine that is bottled in its country of origin. That’s not to say that wine shipped to the UK in containers and then bottled here is necessarily bad, but if you are going to draw a line, it’s a good one to draw. Wine bottled at the place of origin is more likely to be typical of that place than wine shipped in bulk.
  • they want to offer wine from all over the world; and
  • the shop is for everyone, whether they want a special bottle of wine or they’ve brought in a rinsed out milk bottle to be filled with draught beer or cider. Yes, they do offer that service – they even supply the bottle if you’ve forgotten to bring one.

Does this intention to serve the community stand up to scrutiny? They do all the right things: they offer a themed wine tasting once a month. You’ll find details on their Facebook page or on Twitter or on the board outside the shop. You can book them for your own private tasting party. They do the usual things like glass hire, delivery, and price reductions if you buy a case of six or twelve bottles. Perhaps most important of all, they find themselves advising most of the customers who walk in through the door about their wine choice. You don’t get that at the Co-op two doors down. But the proof is in the tasting, so I decided to risk everything on a single throw of the dice. Armed with what I’d learned from my recent exploration of Muscadet (The Whistler August/September 2016) I bought their Muscadet, Domaine David “Les Barboires” 2014 for £10.25. Bingo! This is just how a Muscadet should taste: dry, fresh, tangy, with just enough oiliness in the mouth to be satisfying. Seven Cellars deserves their accolade.

Andrew Polmear

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