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Carol Emmas reviews Laithwaites

Published:  18 June, 2010

At WineFuture in Rioja in 2009, when Justin Howard-Sneyd was buying manager at Waitrose, he said there were two ways ahead for UK supermarket wine divisions upmarket or down.

As that polarisation has increasingly become apparent, Howard-Sneyd is carrying his "upmarket" philosophy over to Laithwaites where he has been global wine director for parent company, Direct Wines since February.

"Our focus now is not to recruit lots of customers through deep discounting and deals, which is what Laithwaites has done in the past. It devalues the proposition." Seemingly his strategy is working, (sales of from the May mailing, are 28% ahead of expectation). "People have a bit of an appetite to spend now if you give them a good reason, and they aren't feeling the pinch as much." It helps of course if the wines deliver and they do, as Laithwaites continues to add diversity to the mix of the classics and bankable.

Homed in the new PET shatterproof bottle, is Joseph Mellot Réserve Prestige Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (£7.99). The bottle is as light as a feather and the wine inside is good for picnics and easy consuming. But will it begin to oxidise in the bottle within six-months as new research has recently revealed? "No," says buyer Abi Sykes, "there's been a lot of research conducted and it has a guaranteed shelf life of 2 years." A refreshingly upbeat lemon, lime and savoury saltiness was apparent on the La Guardata Est! Est! Est!!! 2009, Est! Est! Est!!! di Montefiascone DOC (£7.99) which is made from Trebbiano, Roscetto and Malvasia. The Délice des Rois Pineau D'Aunis Rosé 2009, Coteaux du Vendômois AOC (£7.99), is a local speciality and a happy accident, found by buyer Cat Lomax, with it's pale appearance and delicately flavoured, peppery tastes. The Grande Réserve de Gassac 2009, Hérault VdP (£7.99) is exclusive with a specially made blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot and is well structured, with good fruit and firm, structured tannins. Made in the Amarone style of drying the grapes and showing rich baked fruit characters and a smooth finish was the La Fonte d'Oro 2008, Puglia IGT (£9.99) blend of Primitivo and Negroamaro. And with the recent restoration of Laithwaites winery Le Chai au Quai in Bordeaux, that is set up to house small parcels and age new wines, can things only get better?