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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

The much-heralded slowdown in consumer confidence seems to have left alcohol sales relatively unscathed this festive season, with a late surge in sales rescuing what had looked like being a difficult Christmas. Fears of a retail crisis were first sparked when the Confederation of British Industry said pre-Christmas retail sales looked like being static for the first time in ten years, with more retailers indicating that sales were down rather than up in the Confederation's December survey. City favourite Majestic's Christmas statement dispelled fears of a slump in wine sales, however, when the wine warehouse operator reported like-for-like UK sales up 10.8% for the eight weeks of Christmas trading from 6 November 2002 to 31 December 2002. Champagne and wines from Southern France, Chablis, Spain and South Africa have all increased their share of sales,' said chief executive Tim How. We are particularly pleased that we now have 291,000 customers on the mailing list who have made purchases in the last 12 months, up by 10.2% from 264,000 this time last year,' he added. Elsewhere in the specialist sector, Thresher reported strong sales, especially in those stores which received investment last year. During the Christmas week, the 1,000 stores which received direct investment saw sales rise 5%, while the 30 new-look' stores in East Anglia reported a 10.8% uplift in like-for-like sales. Bargain Booze reported an 8.5% increase in turnover across the estate, while a spokesperson for Oddbins (which doesn't release detailed Christmas figures) said that its sales looked quite positive. Among the multiple retailers, none of the majors had released sales results at the time of writing, but all said early signs showed that beer, wines and spirits (BWS) sales were up on last year. Helen McGinn, Tesco's BWS spokeswoman, said sales of Chablis and Champagne were especially positive, with the surge for the retailer's own label Premier Cru Champagne (sparked when the Champagne came top in a Which? tasting) continuing right up to Christmas Day. Matthew Stubbs MW, buying manager at Safeway, said wine sales in particular were strong this year. We were up around 15% by volume,' he said. We sold a stack of Chablis - over 50,000 cases one week. Australia and South Africa performed well, while old favourites like claret and Chteauneuf also showed good sales.' All those asked said sales picked up later than in previous years. As a spokesperson for Asda said: We were drumming our fingers with concern for most of November, but December's sales were good.'