Do you remember the lure of warehouse outlets? Getting lost somewhere near Hemel Hempstead looking for a place that did Pringle seconds was an intrinsic part of growing up in the 80s and 90s. Majestic successfully applied this concept to wine. Those scruffy shops, wooden pallets and piles of boxes promised, though didn’t always deliver, bargains. Nowadays though we don’t need to go to Hemel because we have the internet. Majestic’s business model is looking a little outdated, squeezed on value by internet retailers and supermarkets who are getting better at selling small parcels of wine and on service by the revitalised independent sector.
Majestic have taken on Rowan Gormley founder of Naked Wines in an attempt to revitalise the company. They’re trialling selling single bottles, previously you had to buy six, and in some stores they’re ditching the warehouse look completely. The refitted Mayfair shop looks like a modern independent such as Bottle Apostle with its Enomatic machines and bottles displayed horizontally as if they’re rare books. Apparently this is meant to be less intimidating to customers though I’d say making your shops fancier would make them more intimidating. They’re still keeping the special offers which means that most wines are overpriced unless they’re on offer.
What I used to love about Majestic were peculiar one off parcels they used to have such as Swedish claret and mature Germans rieslings At one point, about fifteen years ago, they had a large selection of good German rieslings for around £5 a bottle. These began to dwindle and recent mature Germans have been a bit disappointing. They do sometimes have some old riojas in. It’s worth getting on their mailing list to hear about new offers. One not so old rioja caught my eye recently. It’s from their new own label range called Definition. This is the first time Majestic have done own labels. They’re wines from classic regions and on the whole they’re pretty good if not exactly cheap. One really stood out:
Definition Rioja Reserva 2009 (£12.99 – £10 when on offer which is a total bargain)
This is quite superb rioja for the price. The contrast between the tobacco and leather and the bright red fruit reminded me of far more expensive producers such as La Rioja Alta.
It’s worth getting lost in Hemel for.