Loki Wine Merchant, Birmingham

I had a little trip out to Birmingham yesterday, to see Leicester College’s Continuing Studies team winning a national award for their work with learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, which was a fabulous occasion. After it had finished, it was still early so I decided to check out a wine merchants that had been recommended to me by a friend.

Loki Wine Merchant is based on the Great Western Arcade of shops, which is really easy to get to from the Birmingham Christmas Market if you’ll be heading over to check that out. The arcade is full of cute little shops with a real period feel which is lovely to amble along and there is a good mixture of independent and chain shops so you feel like you’re getting plenty of new inspiration as well as some old favourites as you browse.

I cannot resist a wine merchants, I love seeing something completely new, picking up something familiar or just having the chance to hang out and chat wine to wile away a few hours. I was excited to visit Loki as I’d heard they have the same wine sampling machines as I had discovered in Chandos Deli in Bath last year, but never found closer to home. These are a great way for customers to try a variety of wines, without the wines going past their best, being left open in uncontrolled conditions. 

There is a small charge for tasting samples (I think they are about 25ml, so it really is a mouthful or too to get the idea – you need to go to the next 75ml pour for a proper opportunity to really understand something about the wine). I had intended to sample a few wines at my leisure in order to pick one to buy to take home, but sadly my prior engagement ran over and I had to make a sudden dash to get the train. Will just have to go back to pick one of the wines from the short (actually quite long) list I was building in my head…

The upstairs lounge – this is just one half of it!

Anyway, the shop is super cosy and has a lovely vibe, with large barrel tables and a windowside bar downstairs for you to sit and enjoy your wine and a tardis-like lounge upstairs, where there are more sample machines with a different selection of wines on offer. They change the wines every two weeks, so you could go on your own voyage of wine discovery by never leaving Birmingham if you really wanted to!

They have quite a selection of wines on offer, from familiar names to quite a few more unusual producers and varietals. There are of course your usual reds, whites and roses, with a good amount of the latter two being stored in a large fridge display so they are ready for drinking in store or taking home to enjoy with the family right away. They also have a really decent selection of sweet wines for such a small store, a nice variety of sparkling wines (only Nyetimber holding up the English sparkling end as far as I could see, but that’s still a good introduction if you haven’t tried it before! Edit: Apparently they have the largest selection of English sparkling outside London, so probably best to ask!). There are also spirits on offer by the bottle, with our old local favourites Burleighs in there (they’re everywhere right now!), and a small but select range of wine based gifts, including some lovely glassware and, interestingly, Brix chocolates, made to go with wine. I’ve not seen those before and shall have to investigate!

The only downside to this narrow, period shop and a good selection of stock on offer was that it was very difficult to have a good look at the main body of the whites, as the barrel tables were occupied and the bottles were kept low down under the sampler machines and also it was a bit of a squeeze to fit through to the fridge as well, but this can hardly be helped – they’d clearly done everything they could to make the most of the space and you just have to browse any which way you could.

I tried a few nice wines, trying to pick something that would suit my preferences but also something that I hadn’t tried before. I was readily advised by the super friendly and clearly very knowledgeable Paul, who is both shop assistant and wine educator, running some of the special tasting events that Loki holds. One thing you want be short on when you visit Loki is excellent recommendation and genuine passion for wine. I do recommend looking at their events programme by the way, they have some really interesting and unusual looking tastings as well as the  more run of the mill fodder.

So all in all, a really fun place with some really interesting wines. A little on the cramped side, but that adds to the lovely cosy feel of the shop, although does make browsing a little tricky (I couldn’t possibly have reached the sweet wines to take a closer look without potentially causing vast amounts of damage to the stock below, but I guess that’s why they have such helpful staff!). The Domaine Capmartin Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2011 was a nice pick for me and at £14.99 a bottle is as competitively priced as anything you’ll find online (although you’d pay a £5 corkage fee to drink it in the shop – I prefer The Case in Leicester on this basis where there is no additional fee to drink in the shop as the overheads are lower than the restaurant.)

The Madiran is a delicious red for tannin lovers, with a deep colour and cherry bouquet to match, with a heavy tannic punch in the mouth, but still a surprisingly light mouth feel that is not overtly fruity, but more subtle black fruits that fades slowly to a nice savoury finish. Definitely something The Boy would like and it would be a great match with wintery roasts or meat stews. I was interested in this wine as it is 70% Tannat, balanced with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, which explains the very light fruitiness. Tannat is not a variety I was familiar with and neither was the Madiran AOC but looking it up subsequently I see it is now considered the ‘national grape’ of Uruguay, which means I have another great excuse to figure out a way to take The Boy on a trip there! They apparently tend to blend with Pinot Noir, which I can imagine is a combination I’d like even more. Let’s all go to Uruguay!


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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