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Flagship Wines, St Albans

Muddy says: a wonderfully friendly and independent wine merchant, packed to the rafters with labels you’re unlikely to find in a supermarket.

Flagship Wines is a completely brilliant place. It looks like a neighbourhood wine shop and sits on a parade of shops in St Albans, yet step inside and you’ll be amazed by the array of labels and choice – we’re talking over 500 wines – most of which you’re unlikely to find in supermarkets. What makes this wine merchant special is the owner, Julia Jenkins, who ironically was responsible for building Sainsbury’s wine department before creating Flagship Wines in 2004. This wine merchant is knowledgeable, friendly and fun.

Julia is one of the International Wine Challenge judges and she knows her stuff. She’s a likeable person: funny about wine, and with loads of good stories. She’s visited pretty much every wine growing area in the world, and is a charming and compelling raconteur. At the same time, she is just as happy recommending her own label, cheerful everyday red to take home for mid week drinking. There are even recipes displayed on banners in the shop just in case you are feeling short on inspiration after a long day. Flagship Wines stocks wines from small wine producers that again, you won’t see on the high street.

I’ve been in Flagship Wines when someone has come in and Julia remembers the last bottle they bought which leads to a quick debrief, before she recommends another one. I’ve also seen her in action at a wine tasting evening in a polytunnel at Carpenter’s Nursery (and I’ll keep you posted about the next ones in the Muddy guides) and she is brilliant.

Visit Flagship Wines and see for yourself. And yes, you can order online, and deliveries can be made on the next working day. Friday evenings and all day Saturday informal tastings are well worth dropping in for.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Hertfordshire