The life of a wine buyer for Co-op wines … a peek inside Laura’s world

Co-operative wine in a glass

I’d love to be involved in the creation of wine and not just sit at the “consumer end” opening a bottle and enjoying the contents. Don’t get me wrong, I love that bit. I really love that bit.

Laura Stafford co-op wine buyer
Laura Stafford

Laura Stafford is a wine buyer for the Co-operative and I’ve spoken to her about her work and our shared love; sharing our love of wine.

Laura says she was “in the right place at the right time” when a role as a buyer came up, and a couple of qualifications later (from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust) and Laura is in a role she loves.

I asked what inspires her.

“I love the end to end aspect of my job, it’s all hands on. It’s the pride in seeing the whole process through.”

Laura will taste, test, and consider different blends during her visits to winemakers. Laura says: “Then suddenly you hit THE moment when you have found the right blend and it’s really satisfying.”

When sourcing a malbec in Argentina, Laura was hugely influenced by the region. That is reflected not just in the wine, but in the label.

Laura Stafford wine buyer mood board
Laura’s mood board which inspired the label of the The Co-operative Argentine Malbec

Laura explains: “There was a really colourful town, very rustic, murals on the wall, bright chalky colours, and it really showed the spirit and the character of Argentina. I thought, how can I live and breathe that through this wine?”

Laura shared a mood board with a design company back home and the result is a colourful but simple label.

Says Laura: “I talked with the design team about making it friendlier and easier to understand. Malbec goes with meat and it is full of raspberries and plum. The rewarding bit is seeing it on the shelves.”

The Co-operative Argentine Malbec
The Co-operative Argentine Malbec

Laura describes The Co-operative Argentine Malbec (£4,99) as clean and honest; there is just enough tannin and a good amount of spice.

Laura says: “I really encourage people to step a bit beyond the boundaries.

“I love the friendliness that needs to come from wine. Take away the scary factor; ignore the snobbery; ignore people who hold the glass in a certain way. Don’t be scared about wine. I want to make wines friendly and approachable. All of it, the whole package; from the wine to how we evolve the labels.”

Laura and I sipped and talked about Co-op wines.

Argentina Finca Las Moras Pinot Grigio
Argentina Finca Las Moras Pinot Grigio

Argentina Finca Las Moras Pinot Grigio (£6.99) is 100% pinot grigio, Laura explains that the warmth of the climate gives bolder fruits which are slightly tropical. I found a tutti frutti hot pot of pineapple, lemon and honeyed apricot.

I asked Laura what people could try that’s different if they are stuck in pinot grigio world. She says: “Try chenin blanc. It is a really drinkable style, with a little bit of acidity. The fruit isn’t as big and bold as chardonnay, or as acidic as sauvignon blanc.”

Hilltop Premium Pinot Grigio-Királyleányka
Hilltop Premium Pinot Grigio-Királyleányka

Hilltop Premium Pinot Grigio-Királyleányka (£4.79) is another pinot grigio, but this time blended with a local grape variety, Királyleányka (40% of the blend). It is pronounced keer-a-lee-en-ee-ka. It’s definitely easier to sip than to say! It is sherberty, lemony and has sweet floral notes.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Pinot Noir (£7.99) is from Chile. Laura suggests you pop this wine in a fridge for half an hour, or pop in an ice bucket for a chilled summer garden wine.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Pinot Noir
The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Pinot Noir

This will bring out the red fruit and redcurrant characters. This wine smells of snapped twigs and palma violets, with blueberry and cherry flavours. Really lovely.

The upshot? I’m actually jealous of Laura Stafford.

Published in the saturday extra magazine March 14, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Basic wine grapes: Facts about six of the best

basic wine grapes

I WATCHED a lovely couple – well I’m sure they were lovely – looking totally bemused in a wine shop the other day.

They were walking up and down the reds baffled, nay, befuddled, by the choices in front of them.

So here’s some simple guidance on six basic wine grapes. You’ll see them all the time… but do you know if you’ll like them?

Chardonnay: ABC as some people like to say… Anything But Chardonnay.

It’s like a blank canvas which can grow in both cool and warm climates; which in turn affects its flavours. Many winemakers love to tamper with it as chardonnay is willing and able to be moulded in many ways. My favourite is unoaked Chablis; crisp and clean with biting green apples.


Sauvignon Blanc: Packs a punch of gooseberries on the nose and a dry squeaky-cheek pinch of acidity.
It’s rarely oaked as winemakers want to keep the grape’s natural fruity freshness. You may be familiar with intense New Zealand sauvignon blanc … but Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the Loire are the grape’s natural home and those wines are a little more backward in coming forward but nonetheless grassy green and fruity. Ones from Chile have green pepper edges.
Riesling (say it as in rees, not in rice): Such a delight.
Far too complicated to explain the German styles; riesling can range from crisp and green with citrus notes, or peachy-packed and tropical. Look out for riesling from the Clare Valley in Australia which have high acidity and knife-edge lemon and lime citrus.
Merlot: Gentle tannins tease in this Velvet Prince.
Merlot is the blending sister of cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux, but it is now grown throughout the world as a consumer-friendly wine. Strawberries and plums in cooler climates and black fruits with some chocolate in hotter ones.
Cabernet Sauvignon: If Merlot is the Prince, Cab Sav is the King.
An intriguing grape which can be harsh when young. The thick skin of cabernet sauvignon makes for high tannin. It ages well. Merlot adds the softness in its Bordeaux homeland blends. Flavours include black fruits – blackcurrant and cherries – with occasional cedar, green pepper and herbs.
Pinot Noir: A gentle little thing, the pinot noir grape.
The thin skins of pinot noir grapes lead to low or medium tannins but make it difficult to grow … but it is really easy to drink! If you see a red from Burgundy, this will be pinot noir. You’ll find strawberries, raspberries and cherries, and also savoury notes such as wet leaves, wood and meat. That might sound odd but go with it. Other than France, pick out a German pinot noir and in the New World, New  Zealand.


Breaking news

If you like your sparkles, some breaking news this week from the Co-op. The retailer’s Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004, (£24.99) won three World Champion titles at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2014.

Co-op Les Pionniers Vintage 2004 champagne review

The Champagne is created through an exclusive long-standing partnership between Piper and Charles Heidseick. It has already picked up a Silver at this year’s International Wine Challenge and a Bronze medal at the Decanter awards.

Also in my glass

A couple of lovelies from Aldi wines.

The Exquisite Collection  Picpoul de Pinet (£5.99) and The Exquisite Collection Mendoza Rosé (£5.99) were new to Aldi’s range this summer. From the south of France, Picpoul de Pinet has a mouth-watering zing of lemon, lime and gentle peach, which follow the soft aromas of stone fruits and bright citrus.

To the Mendoza from Argentina, a rosé made from 100% malbec. A deep strawberry pink; fresh and dried strawberries on the nose with red fruits taste  with a mouth-bursting bite, but the flavours disappear quite quickly.