This curiously named wine shop in Manchester’s medieval quarter takes a sociable approach to drinking.
The story behind Manchester’s Hanging Ditch can be told in two ways. In one version, this cobbled street running alongside the Cathedral was once a trench where medieval cloth makers hung out their linen. In another, more apocryphal, version it was a place where sinners, instead of sheets, were hung out to dry. Whatever the historic truth, there’s little chance of staying dry today, at least in the alcoholic sense: nearby Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants has a supply of bottles extensive enough to lead many a customer astray.
Choosing wine can be intimidating when a shop’s stock is large and your credit card, if not your neck, is on the line. Ranging from around ten pounds to several hundred, Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants has a daunting collection. Seen through the wide front window of the shop, the bottle-stacked shelves run floor to ceiling and all the way along the back wall. The assortment also includes some more esoteric options, such as Portuguese Orange wine (a white that is made, unusually, with the inclusion of the grape skins). Enough rope to hang yourself with, you might think.
Your credit card, if not your neck, is on the line
But Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants’ website states that it “aims to take the fear factor out of wine”, while Managing Director Ben Stephenson has arranged the wines by style rather than country, thereby offering customers a lifeline. Stephenson explains that the system tries to “answer people’s questions on the shelves”. His argument is that dividing wine up geographically isn’t a helpful reflection of the buyer’s requirements. The idea is that this layout doesn’t demand extensive knowledge in order to successfully navigate it.
That said, Stephenson is reluctant to provide the tasting notes that can offer sanctuary when you can’t recall the distinction between a Rioja and a Rueda. When the sheer number of variables – grape, region, producer, vintage – unfold before you like a slippery slope into perdition, indications of a wine’s flavour can offer a welcome foothold. As an alternative, Stephenson encourages detailed conversation with his well-versed staff.
This is just one of the ways that Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants approaches wine as an accessible, social drink: expanding the usual remit for such a shop, buyers can also enjoy their purchases on the premises. The shop is a pleasant space in which to share a bottle or try wines by the glass (£6-£7.50). High stools are spread along the front windows, with chairs and tables arranged outside for the summer.
Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants refuses to present its specialist knowledge in a cloistered or excluding way. So, whatever the accurate explanation behind Manchester’s Hanging Ditch, the calibre of the wine shop that takes its name can be relied upon.