Feel Good Stories: How Ben Franks established an award-winning independent wine shop

Last updated on Monday 6 November 2023

Novel Wines is a cosy wine bar nestled on the aptly named Cork Street in Bath. They specialise in undiscovered wines from around the world and have over 400 different wines that have been hand-selected by their team of passionate wine connoisseurs. You can enjoy a wine tasting with hand-selected cheeses from their friends at Nibbles Cheese in Bath. Each wine tasting experience highlights different wines, so you can go every week and experience something completely different!

Novel Wines began in 2016 when founders Ben Franks and Gyorgy Zsiga met for a drink and realised that they wanted to create a place where people could find incredible wines from regions that aren't known for their wines but definitely should be.

Combining their knowledge they created a 'novel' list of wines from small producers and community co-operatives. Japan, Croatia, Romania, Turkey, Lebanon, Thailand and Hungary are just a handful of regions that you'll find showcased in Novel Wines.

We caught up with Ben to find out more about Novel Wines' story and how they became an award-winning wine retailer:

Novel Wines wine and cheese tasting experience

"One of my favourite wines in the shop is it's a Grace winery Koshu Kayagatake which comes from Yamanashi prefecture in Japan.

"So, there's a bullet train that takes you from Tokyo to Yamanashi, and then you can sit under pergola vines and the grapes all kind of hang right above your head, that these light pink skinned grape varieties. They look like little pink blobs, all hanging above your head and in Japan they put on these little paper caps by hand, by white-gloved, hands, and put the paper caps over the top of the great bunches because the skins are really thin.

"They put these little paper hats, one by one on every grape bunch so that the grapes are protected from rain. This gives a nice quality white wine with a citrusy, grapefruity, very fresh style. Most people think of Sake when they think of Japanese wine, but not all Japanese wine is rice wine.

"So that's a really interesting place and it's run by Ayana Misawa, who is one of my favourite winemakers as well. She's brilliant at what she does, so we've had that wine since day one when we founded the business and it's still on the shelves now as one of our best-selling white wines."

It's unusual finds like this from passionate producers that gave Ben the passion to bring them to the UK so that everyone could enjoy the fruits of these incredible producers' labours.

Wine tasting at Novel Wines

Ben told us how he discovered his love of wine during his first year at university:

"I wanted to be a writer and I have my first proper wine gig which was to interview Sam Lindo who is the wine maker at Camel Valley in Cornwall.

"I didn't know a lot about wine, but I went down on the train to Bodmin, tripped over the fields in a suit, got mud all up my trousers, knocked on Sam's door and said, 'Sam, I don't know anything about wine but I've got to write a feature on you.'

"He could have told me to go home because I didn't know anything about wine, but instead he spent three hours with me on the balcony of the Camel Valley wine tasting room and we tried about eight to ten of his wines. We sipped wine all afternoon, and I interviewed him as he showed me every element of winemaking as he went through the winery.

"I did my wine and spirits education whilst doing my first-year uni exams and then started doing wine tastings for hen parties.

At these hen parties, it happened to be a late-harvest sweet dessert wine from Hungary (Kardos Fairytale) that was always everyone's favourite choice. Ben realised that there were so many undiscovered wines to be shared:

"I couldn't understand why more people weren't doing these unusual countries have been producing wines for hundreds of years but weren't getting the attention they deserved in the UK."

And thus Novel Wines was born!

Wine & Cheese Tasting at Novel Wines

Wine & Cheese Tasting at Novel Wines

The Novel Wines bar is an Aladdin's cave of unusual wines from across the world with a cosy handful of tables inside and a courtyard out the back which is a sun trap in the warmer months. 

From Monday to Saturday, you can taste a trio of hand-selected wines expertly paired with cheeses from Nibbles in Bath.

"It's quite fun to open up something new every time and chat guests through a new story because we know the winemakers personally. We can tell you how they made the wine, why they made the wine, where it was from, and we've visited them so we know the place as well.

"So you get a very personal link with the winemaker. And then if you book one event one week and come again the next week you're gonna have three new ones to try, which is quite nice. So you can come as often as you like and taste through the whole list. We've got 400 wines so it'll take you a while to get through the whole lot. 

"We'll usually ask you what you like so you can have a bit of a tailored selection but we will nudge you out your comfort zone.

"Alongside that, you'll have cheese pairings which will come from Nibbles who are Bath's oldest and best cheesemonger.

"We've used them for seven years and his cheese is delicious. He's a chap from Provence, lovely guy, he's in the Guildhall market and he does little tastings if you want to go try some cheese with him. So we bring that in and the cheese is paired with each of our wines."

If after the wine-tasting experience you are in the mood to keep the evening going, there are plenty of wines to select from and enjoy in-store or you could have another cheeseboard!

To book Wine & Cheese Tasting Flight at Novel Wines, click here!

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