Loss-making Nicolas is to sell all stores outside the M25 to a company being set up by its former operations director.

Benoit Thouvenin has left the French wine specialist retailer to set up Spirited Wine, which is expected to buy the 18 stores, which represent nearly a third of Nicolas' 66-strong estate. Focusing on the area within the M25 would allow it to reduce distribution costs and ­concentrate on upmarket locations, Nicolas said.

Spirited is expected to focus more on New World wines but would retain a partnership with Nicolas to sell wine produced by Castel Group, its parent.