Friday, 1 April 2011

The demise of Oddbins and other wine matters

I was disappointed to hear last night that the high street wine retailer Oddbins has gone into administration. Since the son of a former owner took over the struggling business in 2008 they had been getting significantly better write ups from most of the wine journalists out there (as recently as last week in the Daily Telegraph). But I suppose it reflects the fact that most people want to buy their wine from the supermarkets, and despite the odd headline projecting the idea that Britain has turned into a bona fide nation of wine drinkers, people are more comfortable with the familiar well known brands they stock. This news is especially crushing for me as I've spent the occasional enjoyable half hour tasting wine with a good looking Spanish girl who was working in the Oddbins on Northcote Road in Battersea. Who knows where she'll end up now...

Was she Penelope Cruz's sister?
So if Oddbins has bitten the dust where should you look to now for your drinking pleasure? Well I wouldn't call myself a wine expert, but a bit of an enthusiast at least and I've done quite a bit of reading and drinking around the subject and here are my recommendations:

  1. Majestic Wine. I know you can't buy individual bottles in Majestic, so its not ideal for a spur of the moment purchase, but they get a good write up from most of the wine writers, so would be worth a look.
  2. The Wine Society. The Wine Society is essentially a non profit making organisation owned by and operated purely on behalf of the members. You can buy wine mail order from them, or they have a warehouse in Stevenage and a shop in Montreuil in Northern France. I was bought membership by an uncle for a Christmas present a few years ago and it has been well worth it. They offer a quarterly wine list, regular special offers and en primeur opening offers of Bordeaux, Burgundy etc. It costs £40 to join, but most wine writers seem to agree that if you are interested in wine it's a good investment. 
  3. Ex Cellar. This is a small wine merchant, with shops in Fulham, Ashtead and Claygate in Surrey and even one in Paris! They have lots of interesting stock and run regular tastings. I went to a free Christmas wine tasting there in November and emerged much later in the evening having done damage to both my liver and bank account..."Its £25 a bottle, well it tasted great, I'll have a couple".
  4. Lea and Sandeman. This is a pretty well established wine merchant and most of their stuff is aimed at the upper end of the market. But if you find one of their shops they sometimes have good deals on bin ends etc, so you might get lucky. 
  5. Tanners. Another well established wine merchant with an interesting list of wine you won't find in the supermarkets.
I know a couple of the shops mentioned here are only found in the South East, but they all do mail order, so no excuses if you're interested in getting hold of something different. 

I wasn't sure at first about writing too much about wine here. The trouble is, I think people are suspicious of anyone who displays more than a vague, "lets get lashed", interest in the subject. I've been in restaurants with people and when it comes to ordering wine I've been loathe to expose myself as the group "wine anorak". Often its easier just to be a sheep and order the second cheapest bottle on the menu. If anyone's seen the film Sideways, they might remember the scene where Miles gets a bollocking from his mate for a half hour lecture on Vouvray when they're in the middle of trying to pull a couple of ladies on a dinner date.

I myself have experienced first hand of this kind of wine philistinism. A girl (who's prone to bullsh*t anyway) came into my (shared) office at work and started banging on about how she hated Chardonnay and refused to drink it at all costs. Not realising that I was about to make an enormous social blunder, I challenged her on this and said that many people would say white burgundy was one of the finest wines around and moreover it is made exclusively with Chardonnay, and that you couldn't tar all Chardonnays with the same over oaked brush. She didn't agree with this but asked me if I'd ever had a wine called Puligny Montrachet, which she though was delicious...oh how I laughed at this dear reader. But when I pointed out her error (for those of you who aren't "wine goons", Puligny Montrachet is a well known white burgundy of pretty high repute), I wasn't feted in the office as some sort of oracle, but treated with mild distain and a definite degree of suspicion. I mean, who'd have thought that obsessively reading Hugh Johnson's wine guide wasn't a sure fire way of making friends and getting laid?

Nevermind, I've always got my collection of German Rieslings as compensation.

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