While you were out: Online wine disorder

ecommerce

We can probably blame all of this on Bezos. And that man who founded eBay. They’re the ones who started it all, aren’t they?

For better or worse, Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar have probably changed our lives. Back in the mid-1990s the founders of Amazon.com and eBay, respectively, gave us things that, at the time, we never knew we needed: the ability to be fully functional shut-ins without an obligation to step outside the house. Not even when you have to buy an infant circumcision trainer.

Yes, it took a few years before both websites were fully capable of handling true e-commerce in a seamless fashion (I sent a money order in the post to pay for one of the first items I ever bought on eBay). And the websites lacked the rich photography of the items that are on offer today (who owned a digital camera or even a scanner in the 1990s?), which means it was pot luck if the item you were buying was, in fact, the item being advertised.

But as I’m sure Alexander Graham Bell would agree, no brilliant idea should ever be limited by the lack of technology to actually support it.

Wine retailing, without a doubt, has been revolutionised by the web and by the likes of Bezos and Omidyar. But I’m not sure if it’s for the better. For it seems, as far as I have observed, having an entire case of wine delivered to my home, as quickly as the courier can manage it, serves no purpose except to make me wait longer to receive my wine than if I went to the shop myself and picked it up off the shelf.

If I were a shut-in, an unemployed or even a self-employed type who is able to make a reasonable living from my sofa, ordering online and having something delivered to my house would be the ideal: I point, I click, I watch a bit of Jeremy Kyle and then, before long, a rushed courier knocks on my door and hands over what is hopefully a fully intact case of wine.

But the reality is different. Instead, I point, I click, then I regret supplying my house address because I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that even though this case of wine is guaranteed to be delivered within 48 hours, nothing could be further from the truth.

Half the time, the courier takes it back to the depot where the case will languish for god knows how long as it waits for me to request a redelivery. Under this scenario, I cannot expect to see it for at least a fortnight.

The rest of the time, the case is left with a neighbour who willingly takes it in but fails to mention that they are going away for a week. And the case lays dormant in their front hallway as I peak with desperation through their front window in the vain hope that they left the sash unlocked. It’s not burglary if it’s my package, is it?

Of course, I could have provided my office address. But who wants to be that person lugging a case of wine onto public transportation at rush hour?

It is a predicament. Unless you’re a shut-in, that is.

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Wine clubs: The good and the ordinary

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Recently I was asked if I would be interested in trying out a new wine club. They would send me a mixed case of wine and I could provide my most honest opinions. Two thoughts raced through my mind at that very moment.

The first thought centred on my concern about the ethical ramifications of receiving the case (and yes, full disclosure, I accepted the case). The second thought was that I was about to experience the inevitable mishaps of Britain’s couriers, who seem to make it their business to infuriate any person who doesn’t lay about at home all day during the working week.

Of course, the courier’s riposte to that is, what did you think was going to happen when you asked something to be delivered to a place where you had no intention of being during working hours? Quite. Of course, I could have provided my office address. But the whole point of having delivered is the delivery itself. If I wanted to carry bottles of wine home from my office, I might as well walk to the shop and buy them off the shelf.

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It took about a week from start to finish to cross the threshold of my home, but finally I was in possession of this case of wine. Specifically, a case of wine from Berry Bros & Rudd, the sort of wine merchant that operates out of a shop that looks like it belongs in the 17th century because it is from the 17th century.

I have dabbled with wine clubs and their variants in the past. There was the time I signed up for The Sunday Times Wine Club because a friend of mine bought from there and it seemed like the thing to do. Apart from receiving a welcome pack in the post, it has lain dormant ever since.

Then I had one of those Wine Bank accounts at Virgin Wines because the prospect of being given 25 per cent off whatever I bought – even those bottles of Dom Perignon – was enticing at the time. But other than those bottles of Dom Perignon (which were truly cheap after the discount) and one or two gems here and there, I found that their portfolio wasn’t for me.

So here I am today. Unlike the cheap and cheerful wines and stark tasting notes supplied by the likes of Virgin Wines, this Berry Bros offering is clearly aiming for something more. Along with the 12 bottles comes a membership pack in the form of a ring binder complete with articles, a who’s who on grapes and regions, as well as a guide to tasting, storing and cooking with wine.

Being a fairly straightforward person who self-identifies as a working-class Canadian, I’ve never been one for anything stuffy or ornate. But when it comes to wine (and bicycles), I can’t help but be absorbed by the culture. I can debate terroir with the best of them.

Most wine clubs want to foist a generic introductory case upon its members, often for less than £10 per bottle, which means most of what you get is at the more ordinary end of the spectrum. Think Sunday Times, Virgin Wines, Laithwaite’s, Naked Wines, et al. The only way you can avoid this is by going straight to your local wine merchant and asking them if they have a wine club of their own. You will pay slightly more for it – the cost of one steak dinner a month – but at least it will be good.

So, how is the wine? The case came with two bottles each of: a South African chenin blanc, a Chianti Classico, a red Rully, a Maconnais, a Ribero del Duero and a Mosel riesling. Not a bad selection, but it ought to be for £180 for each delivery.

I can offer my opinion for only one of the bottles so far, a Signal Cannon Chenin Blanc 2011. With a retail price of £12.50 (or £11.25 per bottle when buying by the case), this is more than your average UK wine drinker would spend on a bottle of white wine, but then again, the average Berry Bros customer spends more than your average UK wine drinker.

As wine goes, this is what South African chenin blanc is all about. Dry but with good weight in the mouth, plenty of tropical fruits and enough acidity to hold it all together. This isn’t like chenin blanc from Vouvray, but it isn’t meant to be either.

The only problem is the price. This bottle would run at a slightly lower price at any other retailer (it is selling for £7.95 at Davy’s), but we must accept that, in some cases, there is a premium to be paid when buying from Berry Bros (that Mayfair address can’t be cheap). And then we have to consider that Berry Bros customers accept a certain quality level at all times, even when understated.

Case in point: while Waitrose sells its Good Ordinary Claret for £4.99, the Berry Bros version runs at £9. If you’re a Berry Bros customer, there is good and ordinary and then there is good and ordinary.