For years, buying wine has been simple. You can buy it as a single bottle or in cases of six or 12. This concept is so simple that an entire UK-wide retail chain, Majestic Wine Warehouse, felt there was no need to sell wine in quantities less than a full case. So they set their minimum at 12. Perhaps this was because their founders believed people would be mad if they didn’t buy them by the dozen.
For decades, anyone walking out of a wine warehouse across the UK did so with a battered Oyster Bay box under their arm, broadcasting to passers-by that they, quite possibly, have a drinking problem.
Now we have this. Tussock Jumper Wines. Sold exclusively through Amazon in boxes of three. Three? Not by the dozen, not by the six and not by the one. But three. This wasn’t dreamed up by a genius of wine retail but instead a genius of internet sales. This is a wine brand with global ambitions, but it’s also a wine brand without a proper home in the UK. Already popular in the Ukraine (its largest market) and Russia, Tussock Jumper lacked a major British distribution channel. In other words, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and everyone else said thanks, but no thanks.
Enter Amazon. We already buy our books, DVDs, electronics and Bosch electric corkscrews on Amazon, so why not wine? As it happens, the boxes of three are not the product of marketing genius but rather out of logistical necessity. Presumably the folks working in the vast Amazon warehouse in Rugeley aren’t yet proficient at counting up to 12 or even six, but they are just fine with three.
So anyway, back to the wine. A month or two ago I received samples of two Tussock Jumper wines, the Argentinian malbec and the South African chenin blanc. The positive is that there was an obvious attempt at quality behind them. The negative is the branding. This wine stands out for one reason and one reason only — its critter label.
Now, it’s safe to say I have a history of castigating critter-label wines. Cute many of them may be, you would have no more success selecting a decent wine by opting for the one with vermin on the label than if you threw rocks at a dozen bottles and drank the one that didn’t break. They are, as I’ve said elsewhere, a mortal sin in wine branding from my perspective.
Many wine brands are developed slowly over time, building on the reputation of a family estate, their place of origin and the skill of the winemaker. With Tussock Jumper, which is a winery that buys its grapes from wherever it can find them, there is no famous domaine, no specific place of origin, no family history to anchor them in the annals of winemaking history. The name itself is a play on words but could be lost on many. What exactly is a tussock jumper anyway? Presumably it refers to critters jumping over tussocks of grass as well as the red jumpers on the label, but I would be surprised if the average person on the street got it in one.
What is the verdict on the wine? In both cases I was mildly surprised. My assumption was that these would be all looks and no substance, their heavy bottles containing liquids displaying notes of battery acid and manure, and little else. But in fact they are perfectly serviceable wines.
The malbec had plenty of fruit on the nose, showing blackberries and brambles with spice and pepper, albeit in a one-dimensional manner that lacked real complexity. On the palate, it was fairly basic at first, tasting like a generic red with a dusty side that presumably came from its oak treatment. Not profound, but not bad either.
The chenin blanc, meanwhile, was a surprise. On the nose were melons, grass, cucumber, stone fruits and wet stones. On the palate it was fruity and dry, with more stone fruits and melon, but again it wasn’t overly complex. I was expecting something flabby and reminiscent of cheap jug wine, but it wasn’t like that at all. Not profound, but again, not bad.
There is just one problem. At £8.99 per bottle, Tussock Jumper has been priced to compete with a vast lake of wine in supermarkets and independent merchants across the land. While I wouldn’t hesitate to order a case of truly fine wine online, I haven’t yet reached that point in life when I want to buy all my wine that way, particularly the everyday stuff selling for £9 or less.
And if it’s yet another big brand wine bottled in the millions, you can be certain I won’t be buying it in threes.