words | Andrew Licudi AIWS
No doubt, like me, you wonder how we ever managed without the internet. It’s changed our life in many ways – mostly positive. We can communicate with each other effortlessly and I am not referring to that element of social media inhabited by selfie takers, blog writers, Facebook aficionados or twitting twitters with Trump as the undisputed king of the two liners. No, what I am referring to is how our interactions with businesses such as airlines, shops or holiday providers, to mention a few, has changed forever.
We can order a new bed, (only after having read countless reviews by satisfied buyers!), read your own electricity meter and send in the readings, learn the secrets of Michelin star chefs or how to filet a bream the Japanese way. We can order an out of print, second hand art book from a private seller in Wyoming – cost of book 50p excluding delivery, or even our biodegradable coffin – “reviews not available for this product”. Want to know what Monica Lewinsky or Rolf Harris are up to these days? No problem, it’s all there for your delectation and entertainment – Miss Lewinsky told the Guardian that 20 years on, she is still trying to reclaim her identity, “The shame sticks to you like tar,” she claims. Rolf Harris is doing time though the Mirror claims he is earning £1300 a day whilst in jail. Even finding a new wife or husband can be done from your living room sofa whilst sipping a fino or perhaps a good Rioja. Meeting the person in the flesh is only required just before the wedding to confirm that the six-foot Scandinavian blonde really likes Burgundy and Bartok.
Whilst the Internet cannot claim to have demystified wine or made it available to many – that particular accolade has to go to supermarkets, it has certainly made buying and selling wine easier and more interesting and you can spend as much time as you want researching wines before parting with your hard earned cash. Take one of the leading sites wine-searcher.com. Here, you can compare wine prices across many merchants in whatever country you want, in whatever currency you require. Take Tondonia Reserva White 2000 listed by Anglo Hispano at £19.95 retail. Doing a search in wine searcher and limiting my results to UK and GBP, the site comes up with two results:
1. Woodwinters Wines and Whiskies £28.00 per bottle
2. Berry Brothers £30.20 per bottle (incl tax and duty)
Clearly, in this case, we are getting tremendous value partly due to higher duty in the UK. Getting only two results suggests the wine is no longer widely available and will shortly become a rarity once the last few bottles are sold.
Unfortunately, whilst we get tremendous value from our merchants in Gibraltar for Spanish wines, for the wine enthusiast at least, there is a very limited choice of non-Spanish wines. The enthusiast may have no choice but to resort to wine delivery as the only means to access good French, German or Italian wines at a fair price.
If there is one online wine merchant par excellence, it has to be The Wine Society. This mutual online merchant is run for its members and as such, is non-profit making.
It all started in London 1875 when wine producers from around the world shipped over wines for one of the great exhibitions. The wines were stored in the cellars of the Albert Hall but in spite of their grandiose surroundings were, by and large, ignored by the public and significant stocks remained unsold. The producers appealed for help and at the behest of the British Government, the architect of the Albert Hall, Major General Henry Scott, arranged a series of lunches to generate interest in the wines. It was a success and suggestions were made for the establishment of a mutual society to source wines directly from producers and to sell these at a fair price to its members.
Today, the society has become a powerful wine buyer. It remains non-profit making which is reflected in its unrivalled prices. Unlike supermarkets, it can offer wines from small producers and members are happy to accept that many wines will be in short supply. There is no advantage to the Society of sourcing wines which are not exceptional value irrespective of price and members are encouraged to write in their reviews. Members’ reviews are uncensored so the Society wine buyers are under continual pressure to keep quality up and prices down year in year out. Some wines may be limited to several bottles per member, something that is also done to ensure the sought after wines are not bought by merchants and then resold! Life time Membership costs £40 and this can be passed on when you die! The least expensive wine on their list is a half-bottle of The Society’s Cotes de Cascogne at £3.50 and the most expensive is a bottle of Domaine Rousseau Clos de Beze 2012 at £850. The Society’s website is full of useful information on producers, vintages, wines and even food recipes. I buy most of my wine here and it’s the only wine merchant which will deliver wines free of charge and weeks later send you an invoice for payment! There’s good old fashion trust for you! You can opt to have your wines stored by the Society until you are ready to ship them or sell them on when prices have risen though making business out of the Society is not encouraged!
Another world beating wine site is Cellar Tracker. Here, you can keep track of your wines in a virtual cellar or you can make a cellar up for fun and see if your wine choices will accrue in value in the future! The site is technically superb and has all sorts of bells and whistles. I use it regularly as I have found that wine reviews, in spite of being amateur reviews, are useful as some wines will have been reviewed perhaps dozens of times with overall, aggregate scores proving very accurate. As an example, I again inserted the above white Tondonia Reserva 2000. This is what I got:
Average Score from 20 reviews 91.5points, (anything over ninety is extremely good).
With this level of points I would begin to consider this as a potential purchase though I would not forego the well-known mantra of producer, producer, producer.
Some reviewer’s notes are more useful than others. One reviewer described the wine as fruity. That is one thing white Tondonia Reserva is not! Overall, the reviews were fair and the overall score high but accurate. The site relies on donations for its existence and if you have a virtual cellar there, it will continually update its market value, though this is only available to those making a contribution.
Wines to be tried at least once in your life
Morrisons Best Champagne NV
Produced by Boizel
If you don’t want to splash out on an expensive bottle of champagne then you could do worse (a lot worse) than Morrisons own best champagne. Having recently tasted Boizel’s Vintage Champagne 2002 and their top end Joyau de France 2000, I was curious how this £15 champagne, on special offer, by the same producer, would stand up. Being a non-vintage champagne, I was not expecting much and whilst it could not be compared to the £75 Joyau or the slightly cheaper 2002, it was still enjoyable. Quite mature on the palate with plenty of character and a good finish. It’s not Joyeau but then, it was never meant to be.