Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Personal Services

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Personal Services

Article excerpt

VICTORIA MOORE finds that the man from Oddbins is very much to her taste

What do people do with all the wine guides they buy? Malcolm Gluck's Superplonk appears in the bestseller lists each Christmas, like the great aunt you know exists but forget all about until it comes round to that time of year again. Soon after unwrapping, it's rammed onto the bookshelf beside all those other dry lists of price and name and supermarket printed on that horrible school jotter paper.

Why struggle with these catalogues at all when down the road there is, no doubt, a living breathing version of them capable of taking your tastes into account (and learning them too), making juicy little recommendations, and teasing with a snippet of information here, an amusing anecdote there? If this were a function offered by a website, it would be held up to noisy acclaim and the ant-trail of internet-users pointed firmly in its direction.

The truth is that wine merchants are sorely undervalued, and in this broad category I include the high-street chain Odd-bins which, despite earning the approval of both critics and the masses, is still underused.

Last October, I went to Oddbins and chose a crate of red wine. At least, I followed a man called Keith round and round the shop, doggedly trying to explain my tastes while he plucked bottles from shelves on my behalf. I kept wondering about the wines displayed at eyelevel with the jolly labels. "Ah, good," said Keith. "We like people like you -- you buy the ones we want you to buy." I couldn't decide whether this undermined his integrity or underscored his good taste.

Keith told me that he's drunk his way (several times, no doubt) around the shop. Oddbins tells me that all its employees come with a passion for wine -- it's what drives them into the job -- and that the management actively encourages on-the-job training through courses and tastings. …

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