Published 10 March 2012
We all like the thought of being looked after by someone who’s competent in their line of work. I think this was why Oddbins was so popular a decade ago. Upon entering one of their stores, you knew that you’d be helped by a wine nerd who was knowledgeable without being scary (think of a wine version of Dick from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity). I loved that the shop’s staff hand-wrote their own tasting notes and stuck them to the shelves.
Unfortunately, as you probably know, Oddbins went into administration in 2011. But Whittalls Wine Merchants, part of European Food Brokers Group, bought the Oddbins name and 36 of the shops, and re-launched the company in October last year.
It’s still got some way to go and it’s certainly not going to be plain sailing for them, but I think they’ve definitely started off on the right foot. With a catalogue of just under 700 wines (the core range being around 400) and a team of excellent buyers, the wines I’ve tasted so far won’t disappoint – my blog on wineblo.gs will go into more detail on specific wines.
But will they still have their fun/informative angle. I am happy to say that, according to Emma Nichols (Oddbins’ Head of Buying), they’ll still be putting up hand-written tasting notes in-store. And, looking at the new Oddbins website which launched this week, I think it’s safe to say that this erudite yet personal approach is being carried onto their online presence. Their target customers are what I call ‘progressive drinkers’: they’ve moved on from solely buying their wine from supermarkets, have a little knowledge about wine, but are still enthusiastic drinkers rather than wine zealots – and Oddbins’ site hits just the right spot.
In addition to the easy-to-use navigation (allowing you to search by country, grape, price or style) you also have the option to search by mood: adventurous wines, adversity wines, contemplation wines, convivial wines… you get the idea. And another lovely touch is found when looking at a wine’s “more info”. As well as being given a decent description and all the technical info you could hope for, you also receive a light-hearted suggestion of when to drink it (“Planning your house extension”), what music to listen to (“Nick Cave”), the kind of things to think about (“About Isambard Brunel”) and a food suggestion (“Roast Poussin”) for each wine.
Furthermore, although it’s too early to have much content, it allows you to leave reviews of each wine. I have to admit that I don’t care for other people’s reviews very much. I’m in the Tim Hanni camp of believing taste to be a personal matter so, unless you know a person has a similar palate to you, there’s not much value in someone else’s notes. But, it’s what is expected nowadays, so I don’t blame them for building it into the site.
So, take a look: www.oddbins.com. It’s not the most technically advanced site, nor is it the prettiest, but I really like it. It’s easy to use, does exactly what it needs to do, and makes you smile at the same time. What more do you need?