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“If you were born to walk the ground,

 Remain there; do not fool around”     Belloc

For those of you who have just emerged from the self-imposed misery of a ‘Dry January’, it’s time to charge your glasses and raise a toast to the demise of the calendar’s dreariest month.

But before you rush to set those cash registers ringing, with your newly refurbished bank balances and bonuses. Let me offer up some words of warning for those of you considering buying from an independent wine merchant.

The wines they sell can be exciting:

A tad risky, I grant you. Independents tend to shy away from bland, boring, insipid wines. If you prefer neutral, alcoholic, fruit-juicy pap then stop reading now!

Their wines don’t all taste the same:

That’s right, they are often deliberately different. There will also be vintage variation (it’s hard to make a wine taste the same year in year out). This is due to weather – don’t worry I won’t bore you with detail – but expect the tannin, acid and alcohol ratios to change as the seasons do. They may be drier than the wines you are used to and may not have any residual sugar left in to make them ‘smooth’.

If this strikes fear into your heart, then insist that your wines be manufactured to a formula in vast industrial factories, on drip irrigated parched plains, to ensure homogeneity. If they refuse, you know where to go – and there’s a car park!

And what about those labels! You have point here. It’s confusing to call a wine after a region, property, vineyard, plot or person. Better to give it a legend like; The Bend in the Elbow, The Devil’s Punchbowl, Cougar’s Claw, or Dunny Ridge. And as for those pesky grape varieties! My advice is to stick to one of the tried and tested ‘big five’ or alternatively look for a brand with a small marsupial, lizard or fish on it.

They sometimes offer advice:

This is a bit unnerving, and particularly unwelcome if you if you don’t care that much about wine. Independents are cheeky buggers who may seek to steer you into unknown territory – where few civilised folk have drank before. If in doubt, try and get something akin to a cheap, ‘own label’ Merlot as it goes great with red meat. Besides who needs knowledgeable staff when it’s easier to intimidate untrained ones. And if they do offer you something to taste just pretend you have a cold and leave quickly.

They don’t do promos or bogofs’:

There are many reasons for this. They may not have enough c**p stockpiled to offer a promotion. The cost of the wines may also be transparent – reducing the need for them to go up and down like a politicians trousers. Of course if you really believe that you are getting ten pounds worth of quality for a fiver, best to stick with a supermarket. They will have a huge marketing machine that has psychologically profiled you to make you think you are actually in charge of the decision making process.

They’re a bit snobby:

Yes, kind of, but this is a common phenomenon found everywhere; from car showrooms, bike, skate and surf outlets, fashion retailers, art galleries, music and bookshops to purveyors of high end training shoes. It’s because some level of expertise is essential. If you find this hard to swallow look out for minimalist shelf talkers that say ‘Good with Fish’.

They’re a bit Green:

I know, I know – who bloody voted for them?  If you prefer your wines to have a gigantic carbon footprint or be shipped around the globe by the container load (in 24,000 litre polypropylene bladders) and bottled at the local dockyard you know you’re in the wrong place. Big bags equal big business. Some independents even buy their wines from Europe -usually from small artisan growers who farm organically or biodynamically. Bloody tree huggers!

I’m already a member of a wine club:

Ah yes, let me guess; the £50 voucher, the free corkscrew and set of real crystal glasses, plus something off your next order if you recommend a friend. Did you ever stop to taste those wines, or consider why no one comes to dinner anymore? I know they insist that they champion small producers and vineyards but did you ever stop to wonder why there’s such an inexhaustible supply.

My local wine merchant has closed down:

So sad. They have gone the way of grocers, bakers, chemists, newsagents, fishmongers, butchers and petrol stations. If your high street is filled with charity shops, coffee shops, chain stores and tumbleweeds, don’t moan – it may be partly your fault, but you can still get all those things from your local supermarket.

If you live in the back of beyond, you will be forced to go online. Be mindful though as some wine websites are owned by the kind of innovative small businesses you’re so keen to avoid.  Go for the big ones as they have money off as well as twenty three different kinds of Pinot Grigio.

I really couldn’t give a **** about wine:

Wine’s a pain actually. It’s more complex than lager and it doesn’t get you p****d as fast as vodka – unless it’s got bubbles.  Besides you’ve tried loads of wines and whilst some are nicer than others you don’t really care that much as long as it’s cheap and there’s lots of it. I fully sympathise with your plight and suggest you make sure you chill it right down to hide any faults – or more importantly taste!

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